Wilson says investigation warranted for change orders to Haines Wharf Park

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Edmonds City Councilmember DJ Wilson Tuesday called for the state Attorney General or the King County Prosecutor’s office to investigate allegations that former Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson signed a series of change orders during construction of Haines Wharf Park without first running them through the City Council.

Here’s the release Wilson sent via email:

Edmonds Council Member DJ Wilson Calls for a Formal Investigation on Edmonds “Haines Wharf” Matter  

Either the Attorney General or the King County Prosecutor Should Review Unauthorized Expenditures

Haines Wharf Park is one of the most amazing little pocket parks you’ll find in Edmonds – or anywhere for that matter.  It’s a tremendous example of integrating landscape, views and topography with utility and recreation.

As the only Edmonds Council member with young children, I’m likely the only Council member that has visited this park – and certainly the only one that’s been here over and over again!  My kids really like it here.

However, a few years ago and prior to my time in office, the Council was clear: this park is not worth over $2 million.  Bids came in for construction over $2 million, and the city rejected them all as too expensive.

When a bid came in at $1.6 million – on the third solicitation – the Council accepted that bid as an appropriate cost.

In 2009 and 2010, however, the former mayor signed a series of change orders amounting to $725,000 – in excess of the $1.6 million authorized by Council – without ever getting permission from Council to do that. In fact, when I and other Council members started asking questions about finances related to this matter, our questions were largely dismissed.

We didn’t know the full scope of this matter at the time, and frankly, it’s taken the new mayor and this Council a full year to get our hands around what this all really means for Edmonds.

So here is the bottom line.

1.  The Council’s primary authority is as appropriator.  Council controls the purse strings. The legislative branch of government was willfully disregarded by the administration here.  The total cost is now well over $2 million, and with a pending claim for “equitable adjustments” by the contractor, that amount will likely exceed $3 million.

2.  Council’s role as oversight authority rests upon getting responsive, accurate information from the administration.  City staff have now apologized for a total breakdown in communication on this matter, though the former mayor and all directors responsible for the lack of any reporting to Council have since left the city.  It is not a coincidence, however, that staff brought this to Council on the first meeting immediately following the departure of the former mayor.

3.  After reviewing all of the materials, facts, city policies, and state law, the Edmonds City Attorney has concluded the law was repeatedly broken.

4.  While this change order was not brought to Council, the former mayor repeatedly brought other smaller change orders to Council for approval.  There was a clear understanding by the administration that state law and Edmonds policy legally required Council consent on such matters.

Also important is the context within which we have received this information.  It is election time, of course.  And, while I don’t think it is the role of the Council – or mayor – to play either judge or jury on this matter, I think it is particularly a bad idea during election season.

As a result of the comments provided by staff, and the legal opinion delivered by our City Attorney, I believe it is imperative that this matter be forwarded to either the Office of the Attorney General or to the King County Prosecuting Attorney.  (Given the former mayor’s current role as Deputy County Executive at Snohomish County, I don’t believe the Office of the Snohomish County Prosecutor would be an appropriate investigator here.)

I believe we must take this matter out of the hands of the City of Edmonds, and let an impartial investigator determine the facts of the matter here for everyone’s benefit.

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