Ethics Examiner Rules Snoqualmie Councilmember and Mayoral Candidate Peggy Shepard Violated Ethics Code; Issues a Letter of Censure

An Ethics Hearing Examiner, Grant Degginger, hired by the City of Snoqualmie earlier this year, recently issued a Finding of Facts after finishing an investigation and conducting an in-person public hearing with Councilmember Shepard and Mayor Larson, who filed an ethics code complaint against Shepard on February 4th, 2021.

In the complaint, Larson alleges Shepard:

  • Participated as a decision-maker in quasi-judicial proceedings that require impartiality while privately advocating an outcome.
  • Improperly disclosed privileged and confidential legal information and legal advice and;
  • Made false statements or representations of public records or documents, or in willful disregard of their truth.

These allegations violate paragraphs 2.80.030.D & 2.80.030.F.1 of the Ethics Code.

Larson stated a pattern of behavior by councilmember Shepard being involved in groups against certain projects and doing her own research outside the process. He went on to say she has been found to have disclosed confidential documents and legal advice with her husband and opponents of other projects.

In her rebuttal, Councilmember Shepard asserted that:

  • Many of the examples Larson gave of her alleged violations were outside of the pendency of the quasi-judicial proceedings.
  • Were discussed with neutral parties.
  • As a government employee she felt she was required by law to report suspected illegal activity.

Shepard explained she gathered documents outside the record to understand the information better and did not go to the city staff with questions or concerns as she found working with them difficult. She stated it never occurred to her that what she asked for would be considered outside the record—more details on Mayor Larson’s allegations and Councilmember Shepard’s rebuttal available in the meeting video.

Mr. Degginger ruled that Shepard did violate the Ethics Code, stating, “After listening to the presentations and testimony of the parties at the hearing, reviewing the submitted exhibits and applicable statutes and case law, it has been determined that Councilmember Shepard has committed multiple violations of the City of Snoqualmie’s Code of Ethics as set forth below and which are detailed in the Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations….”

The ruling went on to state that based on Shepard’s own statements.

  1. Councilmember Shepard violated SMC 2.80.030(A)(1) in two instances:
  2. Failing to disclose her communications with King County GIS staff On October10, 2018 and in seeking documents outside the record of the Salish expansion quasi-judicial proceedings during the Council meetings where the matter was discussed on October 15, 22 and/or 29, 2018.
  3. Making numerous contacts with staff of the Department of Ecology regarding the scope of the SEPA review of the Mill Site development application.
  4. Councilmember Shepard violated SMC 2.80.030(D) in two instances:
  5. Transmitting emails containing attorney-client communication prepared by City Attorney Bob Sterbank to the mayor, councilmembers and other city staff dated July 17, 2019, to the Washington State Auditor’s Office; and
  6. Sharing attorney-client communication prepared by City Attorney Bob Sterbank and transmitted to city councilmembers dated October 10, 2019, with her husband

The examiner noted that “Councilmember Shepard’s conduct raises serious questions about her ability to be trusted with sensitive information regarding the City, and that the violations appear to meet the “willfully and knowingly” provisions in SMC 2.80.080(D). When that standard is met, the provision gives the Ethics Hearing Officer discretion in referring the matter to the prosecuting attorney for action under SMC 2.80.090, which includes misdemeanor prosecution.”

Degginger recommended that Shepard not be referred to the prosecuting attorney but that “the decision not to refer the matter to the prosecuting attorney is a close call. Councilmember Shepard’s violations described herein demonstrate a consistent lack of transparency, arrogance, and bad judgment.” He stated there was a “lack of material harm to the city.”

Degginger issued a Letter of Censure in which he said, “Councilmember Shepard is hereby censured for her multiple violations of the City’s Ethics Code, for her poor judgment in failing to protect confidential information and for disregarding the due process rights of project applicants by failing to act in an open, transparent and impartial manner.”

According to the Ethics Code, punishment for code violations comes from the mayor. The ethics officer only determines if a violation occurred and can recommend if the violator should be subject to punishment.

