King County Democrats Chair Bailey Stober Resigns After 13-Hour Trial Finds Him Guilty of Workplace Misconduct

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including and especially extended coverage of ongoing stories like this one that get short shrift in the mainstream press, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Bailey Stober, the chairman of the King County Democrats, resigned last night after a 13-hour internal trial that ultimately found him guilty on five counts relating to workplace misconduct and sexual harassment of a former employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, whom he fired shortly after a third party filed a complaint against him on Koss Vallejo’s behalf (and, she says, without her knowledge). Stober’s resignation, which will take effect next Saturday, comes after more than two months of internal and external debate about his actions as party chair, including three separate internal investigations into both the workplace misconduct allegations and charges of financial misconduct.

Koss Vallejo, who has been barred from speaking on her own behalf because the entire process, including the trial, has been held under Robert’s Rules of Order, which only gives “voice” to voting members of the group, says she’s relieved by the outcome but does not feel victorious. “This does not feel like a win to me. I am grateful that he did finally step down, because, as everyone knows, his grandstanding and drawing this process out was only hurting Democrats,” she says. “However the fact that I and many other nameless people who were involved had to give their time and their emotional and mental energy to this process for over nine weeks means that the process is still flawed, and we have a lot of work to do to correct this so that this never happens again.” Specifically, Koss Vallejo points to the fact that the King County Democrats do not have a formal HR policy or any policy for dealing with allegations against a Party member by someone who is not within the formal party structure, such as an employee.

Stober has said he fired Koss Vallejo after she “vandalized” a car in a parking lot because it had a hat with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement logo displayed in the back window; a video of the incident, obtained by Stober and posted to Youtube by an anonymous account called “DemsAre BadPeople,” shows her tossing the contents of a cup on the hood of the car, which she says were the dregs of an iced coffee. The firing Stober has also claimed that he had consent from his then-vice chairwoman, Cat Williams, and his treasurer, Nancy Podschwit, to fire Koss Vallejo, which both Williams and Podschwit have denied.

Yesterday’s trial addressed only the workplace misconduct allegations (I’ve covered the financial charges before, including here and here), which included the following claims:

– That Stober repeatedly pressured Koss Vallejo to drink to excess;

–  That Koss Vallejo had told numerous people that she was afraid Stober would retaliate against her if she brought up her concerns;

– That Stober fired Koss Vallejo without consulting with the board’s vice chairwoman or the treasurer of the group;

– That Stober called her a “bitch” and a “cunt” while they were out drinking;

– That Stober sprayed Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she was driving; and

– That Stober had grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone while she was in the restroom and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook timeline without her knowledge.

Last night, Stober was apologetic but defiant when he emerged from the closed-door trial shortly after 11pm to announce his resignation “after 11 years of Party leadership.” (Stober is 26 and has been chair of the group for a little over one year). “If I have to be the first one to go through this process to open our eyes to the flaws that we have … so be it,” Stober said, adding that it was especially difficult for him to sit through his own trial for 13 hours and listen to people “debate whether or not I’m a horrible person.” Some of Stober’s supporters have insinuated that his opponents are engaging in a racially biased witch hunt against him, even though several of Koss Vallejo’s most vocal supporters, and Koss Vallejo herself, are women of color.

Stober sat in the room throughout the trial as witnesses, including his alleged victim and her supporters, gave testimony and were cross-examined by representatives from both the “prosecution” and the “defense,” much as they would in a legal trial. Yesterday, witnesses described the process as intimidating and re-traumatizing, and said at times it seemed as though Koss Vallejo and other people who agreed to testify on her behalf were the ones on trial. At one point, an executive board member reportedly asked a witness at length about whether Koss Vallejo used illegal substances. Witnesses said the line of questioning seemed intended to imply she had a drug problem and was therefore an unreliable witness—the kind of off-point question that is often used in legal trials to discredit victims and refocus attention away from the person accused of misconduct or worse.

Oddly, given how many statements Stober has made on his own behalf on his own website, on Facebook, in meetings, and in emails to the Party members who would have been voting on his fate next weekend if he had not stepped down last night, yesterday’s trial was Koss Vallejo’s first official opportunity to speak on her own behalf. After the meeting, Koss Vallejo said that the process that led up to the trial has treated her as if “I didn’t exist”; for example, while Stober was given a chance to review all the evidence against him nearly a week in advance of the trial, Koss Vallejo says she still has not seen any of the evidence, and only found out when and where the trial would be held through word of mouth from friends, since she is not on any official Party email list. “The whole process treated me like I literally wasn’t a person, and that was one of the most frustrating things about it,” she says.

Prior to Stober’s resignation, two-thirds of his executive board signed a petition calling for his resignation, which triggered the scheduling of a vote by all the precinct committee officers (low-ranking party officials) in the county; if two-thirds of the PCOs at that meeting had voted to remove him, Stober would have lost his position involuntarily. (Prior to that, district Democratic groups across King County passed resolutions calling for his resignation, and several voted to withhold funds from the organization until Stober stepped down. More than 200 Democratic Party members, including several elected officials, also signed a letter calling for his resignation.) At the moment, the organization is basically insolvent; as of late last month, according to recent a financial report from King County Democrats chair Nancy Podschwit, the group had just $3,200 in the bank, with thousands of dollars of outstanding obligations and a potential fine from the state over campaign finance violations from 2016, before Stober was chair, that could total tens of thousands of dollars.

Separately, a court just ordered Stober to pay more than $5,000 in attorney’s fees in an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office into campaign finance violations Stober allegedly committed in his capacity as both a candidate for Kent City Council and as King County Democrats chair—a case that has not been resolved, in part, because Stober has refused to turn over documents to the state—and several other campaign finance allegations against him remain pending. And his employer, the King County Assessor’s Office, is spending up to $10,000 on a separate investigation to determine whether his workplace behavior as the Democrats’ chair has any bearing on his ability to perform his job as communications director for the office. He is currently on paid leave from that position, which pays more than $90,000.

 

Investigation Into King County Democrats Chair Stober Finds Some Allegations Substantiated, Others Harder to Prove

Instagram screen shot.

An investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, financial misconduct, and bullying by King County Democratic Party chairman Bailey Stober has found several of the charges to be “substantiated,” while others remain “inconclusive,” according to the a report summarizing the conclusions of an investigation that went out to members of the organization’s executive board on Tuesday.

