The Seattle-based land conservancy Forterra NW has fired a vice president in the wake of a tribal partner, investors and dozens of former staffers alleging problems at the organization and calling for leadership changes.
Forterra terminated Tobias Levey “with cause” on Oct. 21, “due to concerns he could not responsibly or effectively serve the organization’s mission,” according to a statement shared Monday by Forterra.
Levey was Forterra’s vice president of real estate transactions. He helped lead a timber and housing initiative at the center of recent complaints by the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe and the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation.
His firing is one outcome of an effort by the organization “to unearth information to provide insight into Forterra’s process and protocols that could impact project success,” the statement said.
Forterra didn’t share details about why Levey was terminated. Levey, in an interview Tuesday, said the exact cause wasn’t explained to him.
“I have acted at all times with honesty and integrity,” said Levey, who was Forterra’s third highest-paid employee in 2020, the most recent year for which tax filings are available. “I acted responsibly and worked tirelessly in the interest of the communities that I served. I am very disappointed by this outcome and I wish Forterra the best on their projects.”
The organization has been rocked in the past month by criticism from multiple parties and demands for leadership change.
First, the Snoqualmie Tribe accused Forterra of apparently misleading the tribe and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in securing a grant worth up to $20 million to help fund the ambitious timber and housing initiative, which has attracted substantial political and investment support across the region
The idea of the initiative, called Forest to Home, is to harvest timber with sustainable methods on lands owned by partners like the tribe, create jobs in the Snohomish County town of Darrington by manufacturing wood panels there and use the panels to build housing in places like Tacoma.
The tribe has withdrawn its support for the USDA grant, which the federal agency has tentatively approved but not yet disbursed.
Last week, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and the Seattle Foundation, which each have invested in Forterra’s work, expressed concerns about the delayed status of a long-planned housing project in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. They demanded answers about their investments and urged Forterra’s board to replace the organization’s leadership team.
Separately, 80 former Forterra staffers signed a letter voicing solidarity with the Snoqualmie Tribe. They described the organization as a “toxic, volatile and retaliatory workplace” and called for the leadership team to be held accountable for “long-standing detrimental conduct.”
Forterra’s total revenue was almost $18 million in 2020, having more than tripled since 2015. King County Executive Dow Constantine has served on the board of the organization’s for-profit arm, called the Strong Communities Fund. Constantine left that board last week without publicly explaining why.
Forterra has deployed an outside entity, the Angeli Law Group, to review the Snoqualmie Tribe’s claims. That investigation “is nearing its end,” with findings expected this week, Forterra’s statement said Monday.
A review of Levey’s actions in particular is also underway, and Forterra is “embarking on a formal internal workplace review” in response to the concerns raised by the former staffers, the statement added.
“We do not take our commitments to project partners, community stakeholders and the larger Forterra family lightly,” the statement said.
Levey’s previous responsibilities are being delegated to other staffers and to outside experts “to ensure Forterra fulfills its commitments as seamlessly as possible,” according to Forterra’s statement.
The Snoqualmie Tribe didn’t immediately comment on Levey’s firing. The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation declined to comment.
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.
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