Knobloch Accused of Being Behind Inflammatory Memo Calling City Staff Liars

Posted by on December 17, 2011 at 11:51 am

City Hall

At Wednesday’s Bainbridge Island City Council meeting, the last for outgoing councilmembers, Councilmember Bob Scales distributed to the council and to reporters attending copies of a memo that City staffers say they found on the glass of the city photocopy machine. The memo offers political strategy advice to an unnamed four-person majority and accuses City staff of lying and other forms of corruption. City Manager Brenda Bauer assigns responsibility for the memo to outgoing Councilmember Bill Knobloch.

She said, “Councilmember Knobloch used the copier, and immediately after he left, the staff person who walked past him into the room to use the copier found the document in the originals tray. They shared it with another staff person or two who came into the copier room, and then it was given to me.”

I asked Knobloch if he had written the memo or left it in the copier and he said, “I am not the author of that document.” I asked him if he had any idea who was, and he said that we should not be conjecturing about something that we had no way of knowing. He agreed that it would be significant news if the memo had been written by a councilmember. But then he repeated that the accusation was “totally false.” He questioned the reasoning behind sharing the document at the Council meeting: “What good is that especially since it was a festive evening?”

The memo (shown below) addresses four out of the seven city councilmembers without naming them. It recommends that, despite the fact that the four will have enough votes to control outcomes, they operate so as not to appear to be bullies or inept. It tells the four that at times they will have to be actors to achieve the appearance of being calm and polite. It gives advice on how to “neutralize” the opposition by allowing them to “self-destruct” through their anger and by including them in a negotiation “pattern” up until the moment of voting—it suggests that they “practice” this technique in advance. It advises the four to exclude the City Manager from council discussion about a shakeup of her office until the Council has decided how to proceed. And it reminds the four that “salesmanship” is an important part of public perception.

Scales said to me that before the meeting he distributed the memo on the dais, one to each councilmember, on the table for reporters, and on the sign-in desk for the public. Someone gathered them up, so he made more copies and redistributed them. He says that he then sat down and saw Councilmember Kim Brackett gather up all the copies he had put on the table for the public, crumple them up, and hand them to Knobloch, who put them in his bag. Brackett did not return my call.

Councilmember Debbie Lester said, “We get all sorts of stuff from people. I don’t know the reason for printing it out and distributing it.” She added, “Everybody should go have some eggnog and chill out.” Lester said, “I am looking forward to a collaborative, collegiate spirit in the coming years. We have the community work to be done and all these issues were not serving the community well.”

Local blogger Althea Paulson felt it was important to focus on the memo’s content, writing in a post about the memo, “I cannot imagine why anyone would advise council members to sandbag their fellow council members and strategically fail to negotiate in good faith.” She adds, “How can any council work with any administration if people on either side believe from the outset that there will be rampant lying and protection of power and status?” She writes that the author of the memo “has ensured that the Council and City administration will begin their relationship with mutual distrust.”

Paulson concludes her post this way: “Many of my neighbors and friends have wondered why politics at City Hall has become so poisonous. People are losing confidence in a political environment where both government and citizens are more interested in battling with each other than in working toward effective, efficient government. Attitudes and strategies like those contained in this document profoundly hurt our community.” Like Lester, she hopes that “the New Year will bring a renewed focus on substantive, productive work, conducted with real commitment to collaboration, relationship, and fair dealing.” She calls on the new members of the council to offer reassurance that this will be the spirit guiding their work.

Here is the memo:

City Council Memo















City Council Memo 2

















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Categorized | Government, News

9 Responses to “Knobloch Accused of Being Behind Inflammatory Memo Calling City Staff Liars”

  1. Gloria says:

    Good article – certainly didn't come out in the other local news that I get. I hope that the new and returning members will work together to continue improving Bainbridge and that includes bringing out the best in staff rather than accusing them of bad intent and incompetence at every turn. I think a good start has been made with settling the Water Utility question for a while, improving the Civil Service Commission structure, getting the Friends of the Farm lease right. Now on to an accessible website, a shoreline management plan, better roads for everyone.