The report, by labor negotiator and executive board member Afton Larsen, is based on interviews with 14 witnesses, plus Stober and Natalia Koss Vallejo, the former King County Democrats executive director who says Stober harassed her, pressured her to drink, put her in physical danger, and required her to make expenditures that were not approved by the executive board or the party treasurer. (Koss Vallejo did not file the initial complaint against Stober and has said she had no intention of filing a complaint herself; she was fired by Stober, supposedly for throwing a cup of ice on the hood of a car, shortly after the complaint was filed by a third-party witness to Stober’s alleged behavior.)

Larsen’s report will be among the materials the executive board will consider at a “trial” on the workplace misconduct and harassment charges this coming weekend. The trial, at which both representatives for Stober and Koss Vallejo will present evidence,  will be the prelude to an April 15 vote by the county party’s precinct committee officers on whether to remove Stober from his position.

In her report. Larsen restricted her findings to the allegations about workplace misconduct; in a separate investigation, the group’s five-member finance committee  found Stober guilty of misspending party funds and called for his removal.

The workplace misconduct allegations against Stober included:

1. Violation of KCDCC Code of Conduct anti-harassment policy as follows. i) Offensive verbal or written comments related to gender and physical appearance. ii) Sexist or otherwise discriminatory jokes and language. iii) Posting without permission [on social media], without permission from that individual, other people’s personally identifying information (also known as “doxing”) in any public forum. 2. Additional allegations, not relevant to the KCDCC code of conduct, set forth by KCDCC Vice Chairs recommendations and findings report of January 8, 2018. i) Pressuring staff to drink alcohol. ii) Creating a hostile work environment of fear of retaliation. iii) Creating a dangerous work environment. iv) Evidence of physical assault.   

Among other allegations, the original complaint against Stober claimed:

– That Stober had pressured Koss Vallejo constantly “to engage in excessive drinking”;

– That Koss Vallejo had told numerous people that she was afraid Stober would retaliate against her if she brought up her concerns, and showed them screen shots and text messages confirming some of her allegations;

– That Stober fired Koss Vallejo without consulting with the board’s vice chairwoman or the treasurer of the group;

– That Stober statement alleged that Stober made derogatory comments about someone’s, perhaps Koss Vallejo’s, physical appearance and relationship status;

– That Stober called her a “bitch” and a “cunt” while they were out drinking;

– That Stober sprayed Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she was driving; and

– That Stober had grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone while she was in the restroom and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook timeline without her knowledge.

Ultimately, Larsen only found the allegations that could be directly verified through physical evidence such as videos and text to be “substantiated.” That included the allegation that Stober made derogatory comments about Koss Vallejo’s appearance, the allegation that he made sexist comments, the allegation that he used her Facebook account to post an embarrassing update without her knowledge or consent, and the allegation that he had created a dangerous work environment by spraying her with Silly String while she was driving, an incident that Stober himself filmed and posted to Instagram.

The allegations that couldn’t be verified by documentary evidence, or which Larsen determined took place in murky circumstances (e.g., when both Stober and Koss Vallejo had been drinking “and were at varying degrees of sobriety”) were all deemed “inconclusive.” No one directly witnessed Stober calling Koss Vallejo a “bitch” in a derogatory manner, for example, and Koss Vallejo herself said Stober was using the term in a gender-neutral way when he called her a “bitch” in multiple texts. (Theoretically, certain language is always considered inappropriate in certain contexts, such as a boss calling a subordinate a “bitch” and a “lying sack of shit” in late-night texts. In practice, a victim’s statement that an inappropriate behavior didn’t really bother her that much can be used to weaken her larger case.) Similarly, although four people said Koss Vallejo approached them about her fear of retaliation, “no direct threats were ever observed or witnessed”—and Stober “received [the allegations] with surprise.” (In a video posted back in February, and in 8,800-word self-defense posted to his website, Stober made a similar claim. “Nobody was as shocked as I was,” he said in February.) In any case, Larsen apparently weighed testimony by multiple women against Stober’s denial and called it a tie.

Texts and photos and video proof are obviously rock-solid evidence compared to  witness testimony after the fact. But the flip side of this approach is that it draws no distinction between the motivation of an accused harasser to deny he did anything wrong and the motivation of a victim and multiple witnesses to lie. Believing women, in this case, means listening to the testimony from all the women who say they witnessed Stober harassing, bullying, and pressuring Koss Vallejo and others and considering that testimony in the context of the evidence that is irrefutable—the texts, the Facebook “prank,” the video showing a terrified Koss Vallejo behind the wheel, screaming as Stober covers her in Silly String. Not believing women means choosing to dismiss all that evidence, the testimony of multiple witnesses, and statements from the reluctant accuser herself, and taking the accused man at his word. Either Stober is lying, or all the people who have given statements against him, including the organization’s longtime treasurer and a former vice-chairwoman who is no longer associated with the group, are. Given that Stober is the one who is on record mocking Koss Vallejo’s appearance, joking about crowning the man who allegedly sexually assaulted an underage volunteer at a Democratic Party function “party rapist of the year,” and pressuring Koss Vallejo to come out for drinks even after she demurred again and  again, I’d say the former scenario is more plausible.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Tide Appears to Turn Against Democratic Leader Accused of Harassment, Financial Misconduct

UPDATE: King County Democrats chair Bailey Stober just sent out an email saying that after talking “with many of you, my family and my friends,” he would make “an announcement pertinent to our organization” at a March 27 meeting of the group’s executive board. Last night, the organization agreed to hold a meeting on that date to consider the financial misconduct allegations against Stober. I have a message out to Stober asking him if he plans to resign his position, as more than a half-dozen legislative district Democratic groups, more than 200 local Democrats, and a majority of his executive board have asked him to do.

Last night, the King County Democrats’ executive board voted for a resolution calling on the group’s chair, Bailey Stober, to resign. The vote was a turning point in the debate over whether Stober should remain at the helm of the organization after allegations that he bullied and sexually harassed his lone employee, former executive director Natalia Koss Vallejo, before firing her, along with separate claims of financial misconduct stemming from thousands of dollars in over-budget and apparently unauthorized expenditures. (More on those financial allegations, including a report from treasurer Nancy Podscwhit outlining the excess spending and unauthorized spending in detail, here and here.)

