Josh Binda

Josh Binda

Lynnwood council member made $12K from speeches at local schools

Josh Binda, 23, filmed a video in council chambers for his “Love Conquers All” tour, raising ethical questions. He maintains it was OK.

LYNNWOOD — Lynnwood City Council member Joshua Binda is facing criticism from fellow council members for using City Hall to record a video about his speaking tour, for which he has been paid at least $12,750, according to public records obtained by The Daily Herald.

A flier for his “Love Conquers All” tour lists appearances at 13 schools between Jan. 11 and Feb. 23. In recent speeches, he touched on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, his personal journey to becoming an elected official at the age of 21 and the importance of leading with love.

The Lake Stevens School District paid Binda $4,500 to give “assembly presentations” at Lake Stevens High School and Cavelero Mid High before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Northshore School District also paid $4,500 for Binda to speak at both Bothell High School and Woodinville High School. Binda’s responsibilities included 25-minute keynote speeches, plus planning with students beforehand and hanging out with them afterward, under a contract obtained by The Herald.

Before the tour began, he recorded a “Love Conquers All” video in City Hall.

At 6:20 p.m. Dec. 19, Binda used his city ID badge to enter the council chambers with a cameraman, according to public records obtained by The Herald. The other man recorded shots of Binda scanning his ID badge at the door, walking through the lobby and sitting at the dias. In the video posted to Instagram, Binda sits next to the Lynnwood city flag and tells his audience about the tour and that he is excited to be “coming to a city near you.”

When Binda left, he did not reset security alarms, leaving City Hall unsecured all night, according to the records obtained by The Herald. His unscheduled presence also interfered with custodians’ ability to clean the council chambers that evening. As a result, Mayor Christine Frizzell temporarily suspended Binda’s badge, according to the records.

According to Lynnwood Municipal Code, “an official or employee shall not knowingly use his or her office or position for personal or family benefit gain or profit.”

In an interview with The Daily Herald, Binda said it was not illegal for him to use the council chambers for the video.

“Nothing I did was wrong. I wasn’t campaigning. I wasn’t promoting. It was an announcement video,” Binda said Saturday. “I don’t think anyone would have a problem with a young, Black man using his position — where he’s at — to continue to spread a message, continue to push the younger generation up and elevate them and spread love and spread unity.”

Council member Jim Smith disagreed.

“He should have known that he should not have used taxpayer-funded property for his own personal use,” Smith said. “We need to address it. No one should believe they are privileged, get to do things wrong and it is not addressed.”

The Daily Herald interviewed three other council members. None were aware that Binda was being paid for the speaking engagements.

“It’s a crucial question,” council member George Hurst said Sunday. He explained that if Binda is profiting from the tour, it would add gravity to the ethics concerns.

The situation spurred Lynnwood City Council to plan a discussion about the use of public property by elected officials at their meeting 6 p.m. Monday.

Binda is making speeches and getting paid as an independent contractor, under terms reviewed by The Herald. In one, he used his Lynnwood City Council email address as a contact. On another, he identifies himself as a Lynnwood council member.

It is common for keynote speakers to receive money from school districts. It’s less common for paid keynote speakers to be elected City Council members. As of Monday, Binda had spoken at eight schools. Seven had paid him.

He received $1,000 from Everett Public Schools to meet with the Black Student Union and deliver a keynote speech. Mukilteo School District paid $1,500 for “preparation with the student body” and a speech at Olympic View Middle School.

Council President Shannon Sessions said that upon being elected, council members are trained and given all the necessary information about what they can and cannot do. She said she understands that Binda is young, but he has access to the rules.

“This is a bit of a conundrum for all of us,” Sessions said. “It’s important as fellow leaders that we show grace, and that we help give them the tools, and even maybe some reminders to help them succeed. … But I’m not his mother. I’m not his boss. I’m not his wife.”

She said she “wants Josh to succeed,” but there are a lot of “idiosyncrasies” happening, and at some point, he needs to be held accountable.

Binda, a class of 2017 graduate from Kamiak High School, moved to Mukilteo from Rhode Island as a teenager. His family immigrated to the United States from war-torn Liberia through the diversity visa lottery.

“Like I said, I was a star athlete. I was ASB President. Everybody loved me,” Binda said at Lake Stevens, talking about his time at Kamiak. “Because of the way people idolized me, I almost forgot that racism almost even existed.”

Binda said it’s “disheartening” to see people look for negativity and to “try to pinpoint flaws.” He also pointed out that it is not a campaign year, so city code regarding the use of public resources or position for campaign purposes was not violated, he said.

“It’s not a promotional video. There’s nothing to promote. Everything I posted about the tours — it was an announcement,” Binda said on Saturday. “It comes from a generational gap. I think a lot of these older people aren’t used to things being done the way I’m doing it because I’m so much more into the social media realm.”

Binda said his goal is to inspire the younger generation of leaders.

“I’m hoping that my constituents continue to see that and see the work I do,” Binda said. “I think they do know that already.”

This is not Binda’s first controversy since taking office.

Last year, the Public Disclosure Commission opened a formal investigation regarding Binda’s campaign finances because his filings showed upward of $10,000 spent on dental work, hair cuts, plane tickets, towing expenses and more.

As a result, Binda could be fined up to $1,000 for improperly using those contributions to his 2021 campaign for personal use. Binda later reimbursed his campaign for expenditures questioned by the PDC, but he still faces a civil penalty. The commission is expected to consider the matter at its Thursday meeting.

In September, he was fined $250 for failing to file a required personal financial affairs statement on time. Half of the fine was suspended on the condition he pay $125 and filed the required report within a month.

After high school, Binda said he worked at Boeing as an integration engineer for two years before moving to Blue Origin, the spaceflight company founded by Jeff Bezos. He now works as a full-time real estate agent for John L. Scott.

Binda said he plans to expand “Love Conquers All” to a national tour, including stops in California, Texas and Georgia.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this article.

Kayla J. Dunn: 425-339-3449; kayla.dunn@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @KaylaJ_Dunn.

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