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Investigation finds no evidence to support allegations of misconduct by city of Bainbridge Island employee

City of Bainbridge Island officials said an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by a city employee has found no evidence of wrongdoing.

City officials called for an investigation earlier this year after two Bainbridge residents claimed that Josh Machen, the city's planning manager, had improperly used his city job to promote his private window-washing business.

The outside investigation was conducted by Claire Cordon, a Seattle lawyer who specializes in investigating discrimination, harassment, whistleblowing and mismanagement claims.

“Allegations were raised regarding the operation of an employee’s private business," City Manager Doug Schulze said in a statement Friday. "In order to determine whether any policy violation occurred, the city hired an outside investigator to complete an investigation."

“The investigator could find no basis for concluding the employee engaged in any type of quid pro quo solicitation regarding the private business, or other unethical conduct,” Schulze said.

The allegations against Machen were made in October by Marcus Gerlach, a Bainbridge resident and attorney, and Gary Tripp, the director of the Bainbridge Defense Fund and an outspoken critic of the city of Bainbridge Island.

Tripp distributed allegations that Gerlach made against Machen on Tripp's email listserv.

Cordon's report noted that she interviewed Machen and 14 other city employees, including two former city administrators, as well as four former city council members and 19 other witnesses, mostly Bainbridge Island property owners.

Cordon said Gerlach "declined to participate in an interview in-person or through his lawyer." She said he also refused to provide "authenticated copies of any photographs" of Machen that related to the investigation.

Tripp had previously distributed photos via his email listserv that Gerlach said he had taken of his neighbor's house, which Gerlach said showed Machen washing the windows of the home, and claimed Machen was hired for the job the day after his neighbor had a shoreline permit deemed as complete by the city of Bainbridge Island.

The claims of unethical behavior were repeated in the days before the November election by former councilman Bill Knobloch, who wrote in an email distributed by Tripp: "What is it going to take for the current administration to clean up the unfair and unequal treatment of people applying for city-issued permits?"

"The status quo is not working. Make your voice heard and vote for Common Sense Bainbridge candidates when you receive your ballot in the mail next week. Send a message to our council and appointed officials that you care about fairness for all at city hall," Knobloch added.

Cordon, in her report, said Knobloch cooperated with the investigation and participated in interviews in person, but said he did not have any personal knowledge of unethical conduct by Machen, and said what he knew he had gotten from Gerlach.

Gerlach has had a series of legal battles with the city over permit issues. He filed a federal lawsuit against Bainbridge in 2011 over a buoy permit and said his property rights had been violated. The court sided with the city in August 2012, and later denied a motion for reconsideration.

During the court case, Gerlach had raised his allegations that Machen had tried to get business for his window-washing job from Gerlach when he had been seeking a buoy permit, but the judge said the claim had not been supported by facts.

Gerlach is currently pursuing an appeal to the U.S. District Court, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gerlach also sued the city in Kitsap County Superior Court earlier this year over a bulkhead permit, and that case was dismissed in the city's favor in September.

Machen has been a city employee since 1995. He has been washing windows since he put himself through college by washing windows, and told the investigator that he still earns extra money from the business and said he uses it to pay for his son's school and sports activities.

On the allegation that Machen had washed windows for Gerlach's neighbor while they were seeking a permit from the city, the investigator found that the homeowners had actually contacted Machen's company after seeing him wash windows at a neighbor's home, and got an estimate from Machen's son for the job. The woman said she did not realize Machen worked for the city, and there was never any discussion about the permit that the city was processing. The investigator also noted that the permit has yet to be approved by the city.

No evidence of any impropriety was found in any of the other allegations made by Gerlach.

"This investigation, which included 38 witness interviews and the review of several hundred documents, did not reveal factual information to support allegations that Machen engaged in unethical conduct or that he had a conflict of interest related to his window-washing business and his duties as a [city of Bainbridge Island] employee," Cordon wrote in her report.

"There was no evidence Machen engaged in quid pro quo solicitations involving his private window-washing business and his duties as a [city of Bainbridge Island] employee," Cordon concluded.

Some of those interviewed for the investigation called the allegations "ridiculous" and "spurious" and called Machen an honest professional who was an asset in his city job.

"Indeed, many of the people interviewed for this investigation called the accusation 'ridiculous,'" Cordon said.

The allegations, however, were serious, Cordon noted.

"Machen has been accused of engaging in egregious misconduct — offering to give property owners favorable land-use decisions in his capacity as the [city] planning manager in exchange for jobs washing people's windows," she wrote.

That said, Cordon bluntly noted a lack of any evidence to support the claims of wrongdoing.

"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 10 years," she wrote in her investigation report.

The 27-page report was finalized and released by the city on Dec. 19.

 

 

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