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Tacoma councilman’s sin was not disclosing conflict

Post by Kim Bradford on March 10, 2010 at 7:16 pm with 4 Comments »
March 10, 2010 8:18 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

David Boe should have known better.

The newly minted Tacoma City Councilman admits as much now. Unfortunately, the damage to the public trust is already done.

Boe, an architect and small business owner, was the hands-down favorite earlier this year when the Tacoma City Council was selecting from applicants for two vacant council seats.

Council members liked his creativity, independence and wealth of urban planning credentials. They liked that he wouldn’t be someone who would go with the flow.

He has certainly lived up to that billing in recent days as an outspoken critic of the city’s process for picking a team to renovate Cheney Stadium.

Boe was not the only council member to fault the winning concept’s look and roof line. But his critique carried the most weight, coming as it did from the council’s resident architect.

What Boe didn’t think to share – until questioned Tuesday – was that he was not a completely impartial observer.

Boe had helped a longtime client and friend, Wade Perrow, who was crafting a competing proposal for Cheney Stadium. Boe spent a Saturday in January making some prospective sketches for Perrow, sketches that were married with others to become Perrow’s final design. Boe was not paid for his work, nor was he on the council yet.

But he was a finalist for the council vacancy – and he should have seen the potential conflict of interest for what it was.

Boe’s biggest sin, though, wasn’t a lack of foresight – it was a lack of disclosure after he joined the council and started critiquing the Cheney design picked by the city’s selection panel. That design was not Perrow’s.

Boe says it did not occur to him to publicly disclose his involvement until City Manager Eric Anderson pulled him aside Tuesday and asked whether he’d had a hand in Perrow’s drawings. He said yes, and Anderson advised him to make that connection known.

Yet Boe did not abstain from voting on the Cheney contract. He cast the lone vote against awarding the work to Mortenson Construction.

Boe said Wednesday that on further reflection, he realizes he was wrong. He should have divulged his work with Perrow, and he shouldn’t have voted on the contract. Boe chalked up the errors to a rookie mistake. Nothing similar ever came up during his time on the planning commission, he said.

“I feel embarrassed. I screwed up,” Boe said Wednesday. “I have to realize that I’m working in a different arena now.”

Boe has undercut his own credibility, handicapping himself and the fellow council members who depend on his expertise. He gets credit for admitting the mistake and for resolving to do better. Whether he keeps faith with the public from here on will determine if he’s really learned the lesson.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. Good editorial, Kim.

    One must not only avoid wrong-doing; one must avoid the appearance of wrong-doing. And anyone in the political fray ought to know that.

  2. PumainTacoma says:

    “Boe had helped a longtime client and friend, Wade Perrow, who was crafting a competing proposal for Cheney Stadium. Boe spent a Saturday in January making some prospective sketches for Perrow, sketches that were married with others to become Perrow’s final design. Boe was not paid for his work, nor was he on the council yet.”

    KEY POINT HERE IS COMPETITIVE BID. Who wrote this article the editorial board? If so, why don’t you look up the laws on RFP Request for Proposal and the bidding process. Obviously you did not state that Boe by helping his friend just violated the laws regarding RFPs.

    Where is that statement? I suggest you look it up and re-do this editorial statement. BECAUSE YOU MISSED A KEY ADMISSION BY BOE…

  3. derekyoung says:

    Pumain – just to clarify, the rules governing conflicts of interest in contracts are clear that there must be a financial interest. Sometimes Councilmembers with “remote interests” will also recuse themselves because of the appearance problem even though they don’t need to. But Mr. Boe’s case didn’t even qualify as a “remote interest.” He had no financial interest at all.

    Being friends with people that have an interest in local government business comes with the territory.

    Is it a good idea to be up front about these things so people know where you’re coming from? Of course. Particularly if you are an expert in the subject as he is because that expertise carries with it some weight. I think that’s the lesson learned here. But it’s important to distinguish this ethical dilemma from a legal issue.

    Full disclosure I’m a councilmember in Gig Harbor and both Mr. Boe and Perrow have had business in front of us and I trust their word without hesitation. Sometimes I agree with them, and sometimes I don’t. That’s the nature of the local government.

  4. PumainTacoma says:

    Derekyoung – just to clarify. Suggest you look up the RFP process. it is very clear. You obviously do not work on government contracts or have received training in this regard. Suggest you look up even the appearance of a conflict of interest on any government or corporate web site and then chime in. Government contracts are strict. Rules of RFP are strict. At no time shall anyone (silent period to awarding of a contract) participate in any way. Obviously you dismiss this as “no big deal” but people do go to jail and corporations are fined for actions such as this. Of course you do not state that.

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