Seattle’s next mayor is bringing major conflicts of interest with her
Seattle suddenly seems like a very small town — at least when you look at the mayoral candidates and their family ties.
It turns out that both Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan have family connections that could force them to step back from certain decisions around expansion of the Washington State Convention Center and from Sound Transit light rail contracts.
Moon’s husband, Mark Reddington, is a partner at LMN Architects – a firm that has been involved in some of Seattle’s iconic public buildings. Reddington is the lead architect on the city’s $1.6 billion expansion of the convention center. LMN is also doing design work on Sound Transit light rail stations.
Wayne Barnett is the executive director of Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission. He said – and Moon agreed – that she’ll have to recuse herself from dealing with these projects in the mayor’s office and as a member of the Sound Transit board that contracts with LMN.
“If Cary Moon’s elected and if she’s on the Sound Transit board, she’d have to make sure that none of the Sound Transit matters in which she’s participating were ones that would have an impact on LMN’s finances,” Barnett said.
The Durkan campaign suggested that Moon would not be able to advocate effectively on those projects. The Moon campaign then noted that Durkan’s sister, attorney T. Ryan Durkan, is the lead land use attorney on the convention center project and has represented clients affected by Sound Transit.
Seattle’s ethics code says officials must disclose their participation in any issue that could financially benefit their family members and even roommates. (The code was amended after a 2006 case in which an SDOT official awarded a contract to his housemate).
Barnett said officials should consult with ethics staff for any conflict between their job and their personal life.
“Ultimately the code says that if a reasonable person would question your judgment based on a relationship, either personal or business, that you have to disclose that,” he said.
City employees frequently run things by the Seattle ethics staff just to make sure, Barnett said.
“If they don’t, if they participate in a matter, there can be complaints filed alleging there’s a conflict of interest,” he said.
In a statement Moon said she would only have to recuse herself as a Sound Transit board member in “a few narrow decisions” relating to LMN’s station designs. She said of her husband, “Together we've checked with lawyers and the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to ensure that we meet the highest ethical standards and avoid any potential conflicts of interest if I am elected Mayor of Seattle.”
Durkan spokeswoman Stephanie Formas also issued a statement, saying Durkan followed similar ethics rules as U.S. attorney.
“She would take a similar proactive approach if elected mayor, and will consult with the ethics commission and City Attorney's office on any potential conflicts and take all appropriate steps — including recusal — when necessary,” the statement said.
John Wonderlich, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for open government, said if Seattle’s next mayor has to work frequently on issues in which family members are involved, the best solution will be to go above and beyond in terms of disclosure.
“I think it’s reasonable to say that any lobbying or contact from the business be disclosed in a more timely or transparent manner than the law may require,” Wonderlich said.
In Durkan’s personal financial disclosure forms, she also included a list of her legal clients in private practice. They include companies like Coca-Cola (which is affected by Seattle’s new beverage tax) and Google, as well as the Port of Seattle.
She also represented Charlene Strong pro bono against Seattle as the city investigated the flood that killed Strong’s partner, Kate Fleming. Durkan is prevented from doing any work relating to those clients for at least one year – she has taken a leave of absence from her law firm since declaring her candidacy.
Unlike Moon's disclosure of her husband’s clients, Durkan is not required to disclose her partner Dana Garvey’s financial assets. The two are not married and they are not registered domestic partners.
The news site Crosscut uncovered the details of a house in Garvey’s name that the couple is building.
Crosscut did not report the location, in response to Durkan’s security concerns. Durkan and Garvey's address information is included in a state confidentiality program for criminal justice employees and others. Durkan told state regulators, “Due to my prior work as a federal prosecutor there is a serious safety risk in disclosing the address of my personal residence.”
Previously Garvey worked for McCaw Cellular. She has an art history degree and operates a small company called Iconalytics that does art authentication research. Durkan’s campaign said Garvey’s work has no connection to matters before the city of Seattle.
Durkan said her assets are valued at a total of $5.75 million. Moon’s assets total $4.1 million.
Wonderlich with the Sunlight Foundation said ideally, officials should strive to be open about any potential ethics concerns in order to foster public confidence.
“It’s really important that there be lawyers whose job it is to help officials figure out whether they’re following the letter and the spirit of the law,” he said.
“You want to see public service as something that’s about trying to follow the spirit of having an ethical and accountable government.”