City Hall

Bushnell's Major Role in McGinn Administration Went Undisclosed for Over a Month

By Morning Fizz February 15, 2010

Today's Fizz was written by Erica, and has been updated to include information about Bushnell's official hire date.

On January 4, Mayor Mike McGinn released what he described in a press release as "details on the staff structure and salaries of all new hires by his administration," including his personal staff, the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, the city budget office, and the Human Services Department, along with an organizational chart of his office.

The release continued: "Releasing the salaries and organization of his staff is an important step toward greater transparency in city government."

One name that was missing was that of short-lived McGinn staffer Chris Bushnell, the $110,000-a-year special advisor who resigned last month after admitting he had falsely claimed to have a Ph.D in economics. (Bushnell says he has an undergraduate degree and a law degree from the University of Washington; however, that's impossible to verify because he took the unusual step of having all his academic records sealed.)

McGinn first announced hiring Bushnell (on his blog, rather than in the press releases he has used to announce most big hires) January 25. Before that, his spokesman Mark Matassa told PubliCola at the time, Bushnell was not on the city payroll. UPDATE: According to city personnel records, Bushnell was officially hired January 22.

However, documents obtained by PubliCola through a public records request reveal that Bushnell had a city email address as far back as December 2009; received an email from a McGinn staffer "welcom[ing]" him "to the team" in late December; and was deeply involved in many of McGinn's major official city decisions (both in planning and execution), including McGinn's controversial announcement that he would eliminate 200 strategic advisor and senior management positions.

We have calls in to McGinn's spokesman to determine why, given that he was such a close advisor to the mayor, his presence at the mayor's office wasn't disclosed until late January.

Even assuming he was working for free through December and the first three weeks of January, Bushnell, a longtime employee of McGinn's main campaign consultant, the Mercury Group, clearly played a major role in McGinn's decision-making process both during and after his mayoral campaign. That strikes us as the sort of thing that ought to be disclosed as part of a push for "transparency."

In addition to revealing that Bushnell had a previously undisclosed role at the city, our public records request (parts of which are still outstanding) revealed his deep involvement in major McGinn decisions.

• In response to an email to his city address dated December 21, Bushnell told city personnel director Mark McDermott that "three city employees will no longer be directors ... [Fleets and Facilities Director] Brenda Bauer, [Human Services Director] Alan Painter, and [Office of Sustainability and the Environment Director] Michael Mann."

The date of Bushnell's email, January 2, was nearly a month before Mann sent a letter to colleagues announcing his resignation (and nearly two weeks after Mann told PubliCola he was "thoroughly enjoying" heading up OSE), indicating that Bushnell knew Mann would be leaving the city well in advance.

• The same email exchange reveals that Bushnell played a key role in one of McGinn's most controversial decisions—his announcement, subsequently put "on pause," that he would eliminate 200 strategic advisor and "senior management" positions at the city.

In his email to Bushnell, McDermott expressed concern about a request from Bushnell that he produce a full list of executive and management-level positions by department, noting that most of the staff who would comb through the personnel files were or would soon be on long-planned vacations, which could compromise the "quality" of the information.

In response, Bushnell wrote, "We will be using this data to set reduction targets for each department.  Our goal is to determine the targets and disseminate them to departments by January 11th, so please let us know if it is realistic to obtain the rest of the departments by Wednesday or Thursday."

• Although McGinn's staff hasn't returned calls yet seeking clarification on Bushnell's actual hire date, he was included on an email dated December 24 titled "Welcome to the Team!"—a full month before McGinn announced that he had hired Bushnell on his blog.

The email, from McGinn strategic advisor Ainsley Close, laid out logistics for moving in to City Hall and invite all recipients, including Bushnell, to an "all-staff meeting" the day before McGinn's inauguration.

In addition, many of Bushnell's emails from late December and early January make it clear that Bushnell was acting as a member of the mayor's office, whether or not he was being paid.

For example, in a January 2 email, Bushnell refers to "we ... in the mayor's office." On January 11, he was given shared access to mayoral chief of staff Julie McCoy's calendar. On January 5, in an email to Bushnell and Deputy Mayor Phil Fujii, McGinn project manager Julie Tobin asked, "Who will be reviewing hiring freeze and contracting requests in Chris' absence" while Bushnell was on vacation, implying that it was Bushnell's job to review those official city requests.  And all the way back in "mid-December," city human resources manager Cindy Eckholt wrote in an email to several mayoral staffers, "Chris Bushnell advised me ... that a few of the Nickels people were only being retained for a short period of time.""

• On January 5, Bushnell distributed the text of a YouTube video (never, as far as I can tell, made) in which McGinn was to talk about his decision to move 22-year city veteran Dwight Dively out of the budget office. (Dively was moved into a new department overseeing finance and fleets and facilities; King County budget director Beth Goldberg took over the city's annual budget process).

Under the heading, "Why make the change?", Bushnell's proposed YouTube outline reads, "Potential general fund deficit of $46 million; Need to show where internal services are already efficient; Need to streamline where internal services can be more efficient." Earlier this month, Dively left the city to head up budget planning at King County. It's unclear if the outline was written by Bushnell, but he was clearly involved in its creation.

Matassa has told PubliCola Bushnell will have "absolutely no role," even as a volunteer, in the mayor's administration going forward. Neither he nor McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus has returned calls for comment.

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