A former Bainbridge city councilman has filed an ethics complaint against Councilwoman Sarah Blossom that claims she has a conflict of interest on any votes that would lead to a contract between Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Public Utility District.
Bainbridge officials have been exploring the possibility of outsourcing the city’s water utility to the Kitsap Public Utility District. At the council’s meeting on April 10, the council asked City Manager Doug Schulze to begin negotiations on a management contract that would turn over control of the city’s water system to the KPUD, a municipal corporation based in Poulsbo that provides domestic water service to more than 50,000 Kitsap County residents. The council was presented a draft contract at its meeting last week.
Blossom said she did not have a conflict of interest in voting on issues involving the KPUD.
She recalled Peter’s earlier complaint about the same topic, and said she got legal advice from the city attorney that put her in the clear.
“The day Mr. Peters sent out his ‘open letter’ I consulted with the city attorney. It was his opinion that my participation in this issue did not violate the city’s Code of Ethics,” Blossom said.
“He told me that if he changed his mind I’d be the first to know and since I haven’t heard from him I’m assuming that his original opinion stands,” she said.
“I don’t believe I have a conflict of interest, as I have previously stated, but I do understand that it will be up to the Ethics Board to decide,” Blossom said.
The city’s Ethics Board will review the complaint at its meeting this week.
The ethics complaint mirrors earlier concerns raised by Peters.
In April, Peters asked Blossom to step aside on any votes to contract with KPUD because her family’s ownership of South Bainbridge Water System, Inc. represented a “significant conflict of interest.”
At the time, Peters noted that Blossom, an employee of South Bainbridge Water System, and her family would benefit if the water system was ever sold to KPUD.
Peters pointed to the sale of another privately run water system on Bainbridge Island, the North Bainbridge Water System, which was purchased by KPUD for approximately $2 million in 2002.
Peters said a council-approved contract with KPUD would put the district within reach of the South Bainbridge Water System’s service area, and the Blossom family could petition KPUD to purchase its system.
A potential sale, Peters claimed, would net Blossom’s family more than $1 million.
Peters said the Ethics Code states that an elected official shall not directly or indirectly take any official action on a matter on behalf of the city if he or she, or a member of their immediate family, has any substantial direct or indirect contractual employment related to the matter, or has other financial or private interest in that matter.
Peters had said earlier he wasn’t planning on filing an ethics complaint over the perceived conflict of interest.
But when Blossom voted on an issue involving the city and KPUD after she had received his letter of concern, Peters said he changed his mind.
“The council member went ahead and voted on this matter without any explanation or response, and it appears to me that I’m not getting through,” he said.
Peters said he made another personal request recently to Blossom, but she did not respond.
“It’s a worthwhile question to raise with the Ethics Board,” he said. “It will help clarify what it means to have a conflict of interest or not.”
The Ethics Board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 20 in the commons at the Waterfront Community Center.