Heading into last night’s meeting, Stober’s detractors worried that he planned to introduce “evidence” against Koss Vallejo, his alleged victim, that could embarrass other Democrats and change the subject from the substantive allegations against Stober. (The evidence apparently included screen shots in which Koss Vallejo engaged in or played along with fat-shaming remarks about female Party members). They also expressed concern that Stober would try to confine any discussion of allegations against him to a closed executive session, as he did at the group’s meeting last month, when the King County Democrats also voted to expand the investigation into Stober’s behavior to include an investigation to find out who was “leaking” information about the investigation to the press.

Stober didn’t do that. Instead, he kept the meeting open, which eliminated the need to debate several proposals to prohibit or restrict the use of executive session. Before the meeting, Stober told me he was eliminating executive session in the interest of “transparency,” but it’s also true that an open meeting, livestreamed via the KC PCOMG Facebook page, would give him the chance to read a statement and present the potentially embarrassing evidence in front of the widest possible audience.

In the end, though, Stober was not allowed to make a statement or present evidence; the temporary chairman, Pierce County Democrats chair Tim Farrell, ruled his requests to do so out of order. Still—and despite stepping aside as chairman for the meeting—Stober managed to dominate the meeting, proposing procedural motion after procedural motion in an effort, some of his detractors claimed, to run out the clock. (Unlike last month’s meeting, which ran well past 11pm, last night’s meeting had to end promptly at 9:45—thanks to a motion from Stober, which did pass, establishing a hard stop at that time). Most of those motions failed, but so did an effort to move the most controversial item on the agenda, the resolution calling on Stober to resign, higher in the agenda.

Stober insisted throughout the meeting that he has had no chance to look at the allegations against him, which strains credulity. (Both an initial report taking each allegation in turn and the detailed financial report have been widely circulated, and there has been extensive media coverage, here and in other outlets, about the details of the allegations). “I would have no problem resigning …  if there were any sort of a due process or an investigation,” Stober said. “To date, I have not been given a copy of the report by the vice chairs even outlining the accusations against me.” (The three vice chairs of the group, two of whom have since resigned, produced a report last month that concluded most of the financial and workplace misconduct allegations against Stober were founded.)

Stober also he attempted to expand the group investigating claims of workplace misconduct to include not just an employment law and labor expert, but two people appointed by the board itself—the same board that was unable to find volunteers to serve on a proposed five-member investigating panel, which would have included two members chosen by Stober himself.

In the end, the board voted to accept Podschwit’s report as the final report on the financial allegations, appointed labor negotiator Afton Larson to review the workplace misconduct allegations, and called on Stober to resign. The next steps will be another board meeting on March 27 to consider the financial misconduct allegations and a potential “trial” in two weeks. Since the group has never conducted a trial, the rules for doing so are unclear; however, the board rejected Stober’s attempt to appoint two apparent allies—King County Committeeman Jon Culver, who participated in some of the offensive text exchanges that are at the center of the harassment allegation, and King County Committeewoman Jami Smith, who spoke up for Stober last night—to come up with the rules for such a trial.

Finally, if Stober is still chair and if enough members sign a petition to call a meeting, the precinct committee officers will meet during or before the King County Democrats’ convention, on April 22, and vote on whether to remove Stober from office. (Stober made an effort to remain chair over that meeting, but was voted down). An affirmative vote—which requires the presence of 20 percent of all PCOs in the county and two-thirds support from those present and voting—would be final.

I have contacted Stober seeking comment on last night’s vote and asking to see the evidence he was unable to present last night, and will update this post if I hear from him.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Late Afternoon Crank: Resignations

1. Embattled King County Democrats chairman Bailey Stober, who has been accused of sexually harassing an employee he later fired and misappropriating Party funds, was in Eastern Washington this week, hanging out at the office of the Whitman County Democrats and reportedly campaigning for Democratic state House candidate Matthew Sutherland, while three more local Democratic organizations—the 32nd, 34th, and 46th District Democrats—were adopting resolutions that, to varying degrees, call for his removal as chair.

The 34th District Democrats’ resolution turned out to be the most contentious, thanks in part to 34th District chairman David Ginsberg—a Stober ally who told the Seattle  Times he did not believe Stober had harassed the employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo,  because Koss Vallejo had socialized with Stober and seemed “chummy” with him before he fired her. (Stober told me he could not harass a female employee because he is gay.) The day before the meeting, Ginsberg sent a letter to the district’s email list asserting that “any resolution condemning the alleged behavior of Chair Stober cannot be considered tomorrow night.” This led to a watered-down resolution calling on Precinct Committee Officers from the 34th to petition the King County Democrats for a special meeting to vote on Stober’s removal.

Ultimately, that resolution passed, but not before several speakers spoke strongly against it. One, 34th District state committeeman Chris Porter, likened Stober to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after a white woman falsely accused him of whistling at her (along with several other civil-rights martyrs). “None of us know the facts,” he added. Porter was followed by another speaker who said Stober was falling victim to “the ‘big black man’ scenario … it’s intimidation.”

Most of the speakers defending Stober were men. One said he had worked with Stober “every day for a couple of hours a day” and “I never saw in all my interactions with him acting inappropriately at all.” Another noted that Stober has said that he has a significant amount of of unspecified “evidence” that will exonerate him.**

At the 32nd, the most notable comment in favor of a more strongly worded resolution calling on Stober to step down came from former Shoreline city council candidate and recovering addict Jin-ah Kim, who said Stober had repeatedly pressured her to drink with him, despite knowing she is in recovery. Koss Vallejo has also said Stober pressured her to drink when she didn’t want to. The 46th would have passed a watered-down resolution similar to the one passed by the 34th if not for the intervention of former 46th District chair Jesse Piedfort, who also happened to be one of the only men at any of the recent district meetings to speak up strongly on behalf of harassment victims. The resolution that ultimately passed combined a call for Stober to resign with a call for a meeting of PCOs to remove him.

The King County Democrats will hold a meeting this coming Monday night to decide how to proceed with the investigation into Stober’s behavior since the group’s one remaining vice chair (the other two have resigned) was unable to find anyone willing to serve on the proposed investigating panel. Pierce County Democrats chair Tim Farrell, who recently called on another accused sexual harasser, state Rep. David Sawyer (D-29), to resign, will preside.

