Morning Fizz

Morning Fizz, Bellevue Edition

By Josh Feit March 15, 2011

Erica trekked over to Bellevue again last night to cover one of her favorite stories—which she's been obsessed with since 2009the Kevin Wallace drama. (You can follow all of Erica's coverage here.)

Here's the report from last night in Bellevue:

In a fraught, dramatic meeting last night, the Bellevue City Council discussed allegations of conflicts of interest by council member and Wallace Properties president and CEO Kevin Wallace, who signed an agreement with GNP Railway that would have given the short-line railroad company 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.

Bellevue Council foes Kevin Wallace and Claudia Balducci admonished by Mayor Don Davidson at last night's meeting.

Wallace supporters retaliated with charges that other council members—Wallace's council nemesis,  King County jail employee Claudia Balducci, and Lane Powell attorney Grant Degginger—also had conflicts of interest. Those allegations were quickly dismissed by city attorney Laurie Riordon as invalid.

Wallace's preferred route, known as the B7 alignment, would run along an abandoned BNSF right-of-way to the east of Bellevue, where Wallace's company owns numerous properties; Sound Transit prefers a more direct route to downtown Bellevue that would stop at the South Bellevue park and ride, bypass the fragile Mercer Slough wetland, and serve more residences and businesses than the B7 proposal.

Commenters, speaking extemporaneously at the beginning of the meeting (which, unlike most Bellevue council meetings, was held in a large conference room down the hall from city council chambers) came down half in favor of Wallace, and half against, with several---including longtime Bellevue resident Susan Hazelman---testifying that the council member should immediately resign.

Although a proposal to hire an independent investigator to look in to Wallace's business dealings wasn't officially on the table, council members brought it up as part of the "new initiatives" discussion at the beginning of the meeting.

"I've been on this council for over 11 years, and this is probably the hardest meeting I've ever had to come to," Degginger said, addressing Wallace across the horseshoe-shaped array of tables. "I supported you, and I endorsed you, and I would have expected more from you."

In his defense, Wallace responded, "I support the conclusion [the the city of Bellevue should hire an independent investigator], and I'll cooperate with it, but I also firmly believe that when it's concluded there will be no evidence of improper collusion" between Wallace and GNP. Wallace added, "The GNP matter has nothing to do with my two-year advocacy for the B7 alignment for light rail."

Somewhat surprisingly, even Wallace supporters such as council member Jennifer Robertson expressed their support for hiring an outside investigator to look into the allegations against Wallace. And both sides appeared to agree that the controversy has made it clear that the city of Bellevue needs to adopt a code of ethics to address things like conflicts of interest in the future. (Bellevue has neither an ethics code nor campaign-contribution limits; Wallace was part of a slate of candidate supported by anti-light rail, Eastside developer Kemper Freeman, who contributed thousands of dollars to Wallace and his comrades).

"I hope we can all agree on one thing, and that's the need for an ethics ordinance," council member John Chelminiak said. "This whole discussion … is about public trust, and the public trust, frankly, has been shattered."

Mayor Don Davidson closed the discussion about ethics by asking everyone to "keep their powder dry" and noting that last night's meeting was "not the trial. It's an opportunity to vent."

Afterward, Balducci was spotted in the corridor outside the meeting room, receiving hugs from enthusiastic supporters who thanked her "for everything you've done for our city." The official decision on an investigator into Wallace's alleged conflicts isn't expected for several weeks.

Also Fizz-worthy: Former Cola columnist Dan Bertolet, AKA HugeassCity, has started a new website, Citytank—a forum to promote Bertolet's contention that cities are the solution—or as Dan puts it: "cities represent our best hope for achieving economic, social and environmental sustainability, both locally and globally .... The internet is awash with 'sustainability' websites, but few are focused on cities as the solution. Fewer still dig deep into the nuts and bolts of how urban design and land use policy can reshape our built environment, creating cities equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st Century."

Guest writers include: Jim Kuntsler, Ray Gastil, Greg Nickels, Cary Moon, Mike McGinn, Liz Dunn, Charles Mudede—and Erica and me.

Check it out here.
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