Kate Kruller will fight city ethics complaint | Update
By STEVE HUNTER
Tukwila Reporter Reporter
August 21, 2012 · Updated 10:41 AM
Tukwila City Council member Kate Kruller plans to fight a finding by Mayor Jim Haggerton and an independent investigator that she violated the city’s code of ethics in connection with renting a room at the Tukwila Community Center.
Kruller is in her first year on the City Council after voters elected her in November. She had been scheduled to appeal the finding Wednesday, Aug. 22, at City Hall before the City of Tukwila hearing examiner. But Wednesday will now be used for a pre-hearing conference call between both parties and the hearing examiner, and a new date for a hearing is expected to be determined, said a spokeswoman for the hearing examiner.
Kruller is under fire after city staff at the Tukwila Community Center filed an ethics complaint against her for using her position as a council member to get special privileges while renting a room in February at the center for a private function on April 22.
“Based on the investigative findings, I determine the complaint to be sustained,” Haggerton wrote in a July 2 letter to Kruller.
Haggerton penalized Kruller as follows:
• “Be aware of how your position as a City Council member can be perceived when interacting with city staff for private matters. Refrain from using your position as a council member to secure special privileges or creating the perception of engaging in such activity.
• “Pay restitution to the city in the amount of $1,000. This sum represents the difference between the full amount of the rental fee that should have been charged for the event that you booked at the Community Center and the amount that you paid. This amount includes a forfeiture of the $500 deposit that you should have been charged due to the violation of the alcohol policies and procedures.
• “This determination does not prevent the council from taking any action it may deem necessary as a result of these findings,” Haggerton concluded.
The council has not yet taken any further action besides accepting the report from Haggerton.
In response to the finding, Kruller said during a phone interview that she will discuss specifics of the case at the Aug. 22 hearing.
“At this point it’s still in the process,” Kruller said. “They put forth the complaint and I filed for a hearing. I just want to reserve comment and go through the process. Only one side of the story has been told.”
Tukwila contracts with the City of Seattle hearing examiner to handle any cases that come up. The Seattle hearing examiner is Sue Tanner and the deputy hearing examiner is Anne Watanabe.
The hearing will be open to the public, although only people connected to the case can testify. The hearing examiner will take testimony from city staff and Kruller and issue a decision on whether to uphold the finding within 15 business days after the hearing.
As mayor and under the city code of ethics, Haggerton handled the initial complaint. The code directs the mayor to hire an independent investigator or consultant to look into the case.
Edward Lindstrom, an attorney with Kussmann and Lindstrom of University Place, handled the investigation, which began June 1. He reviewed documents and interviewed the people involved. Lindstrom sent a June 26 letter to Haggerton with his findings.
The conclusions by Lindstrom included:
• “Kruller knew, or should have known, that her insistence on Feb. 18 to rent/reserve a room at the Community Center, contrary to procedure, could be viewed as using her position to secure a benefit, special privileges or exceptions for herself or for other persons.”
According to Lindstrom’s report, Kruller insisted that an on-duty staff person on Feb. 18 reserve the room for her even though the staff member told her that he could not reserve the space and that she needed to contract the appropriate representatives during normal working hours Monday through Friday. Kruller would not take no for an answer and persisted to reserve the room, including a comment of “Do I need to get Rick?” That is a reference to Rick Still, the community center director. The employee eventually accepted a check from Kruller.
Other conclusions by Lindstrom determined that Kruller filled out an agreement that no alcohol would be served at the event. City staff later determined the event included alcohol after finding beer and wine bottles in the trash.
Kruller told the investigator that she didn’t understand why someone from the city would just call her or bill her for the $200 nonrefundable alcohol fee rather than filing an ethics complaint.
Kruller also said she did not request any personal benefits or waivers as far as damage deposits or minimum hours rate.
“She did not feel that she exercised any influence, nor conducted herself in a way which would have caused the staff to feel they needed to give her any favors,” Lindstrom wrote in his report.
The councilwoman paid $600 for the room to cover a five-hour banquet room and kitchen rental, according Haggerton’s letter. The event instead ran more than 10 hours, so the mayor concluded that Kruller owes an additional $500 for the extended hours. She also must pay another $500 for a nonrefundable damage deposit (only refundable if all rules of the rental are met).
Kruller reserved the room for a kickoff campaign for State Rep. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, in his bid for the 11th District Senate seat. The district covers parts of South Seattle, Burien, SeaTac, Tukwila and the southern part of Renton.
Contact Tukwila Reporter Reporter Steve Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-872-6600, ext. 5052.