City Employee Charged with Unethical Conduct Is Cleared

Posted by on December 22, 2013 at 11:57 am

window washing

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.

Related Story

City Launches Preliminary Investigation into Allegations of Employee Misconduct

Photo by Andrew Malone.

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5 Responses to “City Employee Charged with Unethical Conduct Is Cleared”

  1. JR says:

    FYI, Lynn Nordby is a man.

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  2. Houston Wade says:

    Another "sky is falling" crying of wolf brought to you by "activist" Gary Tripp and his list-serv of lies. Thanks Gary, for not once in your life ever being truthful or for having any ethical standards what-so-ever.

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  3. Waste of resources says:

    This lady's investigation was made so narrow by the City Manager that her ability to produce any worthwhile results was next to impossible. What a waste of taxpayer time and resources. The continued abuses by city planning staff against citizens outside the special interest circle ($$$) continues to cast a pallor over this Island that will hopefully impede the very greed driving this nonsense. People will stop buying homes here since the news one reads between the lines is always against the taxpayer, especially against the pay grade of future Grow Stacked Housing. Running Bainbridge into the ground, for the sake of development and profit, and our new city manager appears to be part of this in crowd, not a good sign for the rest of the 99% of us. When will taxpayer money be spent on fixing Island roads and improving infrastructure instead of subsidizing a handful of developers, Winslow Way property owners and special nonprofits?

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    • Jay says:

      It was Gerlach who caused the "waste of taxpayer time and resources" in this matter. Cordon simply looked into the accusations, giving them the proper level of her experience and expertise. Gerlach refused to participate in the investigation. Why would he not want to produce his "evidence" against the city employee/city if he had it? It's a separate matter from his other city lawsuit. The reporting on this sounds like his whole complaint was hearsay that he passed on to second or third parties.
      Do I think the window washing business had potential for scrutiny? Yes. Would I have chosen to do it in the same circumstances? Probably not. Just to avoid even the appearance… This investigation is the result of some folks using the system that usually requires discretionary money and time on their hands being spent to press these complaints.
      A personal request to everyone trying to make change on this island: Change is difficult. If it would succeed for all, it needs to be full of compromise. Without compromise, conflict will rise up and self-interest will rule. This is the moment when all the "waste of taxpayer time and resources" begins.

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