On July 25, 2005, I faxed the following complaint to the Office of Citizen Complaints. This was part 2 of my complaint alleging bias and financial conflicts of interests in DOT and DDES that has made those King County departments surrogates for the building industry. Here is that second complaint:
King County Office of Citizen Complaints - Ombudsman
The Office of Citizen Complaints - Ombudsman is not an office of first recourse. Therefore, we ask that you first try to resolve your complaint with the agency before filing a complaint with the Ombudsman. If you have been unsuccessful in resolving your concern with the agency, please fill out this complaint form and return it to our office by mail or fax.
Name: Michael Costello
Zip Code 98053
King County Executive’s Office
· King County Executive Ron Sims
King County Department of Development and Environmental Services
· DDES Director Stephanie Warden
King County Department of Transportation
- DOT Director Harold Taniguchi
- DOT Road Services Director Linda Dougherty
Redmond Ridge East Preliminary Plat Application
Stephanie Warden, Harold Taniguchi (Represented by Warden)
4. Witnesses/others involved (name, address, telephone number):
NoneSummary of your complaint:
On February 28, 2005 I submitted a request to KCDOT and DDES that they recuse their respective agencies from performing the technical reviews for Redmond Ridge East. My stated reasons included the following:
2. Approval of applications tends to attract more applications. More applications mean more work, more staff, more managers, etc. This presents another direct conflict of interest. In fact, there are only benefits to King County when they approve development and this presents a significant coercion for planners to bias their results to benefit developers, and pressures on managers to "get the job done" no matter what it takes. In other words, there are only incentives to recommend approval of development applications, and only disincentives to recommend denial.
3. The King County Ethics Code requires disclosure by council members of financial or other interests that are related to issues they are responsible for, or where they are participants in the decision making process. When it comes to government review of development applications, there should be no less a requirement on county employees tasked with the responsibility to review project applications. I doubt that such disclosures have ever been made to the public or to the King County Council when DDES, DOT or the Hearing Examiner recommends approval of a development application. Whether disclosed or not, though, this conflict of interest is obvious and has serious consequences to the taxpayers and residents that live near projects approved based on biased reviews.
Dear Mr. Costello:
Thank you for your email transmittal of February 28, 2005 requesting recusal from several departments.
We have evaluated your e-mail and have determined that King County Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) and King County Department of Transportation (KCDOT) do not have a conflict of interest in the review of the Redmond Ridge East project or other development projects. We decline your request that DDES and KCDOT recuse themselves from the review of such projects.
The second new document was an email thread from Ms. Warden to a long list of individuals in KCDOT and the Prosecuting Attorneys Office. Her email appears to have been a single sentence, perhaps a question, but it was fully redacted in the copy sent to me. The several paragraph response from Cass Newell in the PA’s Office was also fully redacted. Therefore, I still had no indication of the justification for the county’s position on my recusal request.
My follow-up request of Warden and Taniguchi to waive their Attorney/Client privilege was also declined. With no clear risk to the public good, my interest was only further peaked as to what secrets were being kept from a citizen of the county that employed both Ms. Warden and the attorneys in the Prosecutor’s Office. What were they afraid of letting me see? Is it possible they were acting against the legal opinion of the PA’s Office?
Then things get really interesting. During the Concurrency Hearings for Redmond Ridge East in March and April of 2005, the PA’s Office did not represent KCDOT. Instead, KCDOT hired 2 outside law firms to represent them before the Hearing Examiner. One of those law firms, Buck & Gordon LLP, describes itself on its website as:
“obtaining permits and negotiating contracts for large and high-profile projects.”
Why was KCDOT hiring a private law firm that specialized in obtaining permits? Why was this agency hiring them at the additional expense to the taxpayer, and not being represented by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office? Had King County DOT already developed a strategy for suing the examiner that required it to avoid the PA’s Office? By itself, this waste and improper use of taxpayer dollars was already “over the line”. But it gets worse.
1) King County agencies, such as DOT and DDES, should be required by policy to hire outside independent consulting firms to perform the technical reviews of significant development applications. AT what point an application is major enough to require outside review should be worked out by the King County Council to achieve a reasonable balance between responsiveness, performance and cost.
2) Agencies like DOT and DDES should be streamlined to provide more oversight of application reviews, and less actual involvement. Such policy would create a more consistent staff requirement that would not be impacted by approval or denial of permit applications. Independent reviews would also result in fair and more honest reviews of development applications, where the independent consultants would be paid regardless of the outcome of their recommendations.
3) King County agencies should not be allowed to hire outside law firms to challenge other agency decisions. These are matters for the elected representatives to decide and direct the subordinate agencies as appropriate. For example, it should be up to the King County Council to decide on the validity of the Hearing Examiner’s ruling based on the evidence. Should KCDOT choose to challenge that ruling, their opportunity was during that hearings before the examiner. Their appeal, if deemed necessary, should be represented by attorneys in the PA’s Office, and not by hired guns from outside King County.
I affirm that the above statement and facts are true and correct to the best of my knowledge. I reserve the right to amend this complaint as new information becomes available.
Redmond, WA 98053