Who is going to oppose the monorail? And have they broken any ethics codes to do it?
Seattle Weekly has obtained a series of e-mails sent by Tim Hatley, a lobbyist and former aide to King County Executive Ron Sims, detailing his effort to campaign against the plan to build a $1.7 billion, 14-mile monorail line from Ballard to West Seattle. They indicate that some very heavy hitters have serious questions about the way the monorail plan is unfolding. The e-mails were sent to several current and former public officials, including former Port Commissioner Henry Aronson and King County Council transportation chair and Sound Transit board member Dwight Pelz, as well as current staff members for both Sims and Seattle City Council transportation chair Richard Conlin and employees of the powerful PR firm Gogerty, Stark, and Marriott Inc. The e-mails also include references to three ex-mayors—Wes Uhlman, Charles Royer, and Paul Schell.
Although only Aronson is working publicly to oppose the monorail (Hatley dropped out of the formal opposition campaign last week), the fact that Pelz, an aide to Sims, and a Conlin staff member, received the e-mails—which refer very specifically to plans for the nascent opposition campaign—hardly bolsters their protestations of neutrality on the monorail. Rumors about Sims' opposition to the monorail have been swirling for some time. Nick Licata, a monorail proponent on the Seattle City Council, says Sims "is not exactly helping the monorail along," claiming "all the agencies associated with him are becoming more critical of monorail."
But whether the e-mails, obtained under a Public Disclosure Act request to Pelz's office, constituted a violation of the King County code of ethics is unclear. Pelz was sent the materials at his official county e-mail address and, in one case, initiated a message to Hatley, asking, "Do we have a place for tomorrow's meeting, 1:30-3:00?"
They referred to a July 23 meeting at the offices of Gogerty, Stark, and Marriott Inc. (The other public employees involved in the meeting appear to have been very scrupulous about keeping their involvement on a strictly private basis.) Pelz claims he did not expect the meeting to have anything to do with a formal campaign against the monorail. Instead, he says, he hoped to get input for an essay he is writing, tentatively titled "Ten Questions for the Monorail."
The ethics code says that any use of "county time or facilities," including e-mail, "for campaign purposes, including . . . the promotion or opposition to any ballot proposition" is prohibited.
Pelz says he only received e-mails about efforts to campaign against the monorail. Moreover, "I didn't respond to any of those e-mails." Passive reception of e-mail, according to King County Board of Ethics administrator Cathy Clemens, is not a subject the county has ever addressed formally. But she does note, "There's no way a person can prevent someone from sending you something."
The July 23 meeting seems to have been a collision of people with different agendas. On one level, it appears to be confirmation of the monorail proponents' worst conspiracy theories. The firm of Gogerty, Stark, and Marriott is the epitome of the downtown political establishment that the pro-monorail forces believe despise elevated transit.
But David Schaefer, Gogerty, Stark's representative at the meeting, says the firm is not involved in the opposition effort. "We provided office space. We don't have a client. We haven't raised any money. We have questions about the [monorail's] size and how it will be financed." Since the one meeting, Schaefer says, the firm hasn't had any further involvement.
Other people who attended the meeting include Aronson, Hatley, and members of Sims' and Conlin's staffs. Aronson and Hatley confirm they were actively pursuing an opposition campaign, but even they didn't see eye to eye.
Aronson says he had reservations about Hatley's participation. "Hatley was so closely linked to Sims," he explains. "I didn't want to be seen as a stalking horse for someone pushing another form of transportation," namely light rail.
Hatley confirms that he has stepped aside because other monorail opponents wanted "to minimize the connection to Sims."
Aronson himself may have connections that will discourage some from joining his opposition campaign. He last made headlines in 1989, when he wrestled with conflict-of-interest charges while serving on the Seattle Port Commission. In 1995, he managed "Try Rail," a public demonstration of commuter rail between Everett, Seattle, Kent, and Tacoma, for the Regional Transit Authority, the forerunner to Sound Transit. Aronson says none of his past experience is relevant to his current efforts. "I've got a good case against the monorail."
What about the concerns of the former mayors? In one e-mail, Hatley writes, "I think we got Royer, Schell, and Uhlman to all agree to sign an op-ed requesting the City Council to undertake an independent review of the proposed monorail plan."
Both Royer and Uhlman confirm they have questions and concerns about the monorail, but neither knows that much about it yet. The monorail, Uhlman notes pointedly, "is not above hard questions, and up to now, nobody is asking them." Royer echoes that concern, saying, "The whole thing has happened without a lot of scrutiny."
Additional reporting by Erica C. Barnett.