Update:

Mayor Larson commented on the Facts & Findings and Letter of Censure:

“I am satisfied with the comprehensive and reasoned findings of our Ethics Hearing Officer. While the mayor has the responsibility to determine consequences of ethics violations, as this involves an individual council member I will wait to see what action the full Council takes regarding one of its members.”

Living Snoqualmie contacted councilmember Shepard and Mayor Larson for comment after business hours. This article will be updated if either has a response.

Comments

  1. “[D]oing her own research outside the process.” My God.

  2. Jason Still says

    This is just a bureaucratic way for Larson to intimidate a council member that has actually listened to the interests of old Snoqualmie and has attempted to preserve that which makes Snoqualmie remarkable.

  3. Sad to see a city council person using poor judgement attempting to undermine a private development project. Wonder if this will impact her campaign for Mayor.

    • Oh you know says

      A private development project being build on contaminated land which will be nothing but catastrophic for wildlife and the city of Snoqualmie. Do you know about the project? If not, I urge you to learn more about The Millsite Project.

    • No, sharing attorney client privileged information when you are not the lawyer is very serious. Attorney/client privilege exists so that an attorney can work freely with a client without fear of later having to disclose that communication as part of the trial. If Lawyer A is working with Client B on a case, and Person C shares the communication between A and B, the the Client loses key protections afforded by law.
      Your comment might be rephrased as “I’m happy stripping away legal rights for people I don’t like.” Shame on you. That is NOT what makes Snoqualmie remarkable. Your thinking is precisely why Seattle has descended into the sewer–the city council there all believes ignoring the law is fine if it delivers the results they want.

      If you are happy with the results of Seattle politics, then by all means, pull all the crap that Seattle city council has pulled and we, too, can watch people pooping in the open, lying in alleys with needles hanging from their arms, kids unable to play in parks due to medical waste, and humans being treated worse than family pets.

      Keep Seattle politics out of the valley. Obey the law. It’s that simple.

      This attitude that “cheating is fine as long as it gets me what I want” is horrid.

  4. No matter how noble people may feel someone’s actions are, you can’t, as a representative of the city, conduct business this way. I’m very concerned that the Examiner found Ms Shepard’s actions to be willfull and consistent. She clearly has her own personal agenda and won’t follow, not just the rules, the laws. Ironic.

    This is not someone who should continue to be allowed to serve on the council and she should not be able to run for mayor.

  5. I don’t understand why Councilmember Shepard can’t seek out objective information in order to make an informed vote on behalf of her constituents.
    Sounds like a hit job by people who have little business throwing stones.

    • Answering JoAnne's question says

      I have not read or heard about this particular issue other than what is written in this article and do not feel I have enough information to have an opinion on this particular issue, but in answer to JoAnne’s question. It is a common rule in all publicly appointed positions that councilors or commissioners can only look at the information presented to them and no outside information because the council is acting as a jury and judge in its role. So they can only make an informed decision based on the facts in front of them that everyone has clear access to and all council can then review/cross examine. Think jury in sensational murder trial only being able to have access to the trial information and not news reports. By acting on outside information but not having that information entered into the public record for the whole council to consider they are not basing the decision on the facts in public record and might make a decision that is not impartial. Any communication on a topic not heard by all members of council is considered exparte communication and needs to be disclosed to make sure there is no bias as the judge/juror of a decision and any additional information disclosed to the public. This is the case whether a council member for a city or county, a commissioner for a city, county, park district or hospital district. It is in place to make everything transparent and decisions are made fairly. If they do wish seek outside information there is a procedure to seek it so that it is added to the public record and so that all members have access to it, but this has to be done by staff not a council or commission member so that those council or commission members are not having exparte communications which can put the person at risk of appearing to have a conflict of interest whether there is a conflict of interest or not.

      • Exactly–what kind of country are we living in, where elected representatives feel free to do their own research?

        After all, it’s a *quasi-judicial* proceeding! If you overlook the “quasi” part, that spells J-U-D-I- etc. You get the picture. And that spells Trouble, with a capital T.

      • Fair enough.

        Why did Councilmember Shepard feel she had to go beyond what was submitted for public record?

        Did she ask for the information through the proper channels? If so, were her requests denied?

        Why couldn’t she submit the additional info she found into public record, so everyone could view it?