Earlier today, state Rep. Rebecca Saldaña (D-37), whose own district declined to pass a resolution condemning Stober (the chair of the 37th, Alec Stephens, also suggested that there was a “racial element” to the accusations), sent a letter to the King County Democrats saying that she will withhold all contributions to the group until the Stober situation is resolved.

2. Over at city hall, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a major cabinet departure on Friday—Catherine Lester, head of the city’s Human Services Department, will be leaving her position and “returning to her family in Toronto, Canada after seven years with the department.” Deputy director Jason Johnson will replace Lester as interim HSD director starting in May.

During her tenure, Lester oversaw the adoption and implementation of Pathways Home, a new approach to homelessness that relies heavily on the private market and short-term vouchers to move people quickly from the streets to housing, a strategy known as “rapid rehousing.” Pathways Home has been criticized by some political leaders and service providers, as well as by this blog, because it makes some highly optimistic assumptions about people’s ability to transition from homelessness to relative financial independence within just a few months without the kind of wraparound services that are provided in traditional transitional housing.

Lester also oversaw the city’s first competitive bidding process for homeless service contracts in more than a decade. That process, which prioritized programs that move people into permanent housing over those providing transitional housing or traditional shelter and hygiene services, was also controversial.

3. Lester defended the city’s efforts to provide restrooms and showers for unsheltered people this week to the Seattle/King County Board of Health, which adopted a resolution calling for additional investments in handwashing facilities, showers, and toilets across King County, while also acknowledging that “there are improvements to be made.” The city recently cut, then partially restored, funding for hygiene centers that serve some of the city’s homeless population, and has appeared sensitive to the issue of whether it is doing enough to ensure that people on the streets can wash their hands or relieve themselves. In a memo that Lester echoed in her comments to the Board of Health, the city enumerated 117 restrooms “available to all members of the public,” including Port-a-Potties near five transit stops and restrooms at libraries, community centers and parks, as well as restrooms at enhanced shelters, which are currently open only to those who stay at those shelters. The resolution notes that King County is currently experiencing a strep outbreak “that is particularly affecting those experiencing homelessness and injection drug users” and that other diseases that hit homeless populations hardest, like hepatitis A, can be controlled simply by giving people places to wash their hands.

* Ginsberg’s letter went on to denounce “some pretty bad reporting on the situation by local bloggers which has only made the entre [sic] situation worse” (ahem). It continued: “Bloggers have made a big deal out of the fact that the Chair got to select 2 of the 5 committee members, but failed to mention that the Vice Chair, operating on behalf of the accuser, also got to choose 2 of the 5. Bloggers have an understandable need to drive people to read their writing with salacious narratives to gain the ad revenue they depend on. But that doesn’t always serve the truth, and in this case it has not.” In fact, this blog—the one that has been reporting on the Stober situation—has mentioned consistently that the vice chairs were asked to appoint two of the four investigating panel members. They are not acting “on behalf of the accused,” and are meant to be a neutral party. The fact that Stober was allowed to choose two of the people who were going to investigate him for a workplace misconduct allegation is highly unusual, to put it very mildly. Finally, as anyone who has ever visited my site can see, I do not have any ads, and therefore have no ad revenues. I look forward to Ginsberg’s explanation of why he feels my ongoing reporting on city hall, land use, transportation, and local elections is “salacious.”

** I have seen at least one piece of this “evidence”—a message from Koss Vallejo making a fat joke about an unspecified person. Stober sent me a screen shot of the message when I asked about this text exchange, between him and King County Committeeman Jon Culver. The two men are expressing frustration about an event planned by the organizers of the Women’s March that apparently conflicted with a King County Democrats event:

Asked about this and similar exchanges, Stober told me, “I’m not going to have this trial occur in the media-it doesn’t respect my board, the process or due process. But I will say this-my close circle of friends and advisors  have engaged in internal jokes and conversations that could have and should have been avoided and we will address that and improve. But for Natalia to pretend that is one sided is a far stretch. Here is one of MANY screenshots I’ll be turning over to investigators to show Natalia engaging in the same behavior she’s now accusing others of. This should at least ensure fair reporting. The rest I’ll give to investigators and will provide to you as appropriate.” The screen shot followed. As I’ve mentioned many times, women who play along with men who make inappropriate “jokes” in workplace situations, particularly when those men are their bosses, often do so as a coping mechanism. In any case, “But so-and-so did it too!” is not a generally recognized excuse for workplace misconduct.

Afternoon Crank: “Giving the Appearance that the Chair Was Partying on Contributions to the Organization.”

1. The treasurer for the King County Democrats, Nancy Podschwit, along with several other members of the group’s finance committee, has called for a special meeting to remove embattled chairman Bailey Stober in a letter documenting no fewer than 13 instances of what they refer to as “inappropriate” spending by Stober. The letter and an accompanying memo add details to the financial case against Stober, who is also accused of targeting his female coworkers and a former employee whom he fired of sexual harassment and bullying.

Among other claims, the finance committee members say that Stober:

• Spent thousands on unauthorized entertainment and travel. The King County Democrats’ budget authorized $3,100 for “travel and entertainment.” “Per the budget, this was intended to be a $100 stipend per state party meeting for the chair and state committee people to attend the three state party meetings, as well as sponsorship for the WSDCC meetings,” the memo says. “However, it appears to include many other trips, and includes mileage, hotels and restaurants. … At no point has the chair asked for budgetary authority for general entertainment or travel purposes.” This extra spending included $2,336 to reimburse Stober for mileage on trips in the Seattle area and around the state, as well as two Airbnbs—one for a state committee meeting, which cost $857, and another for a board retreat, which cost $968. Most members of the board were told to reserve a few daytime hours on a Saturday for the retreat, but a select group was apparently invited to spend two nights at the house on Vashon, which was equipped with a hot tub, with all expenses paid for out of county Party funds. According to the memo, “The chair and some others stayed at the facility for Friday night and Saturday, posting on social media about grilling and drinking, giving the appearance that the chair was partying on contributions to the organization.” 

• Spent unauthorized funds on lightning-speed, business-level Internet service. Although the board authorized $250 a month for all utilities, combined, Stober signed a contract with Comcast for its most expensive, top-of-the-line business planthe “Deluxe 250,” which cost the group more than $500 a month. Comcast recommends the Deluxe 250 for e-commerce businesses with 12 employees or more and “extensive employee and customer wifi usage.” The King County Democrats had one employee (they now have none).