  2. rgdimages says:

    It's possible Bill Knobloch had some help writing this rarely seen inside City Hall power and control memorandum, so perhaps he can legitimately hedge a claim of less than total author responsibility. But Mr. Knobloch was the same Council member about two years whose computer hard drive just happened to have an "unrecoverable failure" literally within minutes of he being asked to produce public record e-mails related to his personal involvement with the Ratepayers Alliance. A reasonable person might conclude Mr. Knobloch, who is still being paid by City taxpayers, isn't all too concerned about ethics or public service integrity.

    It's not hard to figure out who the four Council members are whom he claims will now control the City Council… he personally endorsed and promoted three of them as successful candidates in the General election, the same candidates endorsed by the Ratepayer's Alliance.

    The fourth one would probably downplay the rare insight memorandum by saying something like "have some eggnog and chill out". That Councilperson seems to have a strange perspective that a political strategy memorandum from an elected and paid City official to new Council members is of no more importance than the flood of ordinary citizens documents City Councilpersons receive. Oh really?

    The Ratepayer Alliance may have now succeeded in their attempt to control the City Council. They talked one candidate into running, and they have two other candidates now on Council that they backed. There is a lot of money at stake, and their plodding lawsuit is now in the $3.5 million range with litigation nearing $.5 million and charging road surfaces full stormwater rates somewhere in the $3 million range. It's a big drain on the City's treasury, especially if they succeed in shifting the costs to the general fund which is their intention.

    As the City's longest serving Councilman, Bill Knobloch couldn't get roads repaired, voted for Winslow Tomorrow, voted to spend millions for the Quay apartments, didn't have the votes to influence a reasonable City staffing level, totally lost control of the Waste Water Treatment Plant costs, supported inclusionary zoning that would have allowed developer bonus density over the entire island, and didn't get a single city utility under efficiency control. That's not much of a 10 year record to stand on to give any leadership advice to the new Council members.

    New Councils take on dynamics of their own, and all the Councilpersons have to answer to the public.

    It's shaping up to be an interesting start to 2012 at City Hall. This Knobloch control memorandum adds to the political uncertainty.

    And well done to Inside Bainbridge for publishing this piece. Citizens need to see bold, investigative journalism like this to help put in context how their government really works. It's not always pretty, but transparency is not a bad thing in government.

  3. rocky1 says:

    Let's all ask council to focus on something positive for the community as they start the new year. The last thing we need is for the conversation at council to immediately devolve into reconsidering past decisions. The city has been on the defensive for years, shoring up their finances and battling a never ending parade of issues, few of which truly advancing the community. Please council, pick something positive, even if it's small, and move forward with it.

  4. Bill Luria says:

    I wanted to add my outrage to the growing community outrage over the mean-spirited implications and innuendos expressed in the inflammatory memo. I hope the author of the memo would have the decency to reveal his or her self — to stand up and defend what was said rather than hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. Come forward, give us the facts, don’t hide. If it is revealed that this is an elected official — a sitting or former Council member — shame on that person. We need to hold our elected officials to a high standard. You’ve violated that trust. I would urge both the present Council members and the new Council members to publicly denounce what was said and to publicly denounce the author of the memo. I would also urge the sitting and elected Council members to publicly reaffirm their commitment to working together to solve the myriad of issues facing our community. To reaffirm your commitment to work for what’s in the best public interest and not for what’s best to any particular special interest group.

  5. JustAVoter says:

    Pt. 1

    I've read this memo now several times and I just don't understand what all the umbrage and outrage is about. Let's look it over:

    1. Council makes policy, reviews personnel and makes decisions on legal issues, "Period." Yes, that's what it does.
    2. "The public has been given a corrupted version of the city's financial viability for years." If anyone has been paying attention at all over the last decade, there's little to disagree with here. I've heard some be upset over the word "corrupted". My dictionary says:
    1. a: to change from good to bad in morals, manners, or actions;
    b: to degrade with unsound principles or moral values
    2. Rot, spoil
    3. to subject (a person) to corruption of blood
    4. to alter from the original or correct form or version <the file was corrupted>

    Seems to fit. There have been plenty of examples of where the city's finances have been changed "from good to bad", degraded with "unsound principles", and "altered from the original or correct form or version." Just ask Nezam Tooloee, who had the foresight to see where the budget was heading well beforehand, yet ended up voting to go ahead and add more staff, anyway. Ask Chris Snow, who had the insight to see that they were spending like "drunken sailors", and kept right on spending! Look at Althea's post of 4/11/08 for an eloquent exposition of exactly the author's point. Don't omit reading the comments, either, since they are also relevant for point #3.

