The husband of Bainbridge Island City Councilwoman Rasham Nassar filed an ethics complaint against a city employee after the employee submitted an online code compliance complaint that alleged Nassar and her husband had a “tiny home” on their property that didn’t have permits, according to public records recently released by the city.
The ethics complaint was followed by a visit by Nassar to the Bainbridge Island Police Department on Sept. 19, where the councilwoman alleged the employee had trespassed on her property to get a photo that was added to the online complaint to the city.
Records released by the city show police investigated the claim made by Nassar and her husband, Trenton Riely-Gibbons, and the case was forwarded to the Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney on Oct. 18.
Public records also indicate the county prosecutor has not taken action on the complaint.
The ethics complaint prompted the city to hire an outside investigator to look into the claim, which involved a permit specialist in the planning department, according to City Manager Morgan Smith.
“The complaint involved allegations concerning a city employee, and according to the city’s ethics program it is my responsibility as city manager to make a determination regarding the employee’s alleged conduct based on the city’s applicable collective bargaining agreement and the city’s employee manual, which govern such conduct,” Smith told the Review.
Smith said the results of the investigation were received in October.
“I concluded that there was no evidence of conduct by the city employee that failed to meet the expectations and requirements laid out in the city’s employee manual,” Smith said. “As a result, I consider this matter to be closed.”
Ongoing permit troubles
Nassar and her husband are the subject of ongoing permitting issues with the city, and the first-year councilwoman has been dogged since the start of the year with claims of unauthorized development on her family’s property, as well as ethics complaints. The controversy has since evolved into a public records lawsuit in Kitsap County Superior Court, which alleges the city and Nassar have withheld public records related to the couple’s permit troubles.
The code compliance complaint against Nassar and Riely-Gibbons was made June 25 using the city’s SeeClickFix program.
According to records obtained by the Review, the online complaint was made the same day that the city had emailed Nassar and her husband with a 60-day extension to get a building permit that was needed for a storage shed that had been improved on their property without city approval.
Officials had visited the couple’s property on May 8 as part of the ongoing review of permit violations on their land, and on June 5, the city sent Nassar and her husband a “letter and warning of violation” about their permit and gave them 20 days to get into compliance. In addition to the lack of permits for work on the storage shed, the city also wanted the wetland defined near the storage shed where trees had been cut down. The city also found an unpermited “tiny home” on the couple’s property.
That “letter and warning of violation” came almost a year after the city first determined that violations of the city’s building code had probably occurred on the property, and the couple was ordered to stop all work in an environmentally sensitive “critical area” on the land and the city gave the couple a “warning of violation and order to correct,” as well as a demand to stop work.
In his ethics complaint to the city, Riely-Gibbons admitted a tiny home had been on the couple’s property but had removed in July 2018.
“Not only has the tiny home been removed from my property for over a year, it was found not to be in violation of city code by the former code compliance officer,” Riely-Gibbons wrote in his complaint.
Riely-Gibbons claimed that the person who took the photograph that was included in the June online complaint had been on the couple’s property.
Police later contacted the city employee who submitted the code complaint, and the worker told police that the photographer who took the picture did not step off the driveway of the couple’s property.
Riely-Gibbons, in his ethics complaint, said the city worker who posted the complaint was a permit specialist with the city’s planning department, and the employee was “aware of my family’s permit process and current status of compliance.”
The employee’s “position and authority as a staff member,” Riely-Gibbons claimed, was being used “to influence public opinion about an ongoing personal property matter by intentionally providing misinformation using the city’s own SeeClickFix tool.”
The SeeClickFix program on the city’s website can be used by people to lodge complaints that range from potholes to noise problems, as well as possible building code violations and other undesirable activities.
“I assume city officials and staff are aware of the aggressive and political nature of the code compliance complaints submitted against my personal property and published to social media and the press,” Riely-Gibbons said in his complaint, “which have been further exacerbated by the city’s Ethics Board Opinions in 2018-06 and 2019-02 issued against my wife, a Bainbridge Island city councilmember.”