        Why was the information that was initially given to the city council so limited that Shepard felt she had to ask further questions?

    • > I don’t understand why Councilmember Shepard can’t seek out objective information in order to make an informed vote on behalf of her constituents.

      She can. But what she cannot do is violate protections by sharing attorney/client information with whomever she wishes. if she doesn’t understand that most basic part of business and our legal system, she has no business doing any business on behalf of the city.

      We do not need people that believe operating outside the law is fine as long as it gives them the results and outcomes they desire. Too many these days believe that. 20 years ago, Seattle was a place to take the family. That’s all gone now. And it’s gone because a very small number of city officials believe that ignoring the law or bypassing the law is OK as long as it gives them the outcomes they desire.

      We have more gun laws on the books than ever before, and yet politicians in Seattle are not enforcing the laws. Remember the shootout at Pike Place where several tech workers were shot? The shooters had 35 felonies between them, including gun convictions. And they were out and about because of politicians that want to empty jails and are cool not enforcing laws.

      The city of Seattle is collapsing before our very eyes because those elected to enforce laws are instead ignoring laws for certain groups. We don’t need that crap in the valley.

      • Just so you all know, we see through the “Don’t let Snoqualmie be lawless like Seattle, which is run by lawless libs” talking point. It’s been repeated ad nauseum everywhere, and no one really believes it.

  6. Peggy is part of a small, but very vocal group of people who say they stand for the citizens of Snoqualmie, but that’s just not the case. They don’t represent all or even most of us. They have their agenda and don’t want to hear what anyone else has to say. They would have you believe that our mayor and council, other the Peggy, has NEVER done anything good for this city. Even if you agree with them on some points, disagreeing on others will lead to you being publicly shamed and harassed. You’re portrayed as someone who is a sheep and incapable of thinking for yourself. They openly voice their disdain for Snoqualmie Ridge. They have spent thousands of our dollars with their endless public records requests, and make claims of wrongdoing using documentation that they don’t understand, and then have to backpeddle when they realize they are wrong.

    The actions of Peggy Shepard aren’t in doubt. She admits what she’s done and justifies it vs expressing any remorse. She will do it again and again because she believes herself above the law. And yet this is the same type of activity she and her group would be up in arms about if any other city council member were doing it. I hope that the council votes to pursue criminal charges.

    • Well said Linda! Every community has a carbon copy of this attitude and activity as well. I have a feeling most of this group doesn’t even live in Snoqualmie but reside in the foothills surrounding it. The mayoral results will speak for themselves just as they did the last chance they had to remove our current mayor. Wonder how many consider themselves sovereign citizens…

    • Linda- are you high???

  7. After tuning in and listening to the hearing examination in full, it was apparent that Council Member Shepard was doing her due diligence to come to informed decisions for us, the constituents. She asked for more information in regards to a proposed development, information that was not provided in the materials, but was pertinent to the proposal. She was denied access to the information several times, so sought the information out herself, information that was of public record and from an above board governing body. This information should have been supplied to all the council members in order to make a complete and well formed decision- FOR US. The proposal would have passed with little regard or investigation, even though it was harmful to YOUR way of life. Luckily the proposal was averted by a party that bought the land in the interest of preservation.
    If you follow local governing decisions, you will see that Council Member Shepard is a voice of the people, and is our only true voice on council at this time. Have you been lied to? Been the target of condescension? I have, myself, at city council and government meetings.
    I have attended many city council meetings and have witnessed Council Member Shepard routinely bullied by other members on council and by the mayor himself. That is not the way a well -functioning, positive democratic body runs. Council Member Shepard is looking out for YOU- the voter- the citizen. She speaks her voice for the environment and her constituents. Often times her opinion differs from the majority of those on council and especially the mayor, who tend to consistently favor the interests of outside developers over their own citizens of Snoqualmie. The ethic charges are the mayor’s attempt to silence her, prior to the upcoming election. Please investigate the facts before you come to a conclusion. She is the best candidate for mayor because she tells you the TRUTH. She stands for truth and justice. Council Member Shepard is determined and dedicated to giving her all to the voters- YOU and ME.

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