    3. "…Remember that people employed by the city have lied, and will continue to lie, to keep their jobs." Is this at all surprising to anyone? Or, is it the author's bold frankness that surprises you? If you don't think anyone has done that, then I suggest to you that you must be pretty naive. "Also, people who have been running City Hall in a behind-the-scenes Kitchen Cabinet have lied, and will continue to lie, to keep their power and status." The same comment applies. Also, anyone who has spent much time observing and thinking about any type of organization have noted the existence of what is more often referred to as a "shadow cabinet". (It is more of a British term than American, but in this sense it looks to be appropriately used.) Again, maybe it is the boldness that surprises you, but do you deny that these statements are, very likely, true? Again, read Althea's 4/11/08.

    Moving on to the author's "Political Chuckholes/Safeguards". This section seems to be a frank warning of the "chuckholes" (ie, tempting thoughts to justify what might be an impulsive action), as well as how to prevent themselves from falling victim to such. The author first describes the tempting thought (1. "We have the votes") that would justify the action, and then the author's advice about it. In this case, the author even emphasizes to "Use good public process", as that will make sure that whatever decisions eventually made have been thoroughly discussed and are out in the open. What's the problem with that? Sounds like good advice to me.

    The second "chuckhole" is the temptation to go and make a "Major management shake-up". I can understand how four new council members, perhaps feeling pressure to "do something" in response to the voters' concerns would see that as a viable option. Maybe it is. Maybe they are. I'm in no position to know. But, if they are then the author's safeguard is? If being considered, make sure that all the members are present, do it in Executive session, take the "time to process what you will do", "Be prepared", "Expect dissension", "Keep…unemotional and fact based", "Be polite". Again, sounds like good advice.

    Chuckhole #3, the author says is "You forget the power of public perception" and start getting push-back, anger and the efforts being made are distorted and misconstrued. The author's recommendation? To use good public process, acknowledge that someone who feels threatened will react, so the member needs to keep in mind that they need to educate the public about the benefits of the proposal. In other words, that they need to use good sales techniques to inform. Who can argue with this? Anyone who has been effective in leading a group of people on just about anything does the same.

    The final piece of advice is: "The public recognizes those who demonstrate and share their care. Speak to this value and your strategic choices will become clear." Seems like pretty sound advice: Work for the public good and the public will appreciate it. If you have a problem with that, then I have to wonder for whose good you are working.

  6. JustAVoter says:

    Pt. 2
    Why all the stormy language and finger-pointing? If what concerns you is the message rather than the messenger, then why does it matter? If, on the other hand, you view this as an opportunity to try and score some political points by distorting what was said, then perhaps a closer examination of the document's provenance is in order. What do we know?

    From the article:

    1. Mr. Scales distributed it, so we know he was in possession of it and made it available to the council, the reporters, and to the public. After he saw "someone" gather them up, he made more copies and redistributed them. Ms. Brackett gathers them up and gives them to Mr. Knobloch, who puts them in his bag.
    2. Ms. Bauer "assigns" responsibility for it to Mr. Knobloch. She says that Mr. Knobloch used the copier and then someone else saw the document in the originals tray. That person then shared it with "another staff person or two" and "then it was given to me."
    3. Mr. Knobloch says that he is not the author, that he won't conjecture as to who is, and again asserts that the accusation of him being the author is "totally false."

    Now, how many of you have worked in an office setting and run into someone's originals left at the copier? Just about everybody? What did you do? If you could tell whose it was, did you return it? Did you leave it at the machine? And, if you couldn't tell whose it was? Did you leave it? How many people might have used the copier at the city? How many might have done the same and just left it? Hard to say? That original could have been sitting there at the machine for who knows how long.

    Then, of course, the original gets passed around between more than one person. Any of them make copies? But, someone gives it to Ms. Bauer. So, Ms. Bauer accepts responsibility for being the next in line after two or more staff to have the document. How did Mr. Scales get it? From Ms. Bauer? The article doesn't tell us. Why would Ms. Bauer give it to someone else? Why would Mr. Scales decide to distribute it?

    We don't know.

    Who wrote it? Mr. Knobloch said he didn't, but he could be lying. Ms. Bauer could have written it. An unknown staff member could have done so. Maybe Mr. Scales wrote it. It could be that someone entirely unconnected to Bainbridge wrote it years ago, someone else found it, and simply made a copy for themselves having inadvertently forgotten the original and the whole thing is just an accident taken to histrionic extremes.

