Ex-mayor complains to AG about Harrison

Citizens’ group says BI overpaid for facility

Editor’s note: Allegations made in this story were taken from a complaint filed with the state Attorney General’s office.

Former mayor Rasham Nassar has filed a five-page complaint with the state Attorney General’s office about Bainbridge Island’s purchase of the Harrison Medical Building to remodel into a police station-court facility.

Her effort is being supported by former councilmember Ron Peltier, community activist Dick Haugen and members of a new citizens group called Bainbridge Taxpayers Unite. They asked the public to join in the complaint by emailing Mary Clare Kersten at mckersten@gmail.com by end-of-day April 5. If you did that, your name will be added to the letter to the attorney general asking him to investigate.

Nassar said she filed the complaint “because there is something seriously wrong with our local government. Certain parties benefitted through unethical and probably illegal actions, and they did so at the expense of Bainbridge Island taxpayers. Corruption starts locally, and if we don’t hold those responsible to account, they can go on to poison our democratic institutions at every level.”

She said the city spent millions more than it needed to on Harrison to make it a police station, and it is trying to conceal it so “the only recourse is to request an Attorney General investigation.” Nassar said this action is the only one that can lead to taxpayers trusting local government.

“To restore our government to one that truly serves the interests and needs of its people we need to understand how this happened and who was involved – so we can work to ensure that it never happens again,” she said.

Haugen said the complaint is similar to one filed by the city of Wapato a few years ago asking the AG to look at that city’s finances. The AG ended up suing, the city administrator stepped down and the council had to take training. Haugen said BTU’s hope is for the Harrison agreement to be rescinded and the money sent back to taxpayers.

Opponents of the agreement for some time have asked for the city to investigate, but city manager Blair King does not want to deal with it, and the “majority of the council wants to look the other way,” Haugen said.

He added he still can’t believe the council had $10 million in savings for the project, but took out an $8 million councilmanic bond that King has said locks them into the deal or it will hurt the city’s credit rating. Haugen said the council deliberately did that because it didn’t want the people to vote on it, based on 80% turning down a similar request a few years before.

Peltier said for him it’s about the city being “honest, transparent, accountable.” He said there should be an investigation of the process leading up to the purchase of Harrison. “People should know how it happened,” he said.

He added there is nothing inherently wrong with councilmanic bonds – those passed by council rather than public vote. However, in this case it looks like the council did not want to be scrutinized. Peltier said, “Money has a different meaning” when people are on council. It seems to mean nothing to “add a couple of zeros to anything.”

Nassar’s complaint mainly alleges the city spent $6 million more than necessary on the purchase of the building and the entire project cost was promised at $20 million, and it could cost up to $34 million, while it could have been built elsewhere for $12 million.

An email signed by Haugan, Kersten and Tad Fairbank says community members have tried to work with the City Councils and city managers but have been ignored. They say in a survey of 3,000 residents that 84% say the city does not manage taxpayer money well.

The email includes the complaint sent by Nassar based on Public Records Requests.

Complaint allegations

It says, in part:

“We believe there were unlawful and unethical activities leading up to the purchase that cost Bainbridge Island taxpayers millions of dollars, and we are asking your office to investigate the matter.”

The complaint names former mayor Kol Medina, former city manager Morgan Smith, city attorney Joe Levan and Coates Design Inc. It says the city has done nothing despite overwhelming support for an outside independent investigation.

The complaint alleges Medina violated laws in his dual role as mayor and president and CEO of the Kitsap Community Foundation, both from which he drew a salary. It claims Medina used his position to grant favorable contracts to some involved with his foundation, with the sale of the HMC building to COBI for millions of dollars over its value being the prime example.

The complaint alleges Smith overestimated costs of alternative sites to make HMC appear more favorable. Smith then received a favorable contract, at the urging of Medina. Similarly, the police chief at the time, Matthew Hamner, received a raise, also at the urging of Medina, also approximately coincident with him switching his support to HMC.

The complaint alleges Levan was negligent in his duties to provide impartial information to the council concerning HMC.

The complaint also alleges Coates Design, Inc. was biased in the advice given to the city. Coates was hired to evaluate several sites. Coates was the architectural firm that originally designed HMC. Coates, with minimal quantitative analysis, determined that HMC was the lowest cost site for a new police station, and all the other sites were cost-prohibitive.

Medina then successfully advocated to the City Council that Coates allegedly be given a non-competitive close to $1 million contract to remodel HMC into a police station.

The cost of the police station is now around $1,200 per square foot. To compare, the fire station cost $325 per square foot.

The complaint goes on to explain that the city bought HMC for nearly $9 million, and funded it with an $8 million bond, even though it had $10 million in reserves, committing taxpayers to an additional $3 million interest over the life of the bond.

An ethics complaint was submitted against Medina by attorney Wyatt Golding, but shortly after Medina resigned from both of his local positions to move to Walla Walla the city ethics board dismissed the complaint.

Additionally, there were at least two alternatives to HMC presented to the council, namely the Yaquina property and redevelopment at the existing police station site. Public records allege flawed data and arbitrarily inflated numbers presented by former city managers Doug Schulze and Smith, along with Coates Design, to the council.

There are numerous other points of concern related to the city’s purchase of HMC that can be detailed and supported with additional information, Nassar’s complaint concludes.