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Tacoma councilman’s sin was not disclosing conflict

Post by Kim Bradford on March 10, 2010 at 7:16 pm |
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.

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