• Misled King County Democrats members and the board about the failure of its annual fundraiser, by claiming they had raised $17,100 when in fact it had resulted in a net loss of $730. (Once late contributions were counted, the event—which cost the party more than twice what was originally budgeted, and several thousand dollars more than a revised budget—raised about $630.) UPDATED: A member of the group has brought additional information to my attention suggesting that some of the revenues from pledges associated with this event may have been logged as part of the group’s general fundraising revenues, which would increase the net profit from the event. I will update this post when I get more detailed information about how these pledges were counted in the group’s budget.

• Misrepresented the success of the group’s fundraising in general, claiming at meetings that the group was meeting or exceeding fundraising goals when, in reality, fundraising fell short by more than $18,000 in 2017.

• Made most of the group’s campaign contributions last year in violation of bylaws that say the board must approve endorsements and contributions. These contributions included $75 to Matthew Sutherland, a candidate in Eastern Washington who was not endorsed by the group, which doesn’t generally endorse or fund candidates outside King County.

• Spent $10,135 more on candidate contributions than he was authorized to spend under the organization’s adopted budget, which included $20,000 for donations to candidates and campaign committees.

• Doled out contributions without board approval, despite repeated warnings that the board needed to sign off on such expenditures. Tara Gallagher, a member of the finance committee, is quoted in the memo saying that she met with Stober to discuss the unapproved contributions, and that he told her he would address it at the next board meeting. However, according to Gallagher, “At the next meeting he went into executive session to discuss the budget, which is weird, and mumbled something about the contributions when it would not show up in the minutes” because executive sessions are private.

• Signed an office lease through December 2018 that cost more than double ($1,800 a month) what the board approved ($800), without telling the board about the extra $12,000 annual commitment.

• Spent $6,600 in unapproved funds remodeling the rented office space—the sort of expense, the memo notes, that is typically borne by a landlord—along with $3,877 on office furniture and $5,500 on “office supplies,” nearly $5,000 more than the approved budget of $517. “It is unclear why this is so far over budget, however the treasurer notes that a laptop for the executive director, a printer and other items for the office were purchased,” the memo notes.

2. Podschwit brought up the financial allegations in a heated meeting of the 37th District Democrats last night, at which several officers proposed a resolution calling on Stober to step down and resolving to withhold dues from the King County Democrats until he does. (Ultimately, the resolution—which mirrored similar proposals that have been approved or will be considered in other districts—failed by a vote of 27 to 16.) In her comments supporting the resolution, Podscwhit described watching helplessly as Stober drained the group’s checking account. (Stober was, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the situation unable to get bank approval to be on the checking account, so instead he directed Koss Vallejo’s spending.)

“I truly believe part of the harassment that Natalia went through was him asking to spend money over my continued telling her not to,” Podschwit said. “And I felt terrible—every time I would get a charge on the bank statement or a check that cleared that I was not told about, the first person I would contact was Natalia, and Natalia would tell me that Bailey told her that he was her boss and he told her to do it. We had repeated conference calls [with Stober and the group’s finance committee] on Monday nights where we went over this over and over again as the money slowly drained out of the checking account. … We have text messages, we have emails, explaining to us in no uncertain terms that he was large and in charge. Much like Donald Trump, he was the only one that could fix it. Well, we’re broke.”

Most of the time allotted for discussing the resolution calling on Stober to resign was taken up by a lengthy, discursive, and often misleading explanation of the proposal by 37th District Democrats chair Alec Stephens, a staunch Stober ally who previously compared his treatment by the King County Democrats to a lynching. (Stober and Stephens are black.) Stephens spent nearly 15 minutes very slowly explaining the events that led up to the resolution (“On the vice chairs’ side, they’re down to one now, as opposed to there were two, then there were originally three, or there were originally four…”) before taking the podium again, this time to speak explicitly against the resolution.

“The very first investigation that was done, in my opinion, was totally flawed. Its biggest flaw was not taking the time that we still have not had to actually hear from the accused.” (According to the vice chairs who did the initial investigation, Stober refused to speak to them without a lawyer present, then stopped responding to their requests to meet). He continued: “I am playing no cards, but there is a racial dynamic to this that is of great concern to me. … I think we have to let the process play out and not just say, ‘Well, we’ve decided, and so”—even without hearing him”—you’ve got to go.” At that point, a man’s voice rang out. “It’s called due process!” “It’s called due process,” Stephens echoed.

Shasti Conrad, the King County Committeewoman for the 37th District and—like Koss Vallejo, Stober’s alleged victim, a woman of color—had a response for that question. Speaking in favor of the resolution, she said: “You want to talk about due process? Where is the due process for the woman he fired while there was an ongoing investigation happening? What about the due process for the women who were subjected to that hostility in that work environment? What about the women who had to put up with the jokes, the comments, feeling less than because there wasn’t space for them to speak up? What about due process for them?  … I love this party, but if we are not able to stand up for women’s rights, for victims of sexual misconduct, if we are going to turn a blind eye to blatant financial malfeasance, then I no longer feel safe here.”

Later, Conrad said on Twitter that she was “heartbroken” by the “painful” experience of being “shouted down as I was calling for a Democratic Party free of sexual harassment and a party that is safe for all.”

Meanwhile, a second investigation into Stober remains stalled, as I reported Monday, because the one remaining vice chair has been unable to find volunteers to serve on the five-member panel investigating Stober. Notably, that panel will include two members directly chosen by Stober himself—one reason some potential volunteers have reportedly declined to participate in the process. Stober has called a special meeting of the executive board for next week to discuss next steps in his own investigation.

