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.
- Councilmember Shepard violated SMC 2.80.030(A)(1) in two instances:
- 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.
- Making numerous contacts with staff of the Department of Ecology regarding the scope of the SEPA review of the Mill Site development application.
- Councilmember Shepard violated SMC 2.80.030(D) in two instances:
- 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
- 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.
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.