By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News
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By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — City Council members may find it harder after leaving office to immediately work for businesses that have contracts with City Hall as a result of a state auditor's report released Wednesday.
During a meeting on the report that morning, City Council member Max Mania requested that staff members develop a resolution that could legally prevent those who serve on the council from working for companies that do business with the city for a certain period of time after they leave office.
The report, which focused on allegations made against former Mayor Karen Rogers, found she didn't break any laws by working for Exeltech four months after she left office at the end of 2009.
The company has received $5.8 million in city contracts over approximately the past eight years and hired Rogers in April 2010 to oversee the company's regional development efforts.
Mania acknowledged in an interview that Rogers didn't break any laws by working for the company but said the city could go a long way in gaining public trust by making it tougher for council members to cross “between these two worlds.”
“I think it would be valuable — even if it was just a symbolic thing for people to do — to make that statement that we understand there is a public concern about the appearance of a conflict of interest,” he said.
City staff said they will develop a resolution for the council to consider.
Staff said they also will consider holding work sessions more often on state laws regarding conflicts of interest.
The report found that Rogers violated state law by voting for a contract with a company in 2007 that was paying her for “property management services.”
City Attorney Bill Bloor said he provides a work session on state law to the council after each election but added he may start holding them annually.
Deputy Mayor Don Perry, who led the meeting since Mayor Dan Di Guilio was absent, said he doesn't think the report leaves a stain on the City Council, adding that it's difficult to avoid conflicts of interest.
“We're involved in everything that happens in our town,” he said.
“To know all the rules and regulations and restrictions . . . it takes a lot of effort and a lot of time.”
But Perry also said he thinks it's the responsibility of council members to make sure they avoid such conflicts.
“It's our responsibility to make sure we don't do it,” he said.
Perry said Di Guilio couldn't attend the meeting because he was in Port Townsend working as Jefferson Transit's interim director.
Bloor, who has been the city attorney since 2004, said he wasn't aware of a conflict of interest when Rogers voted on the contract, adding that it's the responsibility of council members to ensure they comply with the law.
“I'm not sure how the council people would feel about it if we told them, ‘Today, you get sworn in as council members, and now, you also have to tell us everything that you belong to, every contact you have,' things like that,” he said.
Bloor said Rogers had talked to him about concerns regarding potential conflicts of interest when she was on the council.
He said he doesn't recall “any situation” involving Rogers “that would have been brought to my attention that would have been a problem.”
Agency spokesman Dan Sytman confirmed in an email that the report, developed by the state Auditor's Office, is under review, but he couldn't be reached for further comment.
The Attorney General's Office and Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney's Office are the only agencies that have the authority to level penalties for the violation, said Auditor's Office spokeswoman Mindy Chambers.
Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly said in an email that she is leaving it up to the state to seek penalties.
Rogers could be fined $500 for not disclosing the conflict, according to state law.
The four-page report released during a special meeting of the Port Angeles City Council on Wednesday found that the former mayor acted improperly by voting for a contract between the city and Capacity Provisioning Inc. in 2007.
The contract involved use of the company's fiber-optic network.
The city has paid CPI about $5,000 a month for use of the network since it went live in 2003.
Under state law, Rogers was required to disclose that CPI was paying her for “property management services” at the time and abstain from voting on the contract, Kim Hurley, special investigations manager with the state agency, told the council Wednesday morning.
“We did find some instances where the person voted in favor for city contracts where a remote interest existed,” she said.
“And that is a violation of the remote code of ethics.”
Hurley presented the findings of the report at a public meeting attended by six council members — Mayor Dan Di Guilio, who is working as Jefferson Transit's interim director, was absent — city administrators and about 30 other people.
Rogers, who served from 2002 through 2009 as a City Council member and from 2006 until 2008 as mayor, could not be reached for comment. She was not present at the meeting.
The Auditor's Office conducted the investigation in response to a complaint filed with its citizen hotline in 2009.
The complaint alleged wrongdoing by Rogers involving business relationships and financial disclosure laws, but it also questioned cost overruns on The Gateway transit center and whether the city could legally award a large contract to CPI without seeking other bids.
The only other violation noted in the report was a failure on Rogers' part to disclose how much money organizations that she served with as a board member, such as the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, received from the city when she filed to run for the City Council. Penalties for that violation would be up to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Commission spokeswoman Lori Anderson said Rogers may simply be required to add that information to the filings.
The agency exonerated Rogers for other actions mentioned in the complaint, such as writing a letter on city letterhead in 2007 to the state Department of Ecology encouraging the agency to hire The Remediators — a company that she worked for as a consultant the following year — for environmental cleanup in Port Angeles.
“Nothing in state law prohibits a mayor from promoting local businesses,” the report said.
The Auditor's Office also investigated an allegation that Rogers got city funding for a study conducted by a friend of hers by channeling the work through the Clallam County Economic Development Council, which the city later reimbursed.
Chambers said the study involved a local winery. She said she didn't know the name of the winery and couldn't confirm if the allegations were proven.
The report, which found no wrongdoing on the matter, said the City Council in 2006 approved an amendment to Port Angeles' contract with the EDC that allocated $2,000 for the study.
Additionally, the report said Rogers didn't violate any laws by working after she left office for Exeltech, a company that has received numerous contracts with the city.
“No law prohibits that in the city,” Hurley said.
Exeltech has received $5.8 million in city contracts over approximately the past eight years, including work on the Eighth Street bridges and The Gateway transit center. The company is currently a subconsultant on the First Street stormwater project.
The Auditor's Office said it found no wrongdoing with the city not bidding a contract with CPI for establishing a fiber-optic network in the city.
The city claimed “special market conditions” for the sole-source contract.
The report said that is allowed under state law but couldn't confirm whether such conditions existed at the time.
Although mentioned in the complaint, the Auditor's Office said it did not review change orders with construction of The Gateway since it had made recommendations to the city on the subject through a previous audit.
Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at email@example.com.