Councilmember Kol Medina is leaving Bainbridge Island, but not without controversy.
The former mayor announced recently he is leaving to take a job in Walla Walla as president of the Blue Mountain Community Foundation.
But on Monday, the city’s Ethics Board starting looking into complaints leveled against Medina. One was filed Sept. 5 by Seattle attorney Wyatt Golding on behalf of an unnamed person citing fear of retribution. The other was filed by former City Councilman Ron Peltier.
In that complaint, Peltier alleges Medina disclosed confidential information regarding an executive session about acquisition of property for the new police and court facility.
On April 10, 2018, then-Mayor Medina announced that the council had discussed the possible use of eminent domain to acquire a site for that facility. He also discussed in an email to the public that a specific council member had introduced and supported the possible use of eminent domain for that purpose, the complaint says.
The council subsequently received numerous emails objecting to the possible use of eminent domain, which appeared to benefit Medina’s preference for acquiring the Harrison Medical Center building, the complaint says.
Peltier, in the complaint, says he was the one Medina was referring to; they had argued over the issue. Peltier says while “Medina’s use of disparaging and mocking language” is not a breach of ethics his use of confidential information is a blatant breach that is a violation of the city’s code of ethics.
After discussing that complaint the Ethics Board decided it warranted further review.
Medina’s only response in any of the complaint documents was in a letter he sent to attorney Golding.
Medina asks the lawyer to be careful in how this is approached. He says, “Lurking behind your carefully chosen words is an accusation of corruption.”
As for alleged conflict of interest, Medina said he would be happy to discuss those. “I have complete confidence that I have done nothing wrong,” he says in the letter. “Any such accusations of corruption are completely baseless, which means those accusations are slander.”
The Ethics Board didn’t have time to discuss the other complaint, but said it would look at it in the future.
Papers filed in that complaint say Medina as a council member may have had some conflicts in his job as president and CEO of the Kitsap Community Foundation.
At the foundation, he accepts funds from a variety of individuals and entities. And in his role as a council member, he helps award government funds in various ways. When the roles overlap, the complaint says it is Medina’s obligation to announce the potential conflict of interest and recuse himself from voting.
On many occasions over the years in his various roles as a public official, Medina has done just that. But in two specific instances alleged in the complaint, he did not. The complaint alleges such a conflict of interest “undermines faith in fair and open local government.” The complaint does not allege that Medina, the foundation or the foundation’s donors engaged in corruption.
Olympic Property Group
In this case, funds were donated to the foundation by leaders of the group, and Medina voted to award a $796,000 contract to Olympic Property Group. Jon Rose, president of the group, is also is very involved in the foundation as an ambassador and a Cornerstone Society donor. The contract involved a 14-acre parcel owned by the city, and included a “project profit” fee of 18 percent, adding $121,515 to the project cost.
Harrison Medical Center
That center’s president and two members of its board are major contributors to the foundation. And the center was one of several sites under consideration for a new police station and court on Bainbridge Island. Medina voted in favor of the city’s real estate pact buying Harrison for $9 million, which was $1.3 million more than its appraisal.
“It appears this decision resulted in the potentially unnecessary expenditure of at least $1.3 million in public funds,” the complaint says.
“Medina appeared to take several actions that ultimately helped secure the approval of the city’s acquisition of HMC.”
Bradley Goldberg, a representative of the seller of another potential site, the Visconsi property, said Medina called him and said that even if that site made the most economic sense the council would not select it because of its history. This part of the complaint also alleges discussing action in an executive session.
The complaint identifies previous instances when Medina recognized more minor conflicts of interests:
• recusing himself from a discussion regarding a contract between Kitsap Strong and Bainbridge Island because the foundation financially supports Kitsap Strong;
• disclosing his foundation’s relationship with the Kitsap Humane Society for similar reasons;
• and Medina also twice recused himself from a debate on a fireworks ban because he was born on the 4th of July.
These disclosures and recusals indicate that Medina was aware of the potential for conflicts between his dual roles as CEO and councilmember, yet did not disclose more substantial conflicts, the complaint alleges.
Near the end, the complaint says going forward Medina should either step down from either role or disclose all instances in which his actions involved donors to the foundation and recuse himself from such actions. It also would entail disclosure of all anonymous gifts to the foundation so the public can be assured of full transparency and lack of conflict of interest.
Medina was re-elected to another four-year term in 2019 and will continue serving on the council through Nov. 10, before starting his new job Dec. 1.
Medina grew up in Walla Walla, but moved to Bainbridge in 2001 and has been a community activist, serving on various boards.