When two island residents, Bill Knobloch and Marcus Gerlach, leveled complaints against City of Bainbridge Island Planning Manager Josh Machen, City Manager Doug Schulze launched an investigation. Independent investigator Claire Cordon submitted her report December 19, clearing Machen of charges of unethical conduct.
Knobloch and Gerlach accused Machen of a conflict of interest caused by his role as Planning Manager and his window-washing business. Cordon interviewed 37 people by my count (Cordon says 38) for her investigation, a list of names that looks like a Who’s Who on Bainbridge, ranging from State Senator Christine Rolfes to builder Tad Fairbank to Restauranteurs Betsy Atkinson and Jeff Shepard to architect Mack Pearl. Cordon also received unsolicited emails from 11 or 12 (Cordon is unclear) people weighing in on the matter, most of which offered their support for Machen.
Despite having made accusations, Gerlach declined to participate in the investigation, citing as reason his lawsuit against the City. Gerlach submitted information to Cordon from four people, one of whom wanted to remain anonymous. But Cordon found the information to be unrelated to the conflict-of-interest allegations.
Knobloch participated in the investigation, but Cordon reported that he “did not have any personal knowledge of unethical conduct by Machen.” He referred Cordon to Gerlach “as the source of any information he knew on the subject.”
She also examined each of Gerlach’s accusations and found them not to be credible based largely on dates, property information, and findings of fact. Cordon was also able to speak with each person Gerlach recommended she contact with the exception of Debbie Vancil who, Cordon reported, did not return her calls. None of the people she spoke with supported the allegation that Machen was unethical.
Nevertheless, a few expressed concern about the appearance of impropriety when someone who works in permitting has a window-washing business. In 2003, then-City Manager Lynn Nordby wrote Machen about his concern, saying, “someone could assert that there could be an appearance of fairness problem with a city employee doing contract work, no matter how minimal, for a contractor who might be before the same department for permits or regulation.” He then instructed Machen to stop doing window-washing work “for new construction or for contractors doing business within Bainbridge Island.” Former City Councilmember Kim Brackett told Cordon that she thought “it was improper for Machen to be washing windows given his position with the COBI Planning Department.”
Cordon concluded that “There was no evidence Machen engaged in quid pro quo solicitations involving his private window washing business and his duties as a COBI employee.” She added, “Almost all of the witnesses who suspected Machen 0f ethical wrongdoing did so on the basis of information they had learned from Gerlach.”
In her report, Cordon wrote, “Machen has been accused of engaging in egregious misconduct—offering to give property owners favorable land use decisions in his capacity as the COBI Planning Manager in exchange for jobs washing people’s windows. If Machen were engaging in this type of blatant misbehavior, surely someone would have come forward with credible facts to support such an allegation at some point in the last ten years.”
You can read the full report on the City’s here.
Photo by Andrew Malone.