Tuesday, July 5, 2016

David Peterson; Ethics complaint filed against Port Townsend government; City Council to take up matter today

"PORT TOWNSEND — A former restaurateur has filed a complaint against the city of Port Townsend, alleging that city government violated its own code of ethics and did not follow procedures during an eviction process.

“Metaphorically, there is lead in Port Townsend waters,” said Mark Cole, who owned and operated the Upstage Restaurant and Bistro at 923 Washington St. from 2008 until it closed in 2013.

“This is about an abuse of power and city employees using the law for their own benefit. They lied to me and I don't want to see that happening anywhere else.”

In his complaint, Cole alleges that David Peterson — who in 2008 took ownership of the Terry Building, which housed Upstage — used his official position as city engineer for his own benefit, with the complicity of the city staff and the City Council

“David Peterson, through his own actions and the actions and nonactions of the Building Department and the city manager secured special privileges and exemptions,” the complaint reads.

Cole said these violations include a lack of supervision, reduced requirements, protection from the disclosure of wrongful acts, and assistance in concealing wrongful acts.

In the ethics complaint, Cole states that Peterson received favored treatment from Timmons, by the Building Department, city employees, and potentially some City Council members.

He cites city code that reads that an employee should not benefit from any “action or non-action” due his position, and said that Peterson provided no written disclosures as to his personal involvement in the case and that city staff expedited the project's permit process.

“No official documents indicate any query of Dave Peterson,” the complaint reads. “[He] did benefit from the City actions or non-actions due his position.”

Peterson declined comment about the situation beyond an email saying “the facts will speak for themselves when this is taken up by the outside hearing officer.”

City Manager David Timmons had a nearly identical comment, saying “I will let the facts speak for themselves.”

Meeting today

The matter will be addressed at the next regular City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. today in chambers at historic City Hall, 540 Water St.

At that meeting, City Attorney Steve Gross will ask the council to appoint Seattle attorney Peter Eglick as the ethics hearing officer, which would be in effect from Wednesday through Dec. 31.

Cole previously filed a breach of contract action against Peterson that was mediated and settled with a $130,000 payment.

Cole owned and operated the Upstage as a 150-seat venue at the end of an alley, and it soon became a popular music venue. 

The club was at the peak of its popularity in early 2013 when Peterson disclosed plans to upgrade the building by building a pizza restaurant on the building's first floor, directly above the Upstage, with plans to install a connected kitchen.

Cole closed the restaurant June 9, 2013 for an expected three-week upgrade.

It never reopened, as Peterson began eviction proceedings against Cole, claiming Cole's neglect led to water damage and dry rot that became apparent when the floor was removed.

In his ethics complaint, Cole said Peterson fabricated this information and that he was not responsible for the damage. 

Plans dropped

In the meantime, Peterson abandoned plans to build the restaurant as it would have required increasing the weight capacity of its floor, which is also the Upstage's ceiling.

This represented the second setback for Peterson, who planned a similar rehabilitation of the Undertown Cafe but found that it could not house a legal kitchen.

Cole filed the ethics complaint using records assembled in preparation for the breach of contract complaint.

The 58-page document of he complaint— viewable at tinyurl.com/PDN-Cole — contains emails, court documents and planning documents annotated with Cole's comments.

The Upstage property has been vacant since its closing, while the building's upper floor now hosts a beauty salon and a tattoo parlor.

The timing for the ethics process is undetermined, according to city code.

Eglick, who in May determined that a three-part ethics complaint against Port Angeles City Attorney Bill Bloor over fluoridation of that city's water supply was without merit, will schedule hearing times, hear witnesses and determine the Port Townsend complaint's veracity.

Named in complaint

Current city employees named in the complaint are Peterson, Timmons, Director of Public Works Kenneth Clow and Building Inspector Michael Hoskins.

Past employees named are City Attorney John Watts and Director of Community Services Rick Sepler.

Current City Council members Mayor Deborah Stinson, Deputy Mayor Catharine Robinson, Michelle Sandoval and Robert Gray are named along with past Mayor David King, past Deputy Mayor Kris Nelson and former member Mark Welch.

Regular procedure is for the council to receive and act on the ethics officer's recommendation, but the city does not have anyone in that position, requiring the hiring of outside council.

“Some of the council has been named [in the complaint], I've been named along with staff,” Timmons said.

“If it was just staff I would do the investigation, but because we've all been named we have to outsource it.”

On Friday, Timmons said he has not yet read the complaint and intended to do so sometime this week.

“It is what it is, and we need to find out what the attorney wants us to do,” he said.

“All of my actions are part of the record.”

Cole, now a Port Angeles resident, books acts at Studio Bob, an art gallery-event space in Port Angeles."


David Peterson City of Port Townsend Complaint

City of Port Townsend Ethics Complaint

Ethics Complaint Against David Peterson and the City of Port Townsend

Upstage Complaint

David Peterson (DP hereon) and David Timmons, City Manager (CM hereon), and City
members violated City Ethics Code, City Personnel Policies, and Washington State
Ethics Code, in the least.

The complaint addresses present and former city members City Manager, David
Timmons (CM); City Engineer, David Peterson (DP); City Attorney, John Watts (JW);
Director of Public Works, Kenneth Clow (KC); Director of Community Services, Rick
Sepler (RS); Building Inspector, Michael Hoskins (MH); and City Councilors Catharine
Robinson, David King, Deborah Stinson, Kris Nelson, Mark Welch, Michelle Sandoval,
and Robert Gray.