Thursday, August 25, 2005

Do ethics exist anywhere in King County?

Last year, 2 employees of King County DOT, Ho-Chuan Chen and Hoissein Barahimi, filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against King County, KCDOT Road Services director Linda Dougherty and managers Jennifer Lindwall and Matthew Nolan. The suit alleged retaliation against Chen and Barahimi by the defendants as a result of their refusal, along with 3 other members of the King County TFDM group, to go along with what they alleged were a series of improper and illegal actions committed by the DOT concurrency group to help developers obtain traffic concurrency certificates. They alleged that these actions helped Redmond Ridge East improperly obtain a traffic concurrency certificate in 2002, and their refusal to go along with the alleged wrongdoing resulted in retaliation that included bad performance reviews, temporary layoff, and demotions with loss of pay. You can read their original complaint filed in superior court here, before it was moved to Federal Court.

2 months ago, King County Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith issued his findings after his review of the Redmond Ridge East application, and in particular, the traffic concurrency certificate issued to Quadrant in 2002 for Redmond Ridge East. The same certificate that was the basis for the whistleblower allegations of wrongdoing and retaliation. You can read the examiner's findings here.

Smith's findings strongly affirmed the allegations made by the whistleblowers in the Whistleblower complaint they filed in 2003 that alleged wrongdoing. In fact, Smith's findings went so far as to allege that in 3 separate instances, the Concurrency Group had committed "arbitrary and capricious" acts to help Quadrant obtain that certificate. In affirming the whistleblowers' charges of wrongdoing, the examiner confirmed the basis for the retaliation alleged to have been committed by Dougherty, Lindwall and Nolan in their federal complaint.

On August 8, I sent an email to Dougherty, Lindwall and Nolan and requested that they recuse themselves from any further involvement in the Redmond Ridge East application, and that all decisions made by them since the filing of this lawsuit be reviewed for fairness,responsibility, and appropriateness.

In that email I alleged that these 3 had a clear conflict of interest, given that the outcome of the Redmond Ridge East challenges and appeals would have a direct impact on the Federal lawsuit and that it was entirely inappropriate for them to remain involved in the decision making process related to this development when they had so much at stake personally.

Below is that original request, the recusal refusal email from Dougherty I received today, and my strongly worded request that they reconsider and request an opinion of the King County Board of Ethics.

What stake do these public servants have in Redmond Ridge East, if 'not' conflicted by their own status as defendants in this Federal lawsuit, that is driving them to refuse to step aside and leave the decisions related to Redmond Ridge East and DOT's challenges of the hearing examiner's ruling to others?

Please judge for yourselves and help me to understand how this is ethical behavior.

My original request

From: Michael Costello
Sent: Monday, August 08, 2005
To: Linda Dougherty, Jennifer Lindwall, Matthew Nolan
Subject: Request for Recusal

August 8, 2005

Linda Dougherty - Director KCDOT Road Services
Jennifer Lindwall - Manager KCDOT
Mathew Nolan - Supervisor KCDOT

RE: Request for recusal from all Redmond Ridge East decisions and involvement

Dear Ms. Dougherty, Ms. Lindwall & Mr. Nolan,

As defendants in a lawsuit filed by DOT Whistleblowers last year, who have alleged retaliation by you in response to their allegations of wrongdoing by DOT under your leadership, it is entirely inappropriate for any of you to continue in the decision-making process on issues related to Redmond Ridge East, including decisions related to lawsuits and/or appeals your department has engaged in against the Hearing Examiner.

This letter is to formally request that each of you publicly recuse yourself from all decisions or matters related to Redmond Ridge East, and that any decisions that you have made since the litigation was filed against you, be reviewed for fairness, responsibility, and appropriateness on behalf of what should be a "neutral" Department of Transportation.

There can be no argument that each of you are now trapped in a serious personal conflict of interest, where findings of wrongdoing by the Hearing Examiner have supported the Whistleblowers allegations against DOT's actions in the Redmond Ridge East concurrency process. This decision has created a significant incentive for you to work to overturn that ruling and defend your personal interests and actions.

