News

City manager accused of conflict of interest

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Opponents to a transit center, parking garage and high-occupancy vehicle ramps to Interstate 5 in Federal Way have raised allegations that city manager David Moseley might have had a conflict of interest in signing agreements with Sound Transit because his wife, Anne Fennessy, is a partner in the agency’s government affairs firm.

Seven Federal Way residents filed an ethics complaint with the state auditor Thursday, alleging Moseley violated state ethics laws by not divulging his relationship with Fennessy when he signed a July 2001 contract with Sound Transit for the city.

Moseley and Fennessy denied the allegation, saying the accusations, first raised at an appeal hearing before the City Council Oct. 22, were completely unfounded.

“I’ve been in government 30 years now and I’ve seen it before, when opposition to something gets turned into a personal attack,” Moseley said. “But you still get hurt and angry.”

Dave Larson, the attorney who represented the appellants opposing the transit center project, said there should have been some disclosure about the Moseley-Fennessy relationship, particularly while the city was working on a Sound Transit project as controversial as the transit center.

Fennessy said she never worked on the transit center project; Sound Transit hired her firm to help with business relations on the light rail project.

Ric Ilgenfritz, the current communications director for Sound Transit, confirmed the agency, Cocker Fennessy, was hired in 2000 to help with the reorganization of Sound Transit after the agency hired now-executive director Joni Earl, and was retained for several years afterward to conduct outreach related to the Central Link project.

“They never did anything related to the Federal Way transit center,” Ilgenfritz said. “All the work we’ve done with that firm has been light rail.”

According to Sound Transit Board minutes, the agency hired Cocker Fennessy in November 2000 to provide “strategic advice, communications planning and training, community relations and public affairs assistance to facilitate and develop Sound Transit’s relationships with regional community leaders.”

Board members later extended Cocker Fennessy’s contract through Dec. 31, 2001 and upped the firm’s pay from $31,000 to $318,000.

In April 2001, Sound Transit agreed to issue a memorandum of agreement with the city, establishing a working relationship for the environmental process, design, permitting, construction and transit-oriented development related to the transit center.

During the same meeting, the board added another $300,000 to Cocker Fennessy’s pay, bringing the agency up to $618,000, because Cocker Fennessy was providing “vastly expanded services,” including creating a communications department, according to board minutes.

On July 9, 2001, Moseley signed Sound Transit’s memorandum of agreement, as did city clerk Chris Green and then-city attorney Bob Sterbank.

In April 2002, Sound Transit again extended Cocker Fennessy’s contact through December 2002 and agreed to pay $175,000 for their services. Cocker Fennessy’s total contract amount with Sound Transit was about $793,000.

Local residents who filed the ethics complaint said the fact Fennessy was receiving money from Sound Transit for her work in government affairs means Moseley should have revealed their relationship before signing the agreement. Larson said it doesn’t matter that Fennessy didn’t do any work on the transit center project.

“People can mask their conflicts and say, ‘I know what it looks like, but it wasn’t that way,’” he said.

If Moseley did violate a state ethics law, any contract he signed as part of that violation — in this case, the July 2001 agreement, Larson said — would be void.

Moseley countered that he signed the contract on behalf and at the direction of the City Council following its March 20, 2001 meeting.

“It was not a unilateral decision on my part,” he said. “In signing the contract, I was acting on the direction of the council. I was not making any personal decision.”

In the ethics complaint, residents allege that under community law provisions, Fennessy’s paychecks for her work with Sound Transit constitutes a conflict because it’s as though Moseley received the money himself.

The residents filing the complaint –– William Balogh, Kevin McNett, Cesar Zamborino, Michael McCleod, R.Raphael Plant and Lawrence Wilson –– cited state law that prohibits municipal officers from having a beneficial interest in any contract made under their supervision, or from voting in the authorization of a contract in which they have a beneficial interest. The law states municipal officers should disclose their interest before formation of a contract.

Moseley denied any financial benefit through Fennessy’s work with Sound Transit. She gets paid as part of Cocker Fennessy’s payroll and brings home a paycheck, he said, and he doesn’t directly benefit from any of her contracts.

Moseley said Cocker Fennessy’s connection with Sound Transit is something anyone could have discovered. Sound Transit’s contract with the firm is available in its minutes, which are published online.

“Cocker Fennessy’s work with Sound Transit has never been a secret,” he said, adding he’s had conversations with all the council members at various times about his wife and her job.

Larson maintained the council members and other officials must avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest as much as the conflict itself in order to ensure the fair and impartial conduct of business.

Moseley was at the council hearing Oct. 22, when Larson introduced the questions about Moseley’s potential apparent conflict of interest. Moseley said then he had no idea the allegations would be made.

“I was hurt and I was angry,” he said. “It hurts to have your integrity called into question. And I was angry they brought my wife into it.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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