    We don't know.

    We don't know the intentions of the author. We don't even know that it was actually copied by anyone before Mr. Scales decided to distribute it. We don't know how many hands, if any, touched it before Ms. Bauer's. We don't know how it got from Ms. Bauer to Mr. Scales. What we do know is that, for whatever reason, Mr. Scales really wanted it to get out, since he distributed it, twice.

    Did he do so because he believed it to be sage advice? Did he do so because he believed it could be used as a political tool to embarrass someone? If so, who?

    We don't know.

  7. JustAVoter says:

    Pt. 3
    The fact that all these lawyers are involved, yet none of them have actually parsed out what is known versus what is alleged is remarkable. Unless, of course, they've already moved on to closing argument before having tried the facts, perhaps believing that others will not have noticed that detail. (Just as a point of reference, who all among this group have graduated from law school? Bob Scales, Brenda Bauer, Barry Peters, Althea Paulsen) Mr. Peters has gone so far as to describe it as a "toxic" memo that contains "paranoid perceptions, disrespectful attitudes and manipulative strategies". He appears resolved that the author was Mr. Knobloch. ("The evidence (for example, in the InsideBainbridge news story) indicates that memo was written (or willingly carried forward and copied for distribution) by my Council colleague Bill Knobloch.") Was it? How do you know? Because a blog that repeated the stories brought forth by the only people who acknowledge handling and distributing it tell you so?

    So long as all these lawyers are speculating, I'll indulge in a few myself:

    Maybe some or all of the new council members are very dissatisfied with the current administration. Maybe they've been talking among themselves and with one or more members of the current council about what they want to see changed and how to change it. Maybe Mr. Scales, Ms. Bauer, and Mr. Peters caught wind of this, or have just deduced it, or maybe they're just imagining it and nothing really of the sort has actually happened. However, they fear it anyway and don't want to see those changes happen (it could cost some people lucrative jobs!). They fear having a 4-3 vote go against them. Maybe one or more of them decide to plant the memo (it would only take the briefest of moments while walking by the copier), believing that it would be quickly "discovered". Then, Mr. Scales goes and makes lots of copies (remember, his copies are the only copies known to have surfaced) and makes sure the press gets them. Inside Bainbridge prints it, putting their spin on it, since they are the only ones who seem to "know" anything about it and are willing to openly speak their thoughts. Mr. Peters writes his letter, full of innuendo about the "toxic" memo, begging the new members to disregard it all and "bring our community together…not to split it apart." They gets lots of "buzz" going and before you know it, everybody is talking about what an awful thing Bill Knobloch did, without ever actually thinking through what is known and what the memo actually says.

    Why would they do this? Why, hoping to split off a vote and thus negate what they fear. Machiavellian? You bet. Possible? Just as much as the other version. Does it fit the facts as reported? Just as much as the other version. Is that what really happened?

    We don't know.

    I'll close this with what I think are the most profound thoughts on the matter I've heard. Unfortunately, they were in a private communication so I'm not going to disclose the author, since I don't have permission, but they are:

    "So…somebody said (we don't know who) found something (we don't know what) written by (we don't know who) intended for (we don't know what or who) on the copy machine at City Hall. So what?"

    I'm also reminded of something my father would sometimes say to my brother or me when one of us was tattling, trying to get the other in trouble, of course: "The guilty dog barks first."

    And, with that, I think I'll follow Ms. Lester's sound counsel and go find some eggnog. Merry Christmas, all, and have a Happy New Year!

  8. R. Stevens says:

    Politics, plain and simple. Peters makes himself out to be upset about accusations of lying, and then makes Knobloch out to be a liar. And where is Bob Scales in all this, who was so concerned about preserving the reputations of two citizen civil service commissioners? He wouldn't accept the findings of the Ethics Commission, but he was eager to make copies at this and make an issue of an anonymous memo on this the last night of service of a fellow council member who had served ten years? There are a lot of inconsistencies here, all by people professing moral outrage.

  9. R. Stevens says:

    I'm struggling to see the news story here, the one with facts,and the only one that I can come up with it that the city manager waded into politics by making an accusation against a city council member. That doesn't bode well for a professional who needs broad support of that council to keep her job.


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