Parking reprieve didn’t break ethics law, college leader says

A state board found the Edmonds College president sought special privileges. He claims he was doing his job.

Amit Singh (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Amit Singh (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

LYNNWOOD — The president of Edmonds College is disputing a $150 fine a state board assessed against him after someone complained that he crossed ethical boundaries by insisting he should be able to park anywhere on the campus without getting a ticket.

The college’s president, Amit Singh, said on Monday that he asked the campus safety director for permission to park in a construction zone for a specific purpose earlier this year. But he did not assert that he should be cleared to park anywhere, regardless of the college’s rules, he told the chairwoman of the state Executive Ethics Board during a virtual meeting.

“I did not request to park anywhere illegally. That’s not what happened,” Singh said.

Singh will have to wait to further explain the matter to the board, which in July found “reasonable cause” to believe that he violated a law that bars a state officer from using his or her position to get special privileges. At the time, the facts were considered undisputed, board records show.

Board Chairwoman Shirley Battan adjourned Monday’s meeting early, citing procedural rules that will require a full-fledged hearing before the board because the factual details of the investigation are now in question.

Stephen Manning, assistant attorney general for board staff, protested that Singh didn’t contest the allegations during past proceedings.

“It seems Mr. Singh has already lost the opportunity to speak to the facts of this case,” Manning said.

In a statement emailed to The Daily Herald after the meeting, Singh cited a legal provision that makes an exception to the special privileges law for those “performing duties within the scope of employment.”

When his vehicle was illegally parked in February, he “was showing potential donors our new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and Nursing building and asking for their support which is within the scope of my duties,” Singh said.

Singh appeared before Battan during an abbreviated legal proceeding held by phone on Oct. 30. A hearing before the entire board wasn’t necessary then because the penalty for Singh’s violation was expected to be $500 or less, the violation was considered minor and no factual issues had been raised.

Battan then assessed a $150 fine based on the details of the violation. However, Singh will not have to pay the penalty if he does not break state ethics law again for a year, Battan wrote in a Nov. 5 order.

A complaint was made to the board on Feb. 19, about two weeks after a campus security officer wrote Singh a $20 ticket because his vehicle was parked in a student parking zone without the proper permit.

At Singh’s request, the campus safety director agreed to waive that citation and instead offer a warning — a courtesy she typically offers to anyone for their first ticket, according to the board’s investigation.

Singh told the director that he would occasionally need to “park in a hurry to meet potential funders” for the new science and technology building and “that he should not be cited for parking illegally,” the investigation found. The finding appears in a section titled “Undisputed Facts” in Battan’s recent order.

So the director advised campus safety officers to contact her for guidance instead of citing Singh if they saw his vehicle illegally parked again, the board found.

About 10 days after the initial citation, a campus safety officer reported that Singh’s vehicle was blocking a lane of a two-lane arterial road on the campus. The president’s vehicle was in a fire lane, the campus safety director recalled during the board’s investigation. She noted the relevant signage and road markings were hard to see, so any citation for parking there would have likely been dismissed if Singh had been issued a ticket and appealed it.

Campus parking rules require that vehicles parked in a staff or student lot from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. have an appropriate permit, available at no cost from the college. After 2 p.m., all spots are “open,” according to the board’s findings.

The board’s investigations do not typically name complainants. Many of them are protected by state whistleblower laws, and those who aren’t can request anonymity, said the board’s executive director, Kate Reynolds.

Singh’s next hearing has yet to be scheduled. The board is currently scheduling hearings into next summer, Reynolds said.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; rriley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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