A Seattle resident’s questions over the city’s rescue of Pronto Cycle Share helped to prompt an investigation of Seattle transportation director Scott Kubly.
A message by a frustrated citizen may have been enough to trigger an investigation into Seattle transportation director Scott Kubly’s relationship to Pronto Cycle Share.
Seattle resident Ginger Ladd sent an email asking the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) to look into Kubly and Pronto. It’s not known whether others might have filed requests, too, as the commission won’t elaborate on details.
Marilyn Brenneman, formerly a criminal and fraud attorney in the King County Prosecutor’s Office, is being paid $235 an hour, up to $20,000, to conduct the investigation, according to her consultant contract with the commission. The review was prompted by a complaint filed Feb. 10, the contract says.
Ladd filed a complaint by email that day. She said she was inspired by a column by Seattle Times opinion writer Brier Dudley initially published online Feb. 8, which for her “connected the dots” about Kubly’s career bounces between a bike-share company and city transportation departments. She sees a recent city bailout of Pronto as wasteful.
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Brenneman contacted her, and “We did a quick phone call, 10 minutes, and I just said to her, I think there’s a huge conflict of interest,” Ladd recalled Wednesday. “I felt that she was genuine and earnest, that she was taking the task seriously.”
Ladd emphasized she’s not a whistleblower and has no inside information, just what she saw in Dudley’s column and other news sources.
The scrutiny comes as the City Council voted 7-2 this month to spend $1.4 million to buy the bike-rental program, which started Seattle operations in October 2014. In addition, the city paid Pronto $305,000this past winter, without a council discussion, to help the money-losing nonprofit continue service. In the near future, the council might consider a $5 million expansion, to add electric bicycles and reach more neighborhoods, beyond the initial areas of downtown, Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.
In approving the buyout, the council passed an amendment saying Mayor Ed Murray and the council would choose an operating company if the bike-rental operation expands, rather than Kubly making the selection. Councilmembers Tim Burgess and Lisa Herbold voted against the purchase.
The 500 green bikes averaged less than one user per bike per day during Pronto’s first year, data show. Customers can buy a pass for $8 a day or $85 a year.
Kubly wouldn’t elaborate on the investigation, except to say Tuesday night by phone, “I’m going to cooperate fully with it,” and he has plans to focus on an improved bike service.
The SEEC, at the request of Chairwoman Eileen Norton, chose an outside investigator to maintain the appearance of fairness, because of a personal relationship between an SEEC employee and a transportation employee, said Kate Flack, an adviser and investigator for the SEEC.
The Seattle ethics code says “any person” may file a complaint.
It also includes language banning a city official from activities that benefit someone who employed that official within the previous year — unless the mayor issues a finding of “compelling city need” and SEEC gives permission.
Another clause is broader, to require a disclosure statement where “a reasonable person” would think a city official’s ”judgment is impaired” by professional relationships.
Previously, Kubly held senior positions at transportation departments in Chicago and Washington, D.C., which contracted with Alta Bicycle Share to run bike-sharing systems.
Kubly was president of Alta, the operating vendor for Pronto, when Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced his hiring as transportation director in July 2014. Pronto chose Alta a full year earlier, in April 2013, to supply and maintain Seattle’s bikes.
Alta was purchased in January 2015 by New York-based Motivate, a leading operator of bike-share systems.
Commission records show Kubly did file a disclosure form Sept. 1, 2015, saying he formerly worked under contract to Alta, and he would negotiate with Motivate to supply electric bicycles in Seattle, as part of a city takeover and expansion of the bike-share program.
Kubly is not a board member or executive at Motivate. He has said in interviews and to SEEC that he has no financial ties to the company.
“Scott’s past, there was never anything hidden. Everything I heard was out in the open,” said Ref Lindmark, chairman of the Pronto nonprofit’s board of directors.
In fact, the mayor — who was eager to launch Pronto and the Second Avenue bike lane in fall 2014 — played up Kubly’s bike-share credentials when hiring him.
The mayor on Monday night led 300 people in giving Kubly an ovation, during an appearance at Town Hall to promote walking, bicycling and safety.
A statement by mayor’s office spokesman Jason Kelly said: “While the investigation is ongoing, the Mayor shouldn’t comment on the specifics. The Mayor takes this allegation seriously and he is committed to ensuring that a fair, thorough investigation is conducted — and that Director Kubly cooperates fully with the SEEC.”