Council hopeful Sharry Edwards has rescinded her accusation that Deputy Mayor Susan Honda allegedly accepted “bribes” from the cannabis industry, which is still not allowed inside Federal Way city limits.
However, Edwards, who is challenging Honda for Position 3, is calling for the incumbent to return the donations she received from the industry.
Honda vehemently denies Edwards’ claims.
“It’s not a bribe,” Honda said, uncertain of how Edwards is defining a “bribe.” “By Sharry’s definition of a bribe, which was reporting to the PDC of the donation, all campaign donations would be considered a bribe. All campaign donations are required to be reported.”
Cannabis has been an issue in the city for years, with residents voting in 2015 against allowing dispensaries in the city. However, the community has continued to debate the issue since that vote, so much so that the City Council voted to place it back on the ballot for this November.
Edwards had initially alluded to council candidates accepting bribes from the cannabis industry in a political ad that stated: “Support Sharry today and donate to launch this campaign and her fight against the Pot Shop Industry moving into Federal Way that is bribing politicans with money.”
While she didn’t reference anyone in the ad, Edwards, later in a July 18 email to the Mirror, named Honda as the politician who had accepted an alleged bribe from several individuals involved with the cannabis industry.
Her email states: “Deputy Mayor Honda has accepted thousands of dollars for her campaign from these donors, and I see this as a serious breach of her ethical duty as a sitting Councilmember, especially as an elected official to accept this money while this issue was still pending the City Council.”
According to the Public Disclosure Commission, two contributors donated $1,000 each to Honda’s campaign. Those two contributors are Judy James and Cliff Gehrett who own Reach Island, LLC, a marijuana retail company.
Federal Way resident Holly Rose stated she was shocked at the allegations against Honda.
“I have known Susan Honda for well over a decade and never in that time did she do, say, or imply anything remotely along the lines of deceit,” Rose stated in a letter to the Mirror. “There is no way this accusation has any legs to stand on.”
Sheryl Nevers, a supporter of Edwards and long-time Federal Way resident, said she admired Edwards for her stance against allowing cannabis retailers into the city.
“Sharry feels so strongly about this topic that she was willing to stand up to her own political party in opposition,” Nevers stated in a letter, noting that she admires Sharry “for not accepting controversial donations” from the marijuana industry.
Edwards rescinded her accusation on Wednesday afternoon, stating she understands “the word ‘bribe’ is charged and has legal meaning that I wasn’t aware of before this morning,” according to an email she sent to the Mirror on Wednesday afternoon, after a source whom she declined to name told her that contributions reported to the PDC “makes it ‘okay’.”
A spokeswoman for the PDC, Kim Bradford, confirmed that Honda’s campaign donations appear to have been reported correctly in the system.
After learning that Edwards withdrew her accusation, Honda said that was “very nice of her,” but wondered what she was planning to do to make it right.
“Ballots are out now,” Honda said. “How is she going to make it right, because she is wrong. You just can’t get away with this stuff, its unacceptable.”
However, Edwards called on Honda to return the donations.
“This doesn’t change my opinion on the fact that by accepting it, it has the appearance of impropriety as an elected leader especially in her special role of the leader of the City Council,” Edwards stated in an email. “I would respectfully ask that she return those donations that she received from members from the marijuana industry.”
Katherine Festa, a council candidate for Position 7, has also received the same donations as Honda, according to the PDC. Festa was unable to be reached for comment.
Edwards said one of the reasons she is disappointed with Honda accepting the donations is because a few elected officials, including council member Mark Koppang, allegedly said they would not accept any cannabis donations should they receive them.
However, Koppang, who is also up for re-election this year, told the Mirror he did not see any issue with the deputy mayor accepting the donations.
“I didn’t see any conflict at all,” Koppang said.
Edwards said in a previous Wednesday morning interview before rescinding her accusation that she is disappointed in the deputy mayor for accepting the donations.
“She’s in the pocket of the marijuana industry,” she said. “They own her now.”
Honda denied this, stating she spoke numerous times with different attorneys to make sure accepting the donations was legal before she made a decision.
“Judy [James] wanted to give me a donation but I told her not to,” she said. “I talked to some attorneys and they said that it’s a legitimate business and you’ve had your position out there for many months, why can’t you take a donation from a business?”
James, one of the people in the cannabis industry who donated money to Honda’s campaign, said she was unhappy with the accusation.
“I’m pretty offended,” she said. “As a [potential] future Federal Way business owner, I support City Council candidates who are in favor of allowing legal marijuana sales within the city in order to provide access to those who rely on cannabis for relief from health complications, and to bring in a dependable revenue stream.”
James also said she had known Honda’s position long before she offered a donation.
“I don’t know what this would have done to change her mind or cause her to make another decision,” she said.
Another issue that came up along with the bribery accusation was Honda allegedly not speaking out against safe-injection sites coming to the city.
“She has a voice and she didn’t stand up against it,” Edwards said, citing this as one of the reasons she decided to run against Honda.
Honda said she has spoken out several times against safe-injection sites and confirmed there are none in Federal Way, according to an email exchange between her and Director of Public Health for Seattle and King County Patty Hayes.
In the email, Hayes said: “There are two Public Health vans that serve Federal Way; and neither of them is a safe injection site.”
She goes on to explain that one of the vans is a needle exchange van and another is a medical van that assists the homeless community with any medical issues that may arise.
Neither site allows any drug use, Hayes confirmed.
After being told this, Edwards said she was glad to have this information and would pass it along to her supporters.
Because this issue revolves around campaigns and not direct council business, Mayor Jim Ferrell, who endorsed Edwards, declined to comment on the matter.