The mayor said he did not fully disclose his ownership of the stock before the City Council approved a contract for a Tesla Supercharger station.
Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson said Thursday he will pay a self-imposed $500 fine to the city for neglecting to fully disclose his ownership of Tesla Motors stock before the City Council approved a contract he negotiated between the city and car company for construction of a Supercharger station and its subsequent operation.
A local blogger posted a story calling into question a potential conflict of interest. The article appeared on a blog called Lady Libertee, but did not have a byline. The blog is maintained by Kristine Lowder, a Montesano, Grays Harbor County, woman.
Larson objects to the notion that he was motivated by his stock ownership, but said Thursday in an interview that he should have better followed state code regarding entering into such contracts.
“I didn’t follow procedure to the letter,” he said. “I don’t think I should just be able to say I didn’t intend to do it. Everyone should fulfill requirements to ethics.”
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Larson thought the pertinent section of state code regarding conflicts of interest didn’t apply — especially because he didn’t vote on the contract.
However, code section 42.23.040 also describes a condition that would require noting his stock ownership in council-meeting minutes or other records: Being a municipal officer (mayor) who holds less than 1 percent of the company or corporation’s stock shares in which a contract would be entered into.
Larson made public his ownership of stock in the company with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission in 2015 during his mayoral campaign, and in 2016, as part of his personal financial-affairs statements. He also mentioned owning stock in Tesla to some members of the council during negotiations with the carmaker.
“My duty was just to negotiate the contract,” he said. “I had no bad intentions.”
He also noted that Tesla initially contacted the city with interest in installing a charging station somewhere in Aberdeen before he became mayor last January. The company has charging stations in Burlington, Skagit County; Centralia; Ellensburg; Kennewick and Ritzville, Adams County.
Once he charges himself with the fine and pays it to the city, Larson said the contract with Tesla will be voided. He intends to present a new contract for a vote on Jan. 25 and anticipates the council will approve it.
The station has been operating since mid-December at the corner of Wishkah and F streets. It’s located in what will be part of the parking area for the future Gateway Center, planned as a 20,000-square-foot building housing a visitors and tourism center, the county’s various enterprise and economic-development organizations, plus retail and meeting space.
“We’re going to go ahead and do it right,” Larson said.
City Attorney Eric Nelson declined to comment Thursday because he hadn’t talked to the mayor regarding the situation.