The King County Ombuds Office decided to continue its investigation into Executive Dow Constantine’s alleged influence on a Marymoor Park concessions contract, even after the whistleblower asked to have the complaint closed, because the “public interest” would be best served by “a full understanding of the facts,” the office said.
The Ombuds, in a statement released Thursday evening, explained that factors that went into the decision included “the nature of the allegations, the terms of the retaliation settlement agreement between the parties, and the positions of public trust held by the complainant and respondents.”
In 2018, Kevin Brown, the former director of the county Parks division, alleged in two whistleblower complaints that King County Executive Dow Constantine pressured the agency to give a lucrative concessions deal to Seattle Event Solutions, a company then co-owned by Constantine’s longtime friend and political supporter, Seattle businessman David Meinert.
Constantine has strongly denied any wrongdoing. Brown and Meinert haven’t responded to requests for comment.
Brown settled his retaliation complaint — he said he’d been bullied and intimidated for speaking out about the contracting process — with the county earlier this year for $275,000 and was transferred to a less-senior position. Brown had been Parks director since 2006.
As part of the confidential settlement, Brown agreed to ask the Ombuds to close the investigation it had opened into the awarding of the Marymoor Park contract, following his ethics complaint.
But the Ombuds office declined to close the complaint. The agency says its full investigation will be finished by early September.
On Thursday, Constantine released a public letter to the Ombuds office calling for the immediate release of its findings.
“I believe the record clearly and unambiguously shows that none of Mr. Brown’s allegations have merit,” Constantine wrote. “Releasing the complaint in the absence of your office’s impartial findings will create questions and confusion, and damage the reputations of King County employees who work diligently in the public interest.”
Constantine cited King County Code requiring the Ombuds office to release its findings within a year of a complaint being filed. In response, the Ombuds office said that the King County ethics code has no timeline for release of an investigation, and that the one-year timeline for a whistleblower “improper governmental action” investigation can be paused while parties engage in mediation.
The Ombuds said that the whistleblower time frame was paused for 115 days while Brown participated in mediation for his retaliation complaint.
Constantine, in an interview Wednesday, said the settlement was negotiated by the county’s risk management and prosecuting attorney’s offices. He said it struck him as large, but that’s what “the risk people calculate is fair and they take a lot of things into consideration,” including Brown’s tenure and legal fees.
After The Seattle Times reported on the original whistleblower complaints on Thursday, Christie True, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Brown’s former boss and also a subject of his complaint, sent an email to agency employees saying that “it is virtually certain” that the Ombuds “will find no reasonable cause to sustain the complaint.”
“That said, there is much complexity to the review and that will no doubt be reflected in the media coverage,” she wrote.