Did Gov. Gary Locke help his brother-in-law's company win a lucrative state contract? That was one of the questions Rep. Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, sought to answer as he and his staff recently pawed through 50 pounds of state documents obtained from the state's computer-services agency.
Ballard, the House minority leader, says he wanted to make sure "the contract is clean." Last month, his office said that so far it has found nothing to indicate otherwise.
The retiring House Republican leader sought to determine if longtime Democrat rival Locke or any other state official exerted "undue influence" in the awarding of the master contract to SafeHarbor Technology of Grays Harbor, of which the governor's brother-in-law Judd Lee was chief financial officer.
Lee, who worked for the company from 1999 through February of this year, was also living in the governor's mansion at the time with Locke and first lady Mona Lee Locke, Judd Lee's sister. He was hired at SafeHarbor after the governor began promoting rural technology firms and proposing tax breaks for SafeHarbor and other tech companies.
For some, the governor's relationship with the company has been a little too cozy in light of Locke's familial connections and personal involvement in touting SafeHarbor (see "In-laws and Outlaws," April 4). SafeHarbor executives have shown their support for Locke, contributing $3,300 to the governor's 2000 re-election campaign.
Records obtained by Ballard show brother-in-law Lee was involved in several phases of the contract between SafeHarbor and the state Department of Information Services (DIS).
But the records do not indicate that Lee was involved in the actual procurement of the pact, according to a study of the documents by Seattle Weekly. DIS spokesperson Nancy Jackson says the agency's own review failed to turn up "any efforts on the part of [Lee] to participate in any of SafeHarbor's efforts to procure the contract."
Ballard apparently agrees. "The contract itself looks OK," says Ballard's legal counsel, Allen Hayward. Nonetheless, there remain questions about the bidding process that may be taken up at legislative hearings, he adds.
A private online tech-assistance firm with about 200 employees, SafeHarbor won the contract in July 2000. The five-year pact was awarded after the last of 16 other competitive bidders dropped out or were disqualified by state officials, records show.
The deal made SafeHarbor the sole provider of 24/7 online customer help for users of the state's Web site. SafeHarbor has so far earned $600,000, but the pact has vast market potential as a master contract, allowing any state or local government agency to sign up for volume-discount services from SafeHarbor.