Disclosure law trips up Everett councilman Shannon Affholter

EVERETT — City Councilman Shannon Affholter might have violated state law by not disclosing a potential conflict of interest.

The City Council voted to approve a service contract with the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, an organization that employs Affholter.

The council agreed Jan. 25 to pay the alliance $75,000 to provide marketing and economic development services.

Affholter works as the alliance’s vice president for business and economic development.

While Affholter was absent and didn’t vote on the matter, he also didn’t publicly disclose his position with the organization.

In an interview Wednesday, Affholter said he was trying to avoid a conflict, and thought he was following all the rules.

“We had good intentions, but we fell short,” he said.

There’s also no public record of what provisions in the contract, if any, would govern Affholter’s participation in the performance of the service.

That’s contrary to state law, and needs to be corrected publicly, the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County wrote in a letter sent to the mayor earlier this week.

“For the League, transparency in government is foundational,” said Michelle Valentine, president of the League, in an interview. “If we want to have a democratic process, we have to have an informed body.”

State law prohibits municipal officers from having a financial interest in contracts.

There’s an exception if that public official discloses any potential conflict and doesn’t receive extra benefits that might come from the contract, such as a performance bonus.

Affholter said he earns a fixed salary and his compensation is not tied to the contract with the city.

He and the alliance wanted to avoid any conflicts and were advised by city staff that the best way to do that was for him to be absent at the two meetings in which the matter was discussed.

That’s what he did.

The matter first came up for discussion before council Jan. 18. The next week, council members Jeff Moore, Arlan Hatloe, Ron Gipson and Drew Nielsen voted to approve the contract.

Affholter, councilman Paul Roberts and councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher were absent.

The alliance formed last year from the merger of the Everett Area and South Snohomish County chambers of commerce and the Snohomish County Economic Development Council.

In past years, the city was a member of the chamber and the development council and provided money to both.

The alliance is taking a regional approach to bringing more business to the area, and it pursued similar contracts with the county and other local cities.

Affholter said he’s removed from any discussions involving city of Everett officials and the alliance, and plans to keep it that way.

He also said he wants to correct what happened, and he’s waiting to hear from the city’s attorney about how to do that.

Valentine said the League also is concerned about potential conflicts between Port of Everett Commissioner Troy McClelland, who also is the alliance’s CEO.

McClelland already stated his role on the record in December and his intention to recuse himself from any business concerning the alliance, Port of Everett spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said.

Port commissioners have yet to approve any money toward the alliance, but they’re scheduled to consider a $25,000 membership fee to the organization in March.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; dsmith@heraldnet.com.

Read the letter

Find a copy of the letter from the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County and the agreement between the city and the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County online at www.HeraldNet.com.

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