3. While that meeting was going on (I watched it after the fact thanks to video posted by the King County Precinct Committee Officers’ Media Group, or PCOMG), another meeting, also with a subtle racial subtext, was happening across town. The city council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning committee held a public hearing at Northgate for residents of Districts 5 and 6, which encompass most of North Seattle, to weigh in on proposed upzones that will impact 6 percent of the two-thirds of Seattle’s residential land that is zoned exclusively for single-family use. Longtime (white) homeowners invoked theoretical ruined gardens and equally theoretical immigrants, refugees, and people of color who would be impacted by allowing more housing in the city, and renters, advocates for workers and low-income people, and even a few homeowners pushed back. I’ve collected those tweets in a Twitter moment.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “Sound Transit Is Not Felt To Be a Safe Workplace”

1. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff escaped serious reprimand on Wednesday for alleged behavior toward agency employees that included looking women up and down and giving them “elevator eyes,” using racially insensitive language, swearing at employees, and using an abrasive style that both the public memo on the investigation into his behavior and King County Executive Dow Constantine described as “East Coast” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). With only Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson dissenting (because they believed Rogoff’s punishment was insufficient), the board voted to require Rogoff to create a “leadership development plan” to improve his listening, self-awareness, and relationship building” skills and to  assign a three-member panel, made up of Sound Transit board members, to monitor his progress on the plan for six months.

Durkan skipped the launch of an NHL season ticket drive and the raising of the NHL flag over the Space Needle to be at today’s board meeting, an indication of how seriously she took the charges. Before voting, Durkan read the following statement:

“The issues raised and on which we were briefed led me to believe the conclusion that these [performance] factors cannot be met, and so I will be voting against this motion. I think the facts that we have been briefed on and the conclusions reached by our Counsel demonstrate that Sound Transit is not felt to be a safe workplace for all employees, that they do not feel that they can act without repercussions, and that there are many who feel that their work is not valued. I am also concerned that the statements that were alleged to have been made by the CEO, and the actions that were raised – raised the issue of racial bias and insensitivity, as well as other workplace harassment issues. I do not believe that these issues have been resolved as completely as indicated by Counsel, and that having three Board Members oversee the daily work of this CEO is not the resolution, and so I will be voting against this motion.”

Neither Durkan nor Johnson had any further comment after the meeting.

The memo on the investigation lays out a few specific examples of behaviors that the investigation deemed inappropriate, including a Black History Month event in 2016 at which Rogoff “reportedly made comments condescending toward persons of color” and a 2017 incident in which he dismissively told a female employee, “Honey, that ain’t ever going to happen” in response to a question. But the memo, and most of the Sound Transit board, is also quick to chalk much of Rogoff’s reported behavior up to difficulty navigating the politeness of Pacific Northwest culture and the fact that the previous CEO, Joni Earl, was so beloved that Rogoff faced built-in challenges from the time he was hired, in late 2015. To wit:

In the meeting, King County Executive Dow Constantine, who was chair of the Sound Transit board when Rogoff was hired, said he talked to Rogoff when he applied for the position and “cautioned him that his directness was going to run up against a very different way of interacting  to which we are accustomed here in the Pacific Northwest, and that he was going to have to modify his manner and understand the local culture if we were going to be successful.” Constantine also described Rogoff as “bracingly direct” before praising his effectiveness.

Rogoff echoed Constantine’s complimentary assessment of his style in his own memo responding to the allegations. In the memo, Rogoff acknowledges (using language that reads a bit like a job applicant saying that his worst flaw is his “relentless attention to detail”) that his “directness and unvarnished clarity did not sit well with some staff” and that he was, at times, “overly intense in articulating my expectations for performance.” Rogoff goes on to explicitly deny some of the allegations,” calling some of the claims made during the investigation “misquoted, misunderstood, mischaracterized or false. I don’t yell at people.  I don’t disparage small city mayors and I don’t shove chairs to make a point,” two incidents that were detailed in the documents released today. “I was shocked to read some of the characterizations on this list.”

A document labeled “Peter Rogoff, CEO ST: Note to file” describes some of those alleged incidents. They include: Directing a staffer to tell Seattle Times reporter Mike Lindblom to “go fuck himself”; yelling over the phone at a staffer in a conversation that lasted from 11pm to 1am; standing up at a meeting and saying “When I give direction, it’s for action, not rumination” and shoving a chair; saying that he “couldn’t give a flying fuck about how things were when Joni [Earl] was here, because she’s not here anymore”; using the term “flying fuck” constantly “to everyone”; and the aforementioned incidents in which he allegedly looked women up and down and gave them “elevator eyes.”

King County Council member and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci said after the meeting that she has “seen a lot of improvement” in Rogoff’s behavior. “I think that at least shows that it’s possible, and therefore that we could have a successful CEO. If he can manage people with respect and dignity then I felt he deserves the opportunity.” Balducci disagreed that Rogoff’s management style could be explained away by “regional” differences. “I’m from New York,” she said, and “I think everybody, no matter where they’re from, knows how to be respectful. The things that we were talking about were more than just style.”

Although Rogoff did not receive a bonus this year, he did receive a five percent cost of living adjustment, which puts his salary at just over $328,000.

2. The city’s progressive revenue task force held its final meeting on Wednesday morning, adopting a report (final version to come) that recommends new taxes that could bring in as much as $150 million a year for housing and services for homeless and low-income people in Seattle. Half of that total, $75 million, would come from some version of an employee hours tax; the variables include what size business will pay the tax ($8 million vs. $10 million in gross revenues), the tax rate and whether it will be a flat per-employee fee or a percentage of revenues; and whether businesses that don’t hit the threshold for the tax will have to pay a so-called “skin in the game” fee for doing business in the city. The task force also talked about making the tax graduated based on employer size, but noted that such a tax may not be legal and would almost certainly be subject to immediate legal challenges.

The original memo on the head tax proposals suggests that the “skin in the game” fee should be $200 and that the fee would kick in once a business makes gross revenues—not net profits—of $500,000. During the conversation Wednesday morning, some task force members floated the idea of lowering that threshold to just $100,000, a level that would require many small businesses, such as street-level retailers, to pay the fee, regardless of what their actual profit margins are. However, after council member and task force chair Lorena Gonzalez pointed out that the city has not done a racial equity analysis to see how any of the head tax proposals would impact minority business owners, the group decided to keep the trigger at $500,000 in gross revenues. Additionally, they decided to raise the recommended fee to $395—a number that was thrown out, seemingly at random, by a task force member who called it “psychological pricing” (on the theory that $395 feels like significantly less than $400).

The other $75 million would come, in theory, from a combination of other taxes, some of them untested in Seattle and likely to face legal challenges, including a local excise tax, an excess compensation tax, a tax on “speculative real estate investment activity,” and an increase in the real estate excise tax. Legal challenges could delay implementation of new taxes months or years, and—although no one brought it up at yesterday’s meeting—REET revenues always take a nosedive during economic downturns, making them a fairly volatile revenue source.

