City council denies itself access to city manager ethics report
A motion to provide each of the six Sammamish City Council members with a copy of the investigative report into former city manager Dave Rudat’s ethics violations failed during the April 5 council meeting.
As of March 31, Rudat is no longer Sammamish’s city manager, after he accepted a separation agreement from the city.
Councilmember Karen Howe made the motion proposing for copies of the report to be watermarked with individual council members’ names and returned to City Hall two weeks after receipt. However, Mayor Christie Malchow and councilmembers Karen Moran and Kent Treen voted against it. Since at least four votes are required to pass anything on the current six-member council, the motion failed.
The report, prepared by outside legal counsel throughout 2021, details the result of an ethics investigation conducted under allegations that Rudat mishandled confidential city information and allowed himself to be improperly influenced by others.
According to a 10-page redacted summary – the only part of the investigation that has been released publicly – there was sufficient evidence to show that Rudat failed to adequately safeguard attorney-client privileged information by allowing his daughter Stephanie, who is not a city employee, to access this information.
Meanwhile, the council knows the contents of the report only as it was shared with them by the outside legal counsel during executive sessions. The new council members who were elected last November read the report under supervision of an attorney at City Hall.
To read the report again, as she intends to, Howe told the Sammamish Independent that she would need to ask the city attorney, or someone from her legal staff, to be present for the duration.
“I’ll need to take time off from work, and the City will have to pay to have this third party watch me read in a closed conference room,” Howe said. “This is not an efficient process as I intend to re-read the report at least two or three more times.”
At the meeting, Howe justified her motion by arguing that it would allow council members to access the report more easily while saving the city money.
“Two weeks is ample time to review the document thoroughly, to understand its intent and what should happen, perhaps, later with it, if anything at all,” Howe said during the meeting.
Malchow, who opposed the motion, said in an email that this would set a poor precedent for the distribution of attorney-client work product.
A plethora of public records requests for the full report have also been denied, including one filed by the Sammamish Independent.
Cynthia Schaff, a paralegal on city staff, wrote that the full report was exempt from public disclosure because it contained “attorney/client communication and work product material prepared for the purpose of providing legal advice to the City and in anticipation of potential litigation.”
The withholding of the full report has raised questions of transparency among many in the community, as well as the scrutiny of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, a statewide watchdog group. It called out the City of Sammamish for withholding the Rudat report in a Twitter thread on April 8.
Despite interest in the community about what precisely the taxpayer-funded investigation found that led to the city manager’s ouster, Malchow seemed eager to move on from the scandal.
“I’m trying to look forward, not backward,” Malchow said. “If we are looking in the rear view mirror constantly, how will we assist ourselves in filling that city manager void and how can we possibly move forward to get city business accomplished for our residents?”