Riely-Gibbons added that he hoped the employee’s “bias against my family will not be allowed to impact any ongoing or future dealings my family may have with the city as we continue the city’s code compliance process to permit the repairs completed in 2015 to the historic well pumphouse/shed building.”
“For example, the city decided to unilaterally investigate another building on our property during their July 2018 investigation of the tiny home complaint, name the well pumphouse/shed building which was not the subject of the initial complaint,” Riely-Gibbons added. “In my understanding of the code compliance process this is atypical of standard city practices.”
Riely-Gibbons also claimed the complaint submitted by the city worker “affirms bias in the city’s planning department toward my family, conceivably politically motivated and directed toward my wife, a duly elected member of the city council.”
Riely-Gibbons claimed the city worker’s actions violated Bainbridge’s ethics program, and also asked the employee be investigated for violating certain staff policies, though no specific policies were mentioned in the three-page complaint.
Nassar has long claimed that she is being unfairly targeted by critics who are unhappy with her environmental background and her votes on controversial land-use issues, and that those complaints are political in nature.
Some of those who have criticized Nassar, however, have said it’s actually a matter of hypocrisy, and that Nassar and her husband should be required to abide by the same land-use rules that all other Bainbridge residents must follow.
‘Obsessive and disturbed’
Public records released by the city show the ethics complaint followed emails that Riely-Gibbons sent to Aaron Pool, the city’s code compliance officer, City Manager Morgan Smith and City Attorney Joe Levan earlier in June and early July.
Riely-Gibbons said the SeeClickFix complaint about the tiny home that included a photograph of the structure was made by someone who criminally trespassed on their posted property. It was politically motivated, he claimed.
“To me, this is further testament to the obsessive and disturbed nature of this individual or individuals who continue to threaten and intimidate my wife, an elected official at the city of Bainbridge Island because of the way she has voted,” Riely-Gibbons wrote in a June 26 email to Pool that was copied to Smith and Levan.
At the time of that email, it was not known who had posted the SeeClickFix complaint about the tiny home.
In an email to city officials, Riely-Gibbons said there had been stalking and trespass issues on their property that dated back to December 2018.
“Due to the repeated and ongoing nature of these incidents of trespass, stalking, and harassment this recent submittal provides reason for me to believe that this individual or individuals continues to pose a real danger and threat to myself, my wife and my children,” Riely-Gibbons wrote.
Smith, in a July 8 email to Riely-Gibbons, said the city had determined an employee at city hall and that officials had learned from the employee that the complaint was filed on the employee’s personal time, but lives near Riely-Gibbons and Nassar, and that the photo was taken by someone who did not trespass on the couple’s property. The employee declined to identify the photographer.
In a follow-up email on July 11, Smith told Riely-Gibbons the complaint about the tiny home trailer had been dismissed that week because the description in it did not match any structures still on the property. The other SeeClickFix complaint mentioned by Riely-Gibbons, one that centered on his parents’ property, was also closed after no violation had been found.
Riely-Gibbons later emailed Smith and said the city worker had “demonstrated a clear hostility toward my family.”
In a response, Smith said it wasn’t appropriate to continue to ask an employee about outside-of-work activities.
“I hope you can understand that it is important for the city organization to respect the distinction between actions that city employees take in the context of their work, and the actions that they take in their personal lives as members of the community,” Smith wrote.
In a following July 15 email to the city manager, Riely-Gibbons said the tiny house complaint was harassment, and also wrote that the initial SeeClickFix complaint that was filed in January 2018 — which led city officials to investigate a charge of development without permits on the couple’s property — was harassment, as well.
Riely-Gibbons filed the ethics complaint two days later.
The online complaint grew into a police investigation in September, after Nassar went to the police station to talk about the SeeClickFix complaint.
An officer told the councilwoman that the incident would be documented as a suspicious incident until authorities could determine whether a criminal trespass had occurred.