3. The Teamsters Local 174 confirmed yesterday that they will no longer allow the King County Democrats to hold meetings at their building in Tukwila, after a contentious meeting Tuesday night that lasted until nearly midnight. My report on that meeting, at which the group decided to extend and expand the investigation into sexual harassment and financial misconduct claims against the group’s chairman, Bailey Stober, is here.

According to Teamsters senior business agent Tim Allen, the decision wasn’t directly related to the allegations against Stober, but had to do with the behavior of some of the group’s members and their treatment of a custodial worker who had to clean up after the group, who may have been drinking alcohol on the premises. “We have standards of conduct that people are supposed to live up to” around how guests treat the building and whether they “treat our [staffers] properly,” Allen said. “They had the whole building to clean, and usually we expect [groups that use the building] to clean up after themselves. Stober, contacted by email, said “I’ve heard varying degrees of that story” (that people were drinking, continued to do so after they were asked to stop, and left a mess), “but I can’t confirm that because I was sitting in the front of the room and have no knowledge of what was happening outside of the room.” Many other local progressive groups, including some legislative Democratic groups, have alcohol at their meetings (many provide beer or wine for a suggested donation), but some venues do not allow alcohol without a banquet license.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Embattled King County Democrats Chair Remains in Power, But Financial and Political Difficulties Deepen

Quick commercial break: This story took many hours of reporting, including but by no means limited to most of the day today and the five-hour meeting I sat through in Tukwila last night. If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including long-form stories like this one, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

In a meeting Tuesday night in Tukwila that lasted nearly five hours, including an almost three-hour closed-door executive session from which officials repeatedly emerged to make sure no members of the press were listening at the doors and that no members of the body were “leaking” information about what was going on inside, the King County Democrats decided to appoint a five-member panel to conduct a new investigation into the group’s embattled chairman, Bailey Stober.  Stober, as I reported Monday, is accused of verbally harassing and bullying the group’s former executive director Natalia Koss Vallejo, whom he fired on February 2, and misusing party funds.

Stober did not step down and continues to deny every charge against him. He has been on paid administrative leave from his job as communications director for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson since February 12 “so the Department of Assessments can gather and review information about allegations against him related to his position as Chair of the King County Democrats,” according to King County chief deputy assessor Al Dams.

The panel charged with investigating Stober, which is supposed to be appointed within the next two to three days, will include two people hand-picked by Stober himself. The third member is supposed to be appointed jointly by Stober and the two party vice-chairs who investigated the initial complaint and concluded that most of the charges were “founded,” and the other two are supposed to be appointed by the vice-chairs. I say “supposed to” because one of the two remaining vice chairs, Michael Maddux, resigned on Wednesday night; a second vice chair, Cat Williams, had already stepped down before last night’s meeting and sent a statement to the meeting about why she stepped down, which was read during the executive session. On Wednesday night, Maddux told me he resigned because Stober “does not care about protecting workers.  In fact, thanks to expanding the scope of the investigation to include finding whoever leaked [the vice chairs’ report on the complaint], what they really care about is protecting themselves—not protecting, workers not protecting women. It shows what their priorities are, and that’s not an organization I’m willing to be associated with.”

On Wednesday night, former vice chair Michael Maddux said he resigned because Stober “does not care about protecting workers.  In fact, thanks to expanding the scope of the investigation to include finding whoever leaked [the vice chairs’ report on the complaint], what they really care about is protecting themselves.

“It shows what their priorities are, and that’s not an organization I’m willing to be associated with.”

The group will also do a separate investigation, requested by Stober, into the vice chairs’ investigation itself, which Stober and his supporters say was unfair and incomplete. In his complaint, Stober claims, among other charges, that the vice chairs violated the group’s anti-harassment policy by “promoting and sharing ‘offensive written comments,'” which appears to refer to the obscene names he is accused of using to describe Koss Vallejo. Finally, the group plans to do another separate investigation, added last night, into who “leaked” documents and details of what transpired during the executive session Tuesday night to the press, including me. (More on that in a moment.)

According to the report on the complaint distributed in yesterday’s closed session, Koss Vallejo described

extensive harassment on behalf of Stober, including being called ‘bitch,’ ‘cunt,’ ‘slut,’ and being demeaned regularly in front of other people in the political community. She recounted him taking her phone and posting an obscene post to her Facebook while she was using the restroom, and not alerting her for an hour, during which numerous people saw and interacted with the post. She recounted an instance wherein she was driving, and Stober was a passenger, and he sprayed a bottle of silly string in her face and mouth, while recording on his phone, ultimately posting to Instagram. She reported numerous instances of Stober making threats with financials toward her, and referring to her and [another party cited in the complaint] in derogatory terms when they questioned the efficacy of his spending habits. She described extensive demands on her to engage in excessive drinking, and last minute trips to Eastern Washington, with fears of retaliation if she did not comply. [Koss Vallejo has requested a separate meeting to discuss her termination and indicated potential retaliation from Stober. She expressed concerns about Stober sharing misinformation about her termination during the upcoming Special Meeting.

The atmosphere at Tuesday night’s marathon meeting was one of grievance, anger, and high-pitched paranoia. Before those of us who were not voting or invited members of the group were asked to leave, the group’s treasurer, Nancy Podschwit, confirmed and elaborated on what she told me over the weekend: The King County Democrats are out of money, and have been both overspending and bringing in far less money than their budget assumes. In January and February of this year, according to a documented distributed by Podschwit, the organization was supposed to bring in $27,649. Instead, they raised just $7,023, leaving the group with just $3,886 at the end of February. Podscwit said yesterday that the group will be “in the red three grand” by the time she pays all their bills this month, including an $1,800-a-month lease for office space in Auburn, and that’s before an anticipated fine stemming from campaign reporting violation charges from the state attorney general’s office that could total tens of thousands of dollars more.

“She described extensive demands on her to engage in excessive drinking, and last minute trips to Eastern Washington, with fears of retaliation if she did not comply.”

