Tonight at 6:30 p.m., the Tacoma Ethics Board will hold a special meeting on its investigation of City Councilman David Boe and his actions during council considerations of awarding a contract for the Cheney Stadium renovation project.
According to public notice, the meeting’s purpose is to “to review the complaint, findings, conclusions, and recommended disposition of the investigation of Complaint No. 10-001, Council Member Boe, and to take further action as the Board deems appropriate…”
At issue are Boe’s ties to one of the losing bidders for the contract to revamp the city-owned ballpark and whether he properly disclosed them.
We’ll have to wait to see what the board concludes, but according to records we recently obtained through public disclosure, it now appears that at least some city officials knew details about Boe’s involvement with one of the bid teams long before it became an issue. In fact, Boe even sought advice about whether he needed to recuse himself from voting and discussing the ballpark contract issue, an email shows.
First, here’s some background:
Shortly before being appointed to the council this year, Boe, a longtime architect in Tacoma, worked without pay to revise architectural designs that were part of the final bid for the project submitted by the design-build team led by Gig Harbor-based Wade Perrow Construction, or WPC. The city ultimately awarded the $26.5 million contract to another team, led by Mortenson Construction. WPC finished third, behind Mortenson and another team led by Turner Construction.
Before the city awarded the contract, Boe was a vocal critic of some parts of the Mortenson design and its selection process. But he did not publicly disclose his connections with the competing bid team until just before the council voted on authorizing the contract, as we previously reported here and here.
Boe’s revelations from the dais were prompted only after Tacoma Rainiers’ officials said they discovered Boe’s connections to the WPC designs on the day of the vote, and in turn, raised concerns to city officials. City Manager Eric Anderson, after conferring with City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli, met with Boe shortly before the council meeting and told Boe that he needed to publicly disclose his ties with WPC.
Anderson said later he did not know Boe was so intricately involved with the final designs submitted by one of the bidding teams, saying he was aware only that Boe had some vague WPC ties as an “unpaid consultant.”
Boe ultimately did reveal his connections to the bid from the council’s dais, before casting the lone vote against awarding the city contract to Mortenson. But his eleventh-hour disclosure upset some Rainiers’ and city officials involved in the selection process.
Rainiers’ President Aaron Artman later criticized Boe for not disclosing his ties earlier and recusing himself from the vote and discussion about the project. Artman also blamed Boe for fanning flames of criticism about Mortenson’s designs for the project in the week before the contract was awarded and questioned the Boe’s true reasons for those criticisms.
Boe explained later that he didn’t believe he had to publicly disclose the issue in part because he didn’t receive any compensation from WPC. He later admitted he “screwed up” and should have recused himself, chalking the issue up as a rookie politician’s mistake.
Now, interviews and email exchanges obtained through public disclosure show that Boe did disclose to Pauli his direct involvement with WPC. In fact, on Jan. 9 — while Boe was a finalist for an appointment to the city council — he sent an email to City Clerk Doris Sorum, who forwarded it to Pauli. The email shows Boe expected to fully recuse himself from the ballpark issue. Here’s what he wrote:
Doris – I don’t know if this is an issue, but I am wondering if I would have any potential conflict of interest if appointed to one of the open council positions given some latest business developments with my architectural practice:
… Cheney Stadium Improvement Project: This one is a bit messier, and definitely much larger in scope. Yesterday we were contacted by one of the finalist for the design/build project for the Cheney Stadium Remdel (a client I have had for most of my career). I am being brought-in to make some quick value engineering revisions to their proposal that is due back for review on Wednesday (wow – what a week). So I am now a participant on their team. Again, I am assuming that I would have to recuse myself from any and all discussion and voting on this project (which in reality I would probably need to do regardless as I have a personal relationship with members on every team that is submitting).
I hope that this is not too much of an obstacle to hurdle if I was appointed – but I thought I better get this out to you, and for forwarding as appropriate, ahead of the final selection interview.
Pauli later responded that she was unable to provide Boe with legal advice, but directed him to Section 6.6 of the City’s Charter, which spells out conflict of interest issues.
So, once Boe became a councilman, why didn’t the city tell him to disclose his ties earlier?
In a recent interview, Anderson said he wasn’t made aware of the information Boe brought to Pauli’s attention.
“Elizabeth didn’t tell me that,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know the nature of his involvement (in the WPC designs) until that day (of the vote).”
After the email was sent and he was appointed to the council, Boe later met with Pauli and others from the city about his potential conflicts of interest, but apparently was not advised to disclose his relationship with WPC on the ballpark project.
When pressed if city officials dropped the ball by not advising Boe to disclose his connections earlier, Anderson said: “The best we could do, in my opinion, was to ask him to disclose this when we did.”
In a previous interview just after the contract vote, Pauli said that for reasons of attorney-client privilege, she couldn’t disclose the details of her talk with Boe. But she also noted generally that the city’s charter specifically defines a “conflict of interest” as an issue that involves a financial relationship.
Boe, as an unpaid member of the team, did not by city standards have a formal conflict of interest on the stadium issue, and so, he wasn’t required to disclose or recuse himself from its discussions or votes under city rules. But, as Pauli and other council members also noted, council members can and often do use personal discretion in deciding when to disclose matters and recuse themselves from issues.
Boe has declined comment about specifics until the ethics panel issues its decision. The board took up an investigation in March, after online publisher John Hathaway filed a formal ethics complaint against Boe.