The outside investigation into a questionable delivery of city wood chips to a Bainbridge councilman’s home cost the city approximately $7,250, according to records released by the city of Bainbridge Island.
Councilman Ron Peltier was investigated earlier this year by a Seattle attorney who specializes in workplace investigations after a Bainbridge resident told police that city employees were seen delivering wood chips to Peltier’s home.
The investigation, completed by consultant Rebecca Dean, was issued in March, and Dean wrote that Peltier did not know about the free delivery of city wood chips to his property and that it was arranged by the councilman’s wife.
The investigation report noted that the city did not generally give wood chips to private citizens, and in receiving the chips, “Peltier received a benefit not available to the public.”
Dean placed the blame for the delivery on Peltier’s wife and a Public Works supervisor, and added that other city workers did not know the material was being dropped off at a council member’s property on NE Valley Road when the delivery was made last November.
The wood chips delivered to Peltier’s property came from storm debris that was collected by the city. The city does not have a program that gives away or sells wood chips to the public; the city has traditionally used wood chips — made from trees and branches that fall on city rights-of-ways or easements — to use on city property, or has given the material to the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District.
Dean said the person who approved the chip delivery should have checked with higher-ups before approving the giveaway. The delivery was OK’d after the work crew initially refused to drop off the chips but a supervisor gave the go-ahead after city employees returned to the Public Works shop at the end of their shift. City workers then returned to the Peltier property to drop off the load.
During the investigation, Peltier’s wife said she did not identify herself as a councilman’s wife when talking with city employees, and Dean found no evidence of other city deliveries of chips to Peltier’s property.
Dean spent nearly 25 hours in all on her month-long investigation, according to documents released by the city in response to a public records request by the Review.
She was paid $290 an hour for her work, which included two days spent on Bainbridge on Feb. 27 and Feb. 28 where she interviewed witnesses and city employees.
Interviews were set up with the assistance of City Attorney Joe Levan.
According to a Feb. 15 email from Levan to Dean, the list of people to be interviewed as part of the investigation included Peltier; his wife; the resident who made the complaint; four members of the city work crew and their supervisor; the manager of the Public Works department, Public Works Director Barry Loveless; and two officers from the Bainbridge Island Police Department, including Chief Jeff Horn.
The resident who made the complaint lives near Peltier and had previous neighbor disputes with him. She told police that she was worried that Peltier was using his connections with the city to receive benefits he wanted entitled to.
Emails released by the city show that Peltier and his wife were helpful during the investigation.
Peltier’s wife was described by Dean as “professional and pleasant” when interviewed, though Dean added in an email titled “Heads up” to City Manager Morgan Smith that the councilman’s wife would be contacting Smith. Dean said she was very helpful, “but nevertheless feels like the process is one-sided and unfair and would like to talk to someone else. She asked several questions I would not answer.”
Peltier sent Smith and Levan an email the morning of the second day of interviews to give permission for a visit to his property so the investigator could see “our pile of chips and photograph it. The chips delivered by the city in November is sandwiched between two large piles delivered by Scott’s Tree Service.”
Peltier also noted his wife kept a journal “showing when chips have been delivered and by who.”
“There were no other deliveries of wood chips to our property by the city,” he added.
Peltier had been interviewed the day before, and said it appeared the investigator was trying to determine if there were other city deliveries that Peltier and his wife had not acknowledged.
Billing records for the investigation show that Levan, the city attorney, reviewed the Dean’s draft report on the investigation.
Levan spoke with Dean twice about revisions to the report. Some revisions were made after a phone call between the two on March 6, and additional changes were made after Levan weighed in a second time on March 11.
Those revisions were described as minor in Dean’s invoice for the work.
Two sets of invoices from Dean released by the city indicate she received an initial payment of $5,161 for her work, and a second payment of $2,088.