Newly released emails include more details about Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly’s involvement with his former employer and possible ethics violations.
Newly released emails show Seattle transportation chief Scott Kubly was intimately involved in negotiations with his previous employer, the operator of the Pronto bike-share system, even though he lacked permission from the city’s ethics commission.
The emails also demonstrate Kubly took part in the negotiations for the city to take over Pronto and to contract directly with his former company — despite being reminded he needed a waiver to do so.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) provided the emails on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in response to a public-records request filed Feb 1. The release came as The Seattle Times reported that a city ethics investigation into Kubly is examining whether he committed wrongdoing by not obtaining a waiver.
The ethics commission launched the investigation in March after the City Council approved a plan for Seattle to buy the struggling Pronto system with the intention of expanding it.
Brought to Seattle by Murray in July 2014 after serving as president of Alta Bicycle Share, Kubly was by October 2014 weighing in on details related to Pronto’s launch later that month, the emails show.
“I walked by a pronto station and noticed there were no decals anywhere on the station,” Kubly wrote on Oct. 5, 2014, in an email to an Alta employee, Pronto’s executive director and an SDOT staff member.
“This seems atypical. Why are stations going down without decals. What is the plan for getting them installed.”
By April 2015, Kubly was asking Murray’s approval for a major expansion of Pronto and a direct contract with Alta, which had been sold and rebranded as Motivate.
And by May 2015, as SDOT prepared an application for a federal TIGER grant to help fund that expansion, Kubly had begun negotiating a potential agreement with the company.
Draft terms attached to a May 14 email said Motivate would become “the exclusive operator” of an expanded bike-share system under a 10-year contract. Kubly was copied on and mentioned in the email from an SDOT staff member to a Motivate employee.
Though Seattle city employees are supposed to seek permission from the ethics commission to do business with companies they worked for within the previous year, Kubly had no such waiver.
Soon after his hire, the mayor’s legal counsel asked Kubly for information to get a waiver, but Kubly made an apparent email mistake, sending his response only to himself. The mayor’s office didn’t follow up until a year later.
Viet Shelton, a spokesman for Murray, said Wednesday the mayor is awaiting the results of the ethics investigation.
“We will not be making any prejudgments until the investigation is completed,” Shelton said.
In an interview Tuesday, Kubly described his emailed response to himself as showing an “intent to disclose.”
But the newly released emails reveal Kubly didn’t obtain the waiver even after the ethics commission reminded him that he needed one as he began negotiating with Motivate.
In response to questions from an SDOT staff member about potential conflicts of interest, an advice and training official with the ethics commission, Gary Keese, spelled out Kubly’s obligations in a May 14, 2015, email.
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“Scott, the safest way for your (sic) to proceed therefore depends on how long ago you worked for Alta,” Keese wrote in the email, which Kubly was copied on.
“If you worked for them within the previous year, then you should seek a waiver in order to participate in city matters in which Motivate has a financial interest.”
Rather than seek the waiver, SDOT employees responded to Keese’s email by taking steps to help Kubly submit a different form.
Kubly went on to negotiate with a Motivate employee in person, and with the company’s chief executive officer over the phone, all during his first year in Seattle, the emails indicate.
On Aug. 21, 2015, Keese followed up with Kubly and mayor’s office staff members via email.
“We have not received either a disclosure form or a waiver request for Scott,” he wrote, adding, “This is important, particularly since the city is considering contracting directly with Motivate.”
Later in the email exchange, Kubly wrote, “Is there a form for the waiver? Do I actually need it. I stopped working for Alta in 2014. I have no ownership stake or financial interest. I never worked for Motivate.”
By September 2015, the draft terms for the potential contract with Motivate had been revised more than a dozen times.
After a year removed from their previous employer, Seattle city employees no longer need permission from the ethics commission to work on matters involving the employer. They need only disclose the existence of such matters and be cleared by their department director or the mayor.
Kubly submitted an Appearance of Conflict or Impaired Judgment form to the ethics commission on Sept. 1, 2015, to disclose his past employment with Alta Bicycle Share and negotiations by the city for a new contract with Motivate.
The potential agreement Kubly took part in negotiating last summer was never executed.
When the City Council approved the city takeover of Pronto, it passed an amendment saying the council and the mayor, not Kubly, would select a company through an open bidding process to expand and operate the system going forward.
“The city never actually signed a contract with Motivate,” Kubly said in an interview Wednesday.
“We ultimately decided to do a competitive procurement because it was in the best interest of the city.”