Your decisions, such as the hiring of a private pro-development law firm to sue the Hearing Examiner at additional taxpayer expense, supports my strong concern in your neutrality.

Please provide me a response, in writing or by email, of your decision on my request.

Thank you.

Michael Costello
Redmond, WA

cc. Kathy Lambert, Norm Maleng

Response from DOT (Linda Dougherty on behalf of others)

From: Linda Dougherty
To: Michael Costello
Subject: RE: Request for Recusal
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2005

August 25, 2005

Dear Mr. Costello,

Thank you for your email of August 8, 2005 requesting that we recuse ourselves from all decisions or matters related to Redmond Ridge East. We have considered your request and the reasons you gave for making it. We are confident that we do not have any conflict of interest in connection with either our past decisions or decisions we may be called on to make in the future related to Redmond Ridge East. We therefore decline your request that we recuse ourselves.


Linda Dougherty
Director, Road Services Division

Jennifer Lindwall
Manager, CIP and Planning Section

Matt Nolan,
Traffic Engineer/Manager
Traffic Engineering Section

And my request for reconsideration and an opinion from the Board of Ethics

From: Michael Costello
To: Linda Dougherty, Jennifer Lindwall, Matthew Nolan & King County Board of Ethics
Subject: RE: Request for Recusal
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2005

August 25, 2005

RE: Recusal request of matters related to Redmond Ridge East

Dear Ms. Dougherty, Ms. Lindwall & Mr. Nolan,

A claim that you don't have a clear and direct conflict of interest in matters related to Redmond Ridge East is utterly absurd! As defendants in a Federal lawsuit alleging retaliation and wrongdoing by you in the allegedly improper issuance of the Redmond Ridge East concurrency certificate in 2002, and the alleged retaliation against DOT employees who objected to the actions of your department and groups, you have a massive conflict of interest by staying involved in any decisions related to that development application, or any decisions related to whether your department should participate in litigation or appeals challenging the findings of King County Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith condemning the actions by your department. Mr. Smith's finding of repeated "arbitrary and capricious" actions by your department in favor of Redmond Ridge East has already affirmed much of the allegations contained within the Federal lawsuit against you.

To state the obvious; the success or failure of your department in reversing the findings of Mr. Smith will have direct personal consequences to you and your defense in the aforementioned Federal lawsuit. Even your involvement in decisions to pursue such challenges, including DOT's lawsuit filed in superior court to overturn the examiner and DOT's appeal of the examiner's concurrency findings to the King County Council, can be easily be questioned as designed to benefit you personally and even financially, should the results of those challenges affect the costs you may incur in your defense and the success or failure of your defense of all the charges.

I most strongly request that you reconsider your refusal to recuse yourselves and request that you ask for an opinion from the King County Board of Ethics based on my request, and please include me in their reply.

Dear Board of Ethics,

With this email I am personally requesting such a review be conducted by the King County Board of Ethics in the appropriateness of the continued involvement of Ms. Dougherty, Ms. Lindwall, and Mr. Nolan in any matters or decisions related to Redmond Ridge East, which is the principal subject of the Federal lawsuit brought by the DOT whistleblowers. With the findings by the Hearing Examiner 2 months ago of "arbitrary and capricious" actions committed by DOT for this development, many of the charges in the Federal lawsuit have already been established as credible. The defendants' clear conflict of interest not only demonstrates a perception of a direct conflict, but such a direct conflict exists and has since that suit was first filed. With the outcome of that suit directly tied to the finding of the hearing examiner and the actions taken by the defendants to overturn those findings, their involvement is unethical and clearly inappropriate. Their inability or unwillingness to step away only supports my concerns that their involvement is more than professional, but personal.

Thank you.

Michael Costello
Redmond, WA 98053

cc. King County Board of Ethics, Kathy Lambert, Norm Maleng


Joe said...

What a Joke!!!

"We are confident..."

-DOT response

I'll bet they're confident! Confident in the fact that no citizen can stop them from continuing to make unethical and clearly biased decisions!

Anonymous said...

Traffic concurrency is a joke anyway. They should do away with the whole thing!