An outside attorney hired by the city of Bainbridge Island has been investigating Councilman Ron Peltier on allegations that the first-term councilman violated ethical standards after a city truck delivered wood chips to his property without charge last November.
The investigation report, conducted by Rebecca Dean, a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in workplace investigations, was issued March 12 and publicly released Thursday afternoon.
In the report, Dean said Peltier did not know about the city delivery of wood chips to his property and that it was arranged by his wife.
The city of Bainbridge Island 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.
The report notes “the city does not generally give chips to private citizens.”
“In receiving the chips, Peltier received a benefit not available to the public,” the investigation report noted.
Councilman Peltier could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday evening.
The investigation stemmed from a complaint a neighbor made in January 2019 with the Bainbridge Island Police Department.
The neighbor noted the delivery of the wood chips, used for mulch, by the city to the Peltiers’ property last November, and the neighbor said other deliveries had happened before then and since.
The investigator placed the blame for the delivery on Peltier’s wife and a Public Works supervisor, and added city workers did not know the material was being dropped off at a council member’s property on NE Valley Road.
“I also conclude that Peltier received a benefit not available to the general public. Nevertheless, Peltier’s wife, not Peltier, asked for the chips,” Dean wrote.
“Peltier did not know of the delivery at the time it occurred. Moreover, neither Peltier nor his wife leveraged his status as a council member in order to obtain the chips. None of the city employees involved knew that they were delivering the chips to a council member’s property. The city employees who delivered the chips obtained their supervisor’s approval,” Dean wrote.
Dean said the person who approved the chip delivery should have checked with higher-ups before approving the delivery. The delivery was OK’d after the work crew initially refused to drop off the chips but a supervisor gave the go-ahead after they 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.
“Although his approval is understandable under the applicable circumstances, the supervisor, a relatively new employee, could have checked with his manager before agreeing to Peltier’s wife’s request,” Dean added.
The delivery of chips consisted of a load of one to three yards of chips.
A complaint was made with the police department after a neighbor saw another delivery of wood chips to the Peltier property in January.
The neighbor spoke to a police officer about the latest delivery, and told police “this has been going on for years,” according to the report.
Police Chief Jeff Horn referred the incident to the city attorney, and Dean began her investigation soon afterward.
The neighbor provided a video and photographs of the November delivery, and a city employee confirmed it was a city truck in the photograph. Dean also said Peltier’s wife “made a contemporaneous record of the delivery in her detailed daily journal.”
According to the report, Councilman Peltier did not know about the city delivery of mulch in early November until the Bainbridge Review filed a public records request in mid-November for records that detailed delivery of city material (including soil, wood chips, or landscaping material) to Peltier’s home.
After the records request was received, the report noted that the Public
Works crew lead “drafted a statement stating that he believed that the
incident at the Peltier property may have occurred in mid-October 2018
or on October 8, 2018.”
Metadata on the photograph of the city truck, however, showed it matched the date the neighbor said the delivery occurred.
The investigator asked about the discrepancy between the crew lead’s statement and the metadata, and he told her he “reconstructed the date by referring to a wall calendar” the crew used but added he did not remember when the delivery at the Peltier property happened.
Both Peltier’s wife and a Public Works crew member that she talked to while the crew was cleaning up debris in the area that November day agreed that the city did not provide chips to private landowners.
At the time of the incident, Peltier’s wife reportedly pointed out “that there was easy access to her proposed dump site and that dumping the chips would save having to transport them elsewhere.”
When the crew member told the crew lead about Peltier’s wife’s request, he said he couldn’t authorize dumping the chips, but suggested she talk to the Public Works supervisor.
The supervisor later spoke with Peltier’s wife and approved the chip delivery. The report said he did not speak with the Public Works manager or director before approving the delivery, and Dean added that the city does not have a “written policy or procedure” that could have been referenced.
The supervisor, a relatively new employee with the city, also said he had previously worked for another public entity that gave chips to property owners “where they could be safely delivered without risk of property damage.”
Peltier’s wife said she did not identify herself as a councilman’s wife when talking with city employees, according to the Dean report.
Dean found no evidence of other city deliveries of chips to Peltier’s property.
The report also noted the Peltiers use a very large quantity of chips to mulch their fruit trees and garden. The pile of chips can be seen in a Google Maps satellite view of their property, and a neighbor told Dean the
current pile at the dump site is roughly 35 feet long, 8 feet wide and 4 to 5½ feet tall.
Dean has been called in to investigate allegations within Bainbridge Island city government in the past.
She was hired in 2012 to probe allegations by the city’s police union that accused then-chief Jon Fehlman of malfeasance, and claimed the chief had violated police department and city policies and state and federal laws.
The investigation found a majority of the claims made by the police guild to be unsubstantiated. Other claims were found to be partially true.
Fehlman resigned just before the investigation report was released.