Last night, Stober, who told me over the weekend that the organization was doing fine financially—”I am sitting in the Party office with the rent paid, lights on, heat blasting and nothing is suffering here,” he said—suddenly produced a check for $5,000 he said he had just procured; later, I confirmed that this check was from King County Executive Dow Constantine, who pledged the money in November and just paid up this month. However, Wednesday afternoon, Constantine confirmed that he had rescinded the check pending the outcome of the investigation. In response to my tweet confirming that he had asked for the money back, Constantine tweeted, “The recent check to the King County Democrats has been put on hold. It was for the balance of a pledge from 2017. I regularly donate to the State, County, and my local LD Dem organizations, and others. I look forward to helping KCD again as soon as this issue has been resolved.”

In last night’s executive session, Podshwit said Stober’s spending outside what was allowed by the adopted budget included $3,000 in excessive expenditures on travel and entertainment and $14,000 in excessive expenditures on candidate contributions. Podschwit said that she had resigned three times over what she considered Stober’s excessive spending, and that whenever she questioned him about spending funds that were not authorized by the adopted budget, she was told that he had “ultimate power.”

For more details on Stober’s spending, which included thousands of dollars on hotels, at bars and restaurants, and a weekend Vashon Island retreat for party members at a pricey Airbnb house that included a hot tub, check out my original post.

In last night’s executive session, Stober was asked to step aside temporarily while the investigation was ungoing; he refused.  “No. You want to come see the evidence, come see the evidence,” he said. Stober was also given the opportunity to speak at length about how he felt about the allegations. (Koss Vallejo and her invited witnesses were not allowed to speak, except to answer a single question about what time on February 2 Stober fired Koss Vallejo). Stober claimed his attorney had told him that his opponents could not try him in a court of law but that they would try him “in the court of public opinion,” and spoke repeatedly about “justice” and “due process,” invoking Martin Luther King Junior and the fact that “we teach our children the value of fairness” but seem to have forgotten what that means. He spoke so loudly and adamantly that at one point, a member asked him to take a less aggressive tone, and he responded by saying that people tend to get fired up when they’re “falsely accused.”

When I spoke with him by phone and later by email over the weekend, Stober denied all of the charges, including the financial allegations and the claim that he bullied or used inappropriate language around Koss Vallejo. “When there’s an investigation committee or whatever the board decides to  do, you wouldn’t see me saying any of those things,” Stober told me. “You wouldn’t see anything like that. As soon as I give it to an investigator, I’m more than happy to say it to the media as well. It’s just not existent. I went through every text, every Facebook message, every email exchange I ever have had—no.”

The allegations, it’s worth noting, appear to be about verbal, not written, communications; therefore, any review of documents would not address the verbal behavior that was described in the complaint. However, screen shots of what appear to be text message exchanges between Stober, Koss-Vallejo, and another Party official appear to contradict at least the spirit of Stober’s claim. In the texts, Stober appears to make numerous disparaging jokes about women, complaining that the organizers of the Women’s March in Seattle chose to hold their annual Day of Action on January 21, one day after the King County Democrats had planned their own event. “Goddamnit, we need to tell the Women’s March to know their fucking role,” a text message that appears to be from Stober says. “THEY GONNA BAKE COOKIES ALL DAY TO PROTEST? CLEAN THE HOUSE?? JESUS.” In another message, Stober appears to joke about printing off an award certificate recognizing a party member accused of raping a woman at the group’s annual retreat last year as “party rapist of the year so everyone feels better.” Another shows an image of a monkey at a desk, with the message “Honestly looks like Natalia trying to work.”

In another message, Stober appears to joke about printing off an award certificate recognizing a party member accused of raping a woman at the group’s annual retreat last year as “party rapist of the year so everyone feels better.”

I asked Stober specifically about these messages, along with another one suggesting that another person in the thread “send [former King County Democratic Party chair] Rich Erwin a chocolate covered dildo and tell him to get fucked,” via email. Stober responded: “I’m not going to have this trial occur in the media – it doesn’t respect my board, the process or due process. But I will say this – my close circle of friends and advisors have engaged in internal jokes and conversations that could have and should have been avoided and we will address that and improve. But for Natalia to pretend that is one sided is a far stretch. … Here is one of MANY screenshots I’ll be turning over to investigators to show Natalia engaging in the same behavior she’s now accusing others of.”

Attached was a screen shot of an apparent text message exchange in which Koss Vallejo making a mild fat-shaming joke about an unknown person. The implication appeared to be that if an employee who answered to Stober made off-color jokes, it makes his own comments excusable. One important issue that has surfaced during the #MeToo era is the fact that women in subordinate positions who have been harassed or sexually assaulted by more powerful men (such as men who have the ability to fire them) often appear “chummy” with the men who are targeting them (a word used by one of Stober’s defenders, 34th District Democrats chairman David Ginsberg, in the initial story on the complaint in the Seattle Times), appearing cheerful in photos or going along with behavior they may not feel comfortable with.
Stober has consistently claimed that he did not get an opportunity to respond to the vice chairs’ investigation, and specifically that he was not given an opportunity to be interviewed himself. Last night, he said the meeting was “the first time I have ever seen” the full report on the investigation. The vice-chairs, he said in our conversation last weekend, reached out to him late in the afternoon of February 2, when the complaint was filed, and told him that “they were going to interview me. All I asked for is, ‘I can’t do it this week, but I can do it any time after that.’ My week was booked.” That same day, Stober called a special meeting of the Democrats so he could hold an executive session “to brief the board on sensitive materials.” Those materials turned out to include details about why he said he fired Koss Vallejo, according to witnesses.
Back at the King County Democrats meeting, I spent three hours sitting outside the room with several representatives from the live-streaming organization King County Precinct Committee Officers Media Group and a number of people who had been asked to leave the room. I set up my computer on the floor outside, where, very quickly, it became obvious that Stober and his allies were extremely concerned about “leaks” from people inside the meeting. Not only did Stober claim, in open session, that people who talked to the press about what happened in executive session might be subject to a libel lawsuit, he claimed in the executive session to have “sworn statements” from “members of the media” that would prove that the vice chairs had leaked documents about the investigation before he had a chance to review them. At one point, a  sergeant at arms came out and told me she had been asked to stand watch over me and make sure I didn’t communicate with anyone inside the meeting. (I declined to let her stand over my shoulder and look at my computer, and she made it clear she didn’t have any interest in doing so in the first place.) The sergeant at arms, Galaxy Marshall, told me she had also been told that I went into the women’s restroom at the same time as Koss Vallejo, and that she was supposed to ask me what we talked about. Obviously, I declined to do that as well (it was clear that