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Tacoma: He didn’t foresee potential conflicts, but new Councilman Thoms has twice voted on issues tied to current, past clients

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Feb. 27, 2013 at 10:41 am with No Comments »
February 27, 2013 2:53 pm

As we reported today, new Tacoma City Councilman Robert Thoms has yet to obtain a city business license and other permits required for his private, home-based lobbying business.

ThomsThoms, who opened The Navigation Group a year ago, said Monday he thought his business had filed all the necessary paperwork — a task he said he left up to his business partner, John Jolibois, to handle.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Jolibois said the firm hasn’t yet met all of its licensing requirements, in part because neither he nor Thoms have figured out where they will base their business operations.

Thoms, who is serving out the remaining year of District 2 Councilman-turned-state Rep. Jake Fey‘s term, launched his political consulting firm on Feb. 28, 2012, according to a state registration. (Thoms’ resume, submitted as part of his council appointment application, indicates the business was started a year before that — in Feb. 2011. See page 35 of this pdf.)

Jolibois filed a required lobbying registration for The Navigation Group with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission on Jan. 22 — a week after the Tacoma City Council appointed Thoms to the vacant council seat.

In an interview with The News Tribune shortly after his appointment, Thoms said he didn’t foresee any conflicts between his private lobbying business and his city responsibilities because he hasn’t done “much work with a city nexus.”

But during his first month on the council, Thoms has voted on two issues with ties to his past or current clients.

Thoms voted for a council resolution supporting the bond measure to improve Tacoma Public Schools, one of his current clients. He also voted in favor of a measure amending the city’s Local Improvement District agreement with Point Ruston LLC. Thoms said he worked as a consultant for the Point Ruston developer within the past two or three years to help get the original LID agreement in place.

Thoms didn’t disclose his ties to clients before voting on either issue.

Neither of the votes appear to constitute a direct conflict of interest under city code, which typically defines a conflict by a member’s “financial interest” in an issue. But council members can and often do recuse themselves from voting for perception and political reasons when the slightest appearance of a conflict arises.

Thoms said Monday that, before he voted on the two issues, he hadn’t thought about either as a perceived conflict of interest. He added he’s still “trying to get myself up to speed” as a council member.

“I certainly can recuse myself,” Thoms said. “Gosh, I didn’t even think about the Point Ruston thing.”

Thoms said he plans to discuss conflict issues further with Tacoma City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli.

“I will double-back with her and go over things more formally,” he said. “I would rather take a more conservative approach on these things, because I don’t want there to be the impression that there’s a conflict.”

Thoms already has filed paperwork to run for the District 2 seat when it comes up for election this year.  Downtown business owner and community activist Patricia Lecy-Davis announced this week she’ll challenge him for the seat.


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