Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold violated city code by texting the police chief in October about an RV that she thought was parked in front of her house as part of a political stunt, according to a settlement agreement between the councilmember and the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
The councilmember agreed to pay the city $500 and acknowledge her violation of a rule that bars city employees from using their official position for their private benefit.
The violation stemmed from a October incident in which an empty RV showed up outside Herbold’s West Seattle home. Herbold assumed it was a stunt because frequent council critic and unsuccessful City Council candidate Ari Hoffman had threatened to tow such vehicles in front of elected officials’ homes if the city didn’t remove RVs parked near his business and a Jewish cemetery he helps to manage.
However, the RV actually belonged to a homeless couple.
Although he did not tow the RV to Herbold’s home, Hoffman said he was the one who submitted the complaint against her to the commission. The ethics commission does not reveal complainants’ names.
“This is what happens when a government fails,” Hoffman said in an interview Tuesday. “I had to threaten to tow RVs in front of city councilmembers’ houses” for them to get towed, he said.
In an email statement, Herbold justified her actions by saying she thought the RV was stolen and noted Hoffman’s threats, though she does not mention him by name.
“When this home was deposited in front of mine, my immediate reaction was to alert Chief (Carmen) Best that someone’s home had been stolen,” Herbold said in the email. “I understand that contacting a department head directly can violate the ethics code and acknowledge that doing so in this case was inappropriate. Even though my intentions were good, appearances matter.”
She also asked the commission for more guidance about when it “is not appropriate to communicate with a department head.”
Records from the settlement show that Herbold sent the police chief a series of text messages around 7 p.m. Oct. 8, including a photo the councilmember had received of a U-Haul towing the RV in front of her house.
“If someone has reported a trailer stolen, one has been delivered to the street in front of my house,” the text to Best said. “I’m not complaining, I only want to ensure the property is returned to its owner. Thank you.”
“Who is this?” Best replied.
“Lisa Herbold,” the councilmember answered. “This is Chief Best I hope.”
Later she texted, “I’m not asking you to move it. Ari (Hoffman) will twist that as special SPD response for a Councilmember. I want to find out if 1. anyone has reported it stolen, 2. Give you the license plate number of the uhaul so you can confirm from Uhaul that Ari rented the uhaul & towed it there and you can consider whether it’s appropriate to charge him with theft.”
Best replied, “I understand your concern, but I don’t want you to be in an awkward position,” and told Herbold to call the police non-emergency number.