Monday October 23, 2017 marked just the second live [Facebook] stream of a Snoqualmie City Council meeting and it had the makings of a TV drama as the city came under fire for its contract Economic Development/Event Planning position due to [alleged] sloppy invoicing and prepayment policies – and over the revelation that Director of Public Works and Parks Dan Marcinko and the subordinate contractor, Leslie (Lizzie) Billington, were also involved in a wine distribution business. Even though it was explained that the business was outside of city time, did not conduct business at city events – or possibly any business at all – Councilmember Bryan Holloway described it as a conflict of interest for the city.
Councilmember Sean Sundwall brought the issues up for discussion by adding a last-minute agenda item to announce that Billington’s contract position would not be renewed as the city had decided to make the role a city employee position and possibly split the responsibilities into two part-time jobs.
Billington began the contract position in mid 2015. Public records requests from citizens showed she invoiced the city the third week of each month since being hired until recent months when it transitioned to mid-month – and then this September and October when the invoicing bumped up to the 9th, with the monthly payments issued shortly afterward. The invoices contained calendar pages with handwritten notes detailing meetings and events required for the job – some not yet completed – as documentation of the hours being billed.
Councilmembers questioned that contract terms were not followed and that the same amount of hours were billed each month, which amounted to the monetary limit of the contract – $118,560 for 2017.
City Administrator Bob Larson apologized to the council, saying although he was certain after his own review and per staff discussions that the work billed had been performed. He said, though, he should have noticed the invoicing issues with the contractor. Larson also stated the issues were not occurring with other contract positions and recognized that Billington still had contract work that complete for October.
The contract specified an hourly rate of $57/hour for completed work. Councilmember Kathi Prewitt went so far as to describe the prepayment of contract services as ‘false billing,’ saying any auditor who would come in “would have a cow.”
Recent council appointee James Mayhew pushed to have the issues investigated so as not to occur again. He said processes and controls needed to be examined to avoid any future mistakes, including conflict of interest policies. He also was supportive of [Bob]Larson in taking responsibility for the mistake.
Billington direct reported to Marcinko who acknowledged the mistakes in the invoicing and payments made, describing the third week of the month payment practice as the time when city employees also submit time cards. He stated that the payments should’ve been for work performed the previous month, though.
Later in the meeting the issue of Marcinko and Billington’s separate businesses together was discussed. Mayor Larson stated he and City Administrator Larson were unaware of the business until last week when citizens discovered the company’s business license.
Mayor Larson stated that Marcinko and Billington said the company had not done any business at city events, saying the company really had never done any business since incorporation and the two had documentation that could prove such. Larson stated that an employee could invest in business separate of city employment on their own time.
Councilmember Sundwall said there was no way [Bob] Larson should’ve been expected to know about the venture, that he could not have been expected to monitor state databases to track employee’s outside investments. But, Councilmember Holloway said that a city employee going into business with a subordinate was a conflict of interest and should be ceased immediately – even if the business never even operated.
Councilmember Sundwall then read a portion of the City Employee Code of Conduct, implying that Marcinko had violated it. He also said the city needs better controls in place to ensure contractors have the required state and city licenses and to ensure company names match on required liability insurance policies. It was also discovered Billington had her city, but not state business license and city B&O taxes had not be collected.
City attorney Bob Sterbank was asked if there were legal grounds for an immediate termination of the contract which would preclude the 90-day without clause contract. Sterbank replied the answer constituted attorney-client privilege and would have to be discussed offline or in an executive session.
On Tuesday Sundwall said that while the contract did regrettably lack specific performance metrics, the issue of pre-payment was not a contract issue. It was poor oversight. He added, “The contract was good it just wasn’t followed and it slipped by two senior managers for more than two years. This simply cannot happen again.”
When asked if there would be repercussions for issues brought to light at the council meeting, Mayor Larson said city staff is still trying to collect all the facts and weigh all options for the next steps. He hoped to have more information by Wednesday afternoon.
Larson commented, “As always, my staff has and will accept full responsibility for any errors. And I will hold them and myself responsible to assure appropriate action is taken to avoid such errors in the future. But any disciplinary actions, or changes in controls and procedures, must be done in a fair and impartial manner following a thorough fact-based review and investigation.”