Hello Loyal Readers,
For the last couple of weeks, I have been pouring through the results of a large public records request from the City. I've been doing follow-up research on the GIS Employee Moonlighting issue (you can read my previous article on it here, and then the follow-up here).
For a quick refresher, here are the facts so far. Don Burdick, Ann Stark and Brian Small are all employees of the City of Bellingham Public Works department, under the direction of Ted Carlson. The area where they work, (Geographic Information Software or GIS) performs contracts for nearby municipalities which brings in revenue for the City of Bellingham. Burdick is the lead negotiator for these contracts on behalf of the city.
Meanwhile, Burdick, Stark and Small also moonlight as a private consulting company (called Salish Coast Sciences) that does similar contracts for municipalities. The city does not have a full ethics policy, or even a moonlighting policy more recent than 1980. So while the three moonlighting employees are not breaking any laws, they are performing activities that might constitute a conflict of interest. Again, my previous two articles are more thorough explaining all that, but now that we are up to speed, let's take a look at the new information.
I conducted a large public record request looking for anything that had to do with ethics, employee moonlighting, and our three Moonlight-ers. Here's what came to light in no particular order:
1) Ted Carlson, who oversees Burdick, Stark and Small, objected to their moonlighting when they first informed him. See this email from then Human Resources Director Michele Barrett relating the situation. In it, she recalls talking with Ted Carlson where, "(Carlson) said he met with (Burdick) to let him know that it was frowned upon and not a good idea, especially since his employees were City employees." This is interesting, considering the 1980 Employee Moonlighting policy on the books requires that the Department head, Ted Carlson, sign off on outside employment of this sort. So while Carlson spoke against it, he did not feel strongly enough to forbid it.
2) Lorna Klemanski, the current interim Human Resources director, who accused me of trying to make something out of nothing, is actually Don Burdick's old carpool buddy. They have carpooled up from Skagit County for several years although do not currently do so.
3) A draft policy focusing on employee moonlighting is in the works, and apparently has been in the works for a while. Here is an email from November 17th last year from Barrett to Klemanski bringing her up to speed on the issue. There is a whole slew of back and forth between various department heads, David Webster and human resources discussing the draft policy. Of course, because it is a draft policy, I cannot get my hands on it, I have to wait for the final version. But it is comforting that this issue is finally being given some of the focus it deserves.
4) In discussing this issue with various people involved in the city government, off the record they acknowledge that public employee moonlighting is a much bigger issue than this. There are several municipal employees on the county and city level that also make money in the private sector during there off hours, and in many cases, there is serious overlap between their day job and their moonlighting efforts. I hope to expose these potential conflicts of interest when I can document them. As always, feel free to send any tips you have to me and I will protect your anonymity if necessary. You can send your tips here.
5) I have also heard reports that there are other issues involved in this story then what I've been able to gather. I honestly have tried to piece together the best I could from what I can get by public record request. Because this issue involves human resources, much of the documentation is protected under client/attorney privilege, unavailable without a subpoena. Since Don Burdick refused to comment on this story, despite repeated attempts to get him on the record, I am left with only the facts available. If Burdick, Stark or Small, or anyone else involved in this story would like to go on the record, I will gladly print your perspective on this issue.
So what now, you ask? Over the last three months, I have been covering this issue and it seems there are several potential solutions available to the city on how to remedy this potential conflict of interest. Here is my proposal. The first and easiest solution would be to remove Burdick as lead negotiator for the city on all GIS contracts with other municipalities. Another step would be to make sure none of the Salish Coast Sciences staff have access to that whole revenue process; drafting of bids, other potential opportunities, etc so that the city is not subsidizing their client research. Neither one of these steps would require the termination of the Salish Coast Sciences employees, I am led to believe that their talents are highly prized at the Public Works department and no one is eager to replace such highly skilled workers.
To prevent this in the future, there would have to be a concerted effort by the legal and human resources departments to track employee moonlighting. Stricter disclosure requirements so that the city is aware of potential conflict of interests before they arise. Beyond that, there needs to be a clear and enforceable code of conduct and ethics policy for municipal employees, and a culture within City (and County) hall that supports ethical behavior. With Louws and Linville installed, we have an opportunity for a fresh look at many of these issues, and I know that both have made ethics a high priority within their administrations.