On Monday, the Bellevue City Council opted not to move forward with a conflict-of-interest investigation into council member Kevin Wallace. Wallace, a real-estate developer, failed to disclose that his company, Wallace Properties, signed an agreement to give the short-line rail company GNP Railway exclusive use of an abandoned rail right-of-way along the same route where Wallace has advocated running Sound Transit’s East Link light rail.
Although the deal ultimately fell through when GNP filed for bankruptcy, Wallace could have benefited financially from the partnership. As PubliCola first reported early last year, Wallace owns numerous properties along the rail line, and has pressured Sound Transit to relocate its East Link light rail to the corridor (the so-called B7 alignment). If the line were moved to the BNSF right-of-way, Wallace would be in a position to build lucrative transit-oriented development along the line, as he has near the Northgate Transit Center in Seattle. Additionally, GNP could potentially have forced Sound Transit to pay to use its exclusive right-of-way and to make improvements to the corridor---again, potentially benefiting both GNP and Wallace as its partner.
Wallace and his fellow B7 proponents have argued that the city should also investigate council members Claudia Balducci and Grant Degginger.
At Monday's meeting, Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson (a member of the council) argued that an outside investigator should look into whether Balducci's position on the Sound Transit board (which is made up almost entirely of elected officials like Balducci) would constitute an "incompatible office" if the city decides to sue Sound Transit. And he brought up the fact that Degginger's law firm represented Sound Transit occasionally between 2002 and 2004, which Davidson argued could constitute a conflict of interest. Investigating Balducci and Degginger as well as Wallace, Davidson said, "is the only way I can heal this community and the only way I can heal this council."
Ultimately, the council tabled the whole action, after city attorney Lori Riordon pointed out that if the council were to vote on moving forward with an investigation, three of its members would be voting on whether to investigate themselves. The council's decision puts the Wallace investigation on hold indefinitely.
Unlike the city of Seattle, Bellevue has no independent ethics board and no ethics code for city officials.
The Bellevue Reporter and Seattle Times have more.
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