Posted by: sweeneyblog | November 30, 2011

UPDATE: City’s response focused on favoritism, not lost revenue

More documents released today as a result of a follow-up public records request by the Political Junkie illuminate more of the City’s response to employee moonlighting. For a full write-up of the issue so far, read my previous article detailing how employees in the Public Works department are moonlighting as private contractors.

The latest public records request was for any documents detailing the review process the Human Resources department went through concerning Burdick’s business. The previous request had covered any email communication referring to his business, but this request included notes and memos. This request included some new material between former Human Resources Director Michelle Barrett, HR staffer Angela Beatty, and Public Works Department Director Ted Carlson. Take a look at the whole bundle here.

It is clear that the City staff realized the potential for conflict of interest right off the bat. Multiple references are made in the emails between Pete Ruffatto, Angela Beatty and Michelle Barrett. These three apparently held a meeting (or a series of meetings) with Ted Carlson in late February. Then, nine months later, Carlson sent Burdick this email on Nov. 2nd asking for him to clarify issues with how he manages his team, considering he is involved in a private business venture with some of them. A couple key points from this exchange.

First, Carlson was notified of Burdick’s business back in February of this year, but did not think it was worth reviewing until November, nine months later. He states that “Recently, concerns have been expressed regarding how this outside business impacts your supervisory relationship within the work group.” It is unclear how those concerns were brought to Carlson’s attention after such a long period and why Carlson did not see this sort of internal guidelines as necessary until November.

Second, Carlson acknowledges the gravity of the situation. “It now appears your outside business activities may very well present a conflict with your supervisory duties.” Carlson and Burdick thoroughly address and discuss how Burdick will avoid issues of favoritism within his office.

Finally, nowhere in any of the materials released, does the city examine the issue of lost revenue. While Carlson, Beatty, Ruffatto and Burdick are all involved in these discussions, not one brings up the issue of Burdick’s involvement in procuring contracts for the city or his business.

While the materials released show more detail on how the city responds to these issues, it is clear that they neglected to provide oversight for a very central concern.

For those wondering why some of the documents are blacked out, this is standard when dealing with lawyer-client confidentiality. Here is the exemption log detailing why documents were withheld and redacted.

Last word from The Political Junkie: Tuesday, I was on The Joe Show to discuss this issue (you can listen to the podcast here) and while there I described the situation as “ethical people working in an ethical vacuum”. I feel that more than ever after this latest batch of documents. You have good people, trying to work above the board, but because of a complete lack of clear guidelines or policy, they are fumbling in the dark. I was delighted to see the thoroughness of Carlson and Burdick’s responses to potential issues of favoritism, I just wish that that same rigor had been applied to issues of potential lost revenue, contract oversight, and other such concerns.

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Responses

  1. I agree: the issue is not favoritism, but conflict of interest. The underlying issue is theft of intellectual property. It is a basic legal concept that ideas developed during employment (such as the development of mapping software for the City of Bellingham) belong to the employer as “works for hire.” The City certainly recognized this when they made marketing this kind of software service to other municipalities part of Burdick’s duties. Is Burdick’s company marketing this intellectual property which it does not own, on its own account? Has anyone contacted the City of Bellevue or other Burdick customers to determine what services he is selling to them, and whether any representations were made about the ownership of the intellectual property involved?

    • I’m doing public records requests right now to get all the details, but just to note, the City has no written policy on intellectual property.

  2. Riley,
    Not commenting on how well or badly the city is doing on this, but if I remember the orginal article they are doing “GIS” work. This is very similar to the kind of work that I’ve done, called “CAD”. The city isn’t coming up with some sort of custom software, they are using software (probably ArcGIS or AutoCAD), where you make what are called “prints” or “GIS files” that contain the mapping. What a jurisdiction would be paying for is the expertise in using the software to do the GIS work. Could they be using expertise from their job? Yeah. Would that expertise belong to the COB? Probably not… but the devil is in the details and you would have to know exactly what they are doing to know. I guess I’m saying in this particular example, you are treading in very techincal waters and I would have to know a LOT more details.

    • My main point holds that there is not clear oversight for the contracts, and that is what is lacking here. We can go back and forth about intellectual property, that’s devilish details, but that is almost another point entirely to the potential conflict of interest.

  3. […] For the last couple of weeks, I have been pouring through the results of a large public records request from the City. I’ve been doing follow-up research on the GIS Employee Moonlighting issue (you can read my previous article on it here, and then the follow-up here). […]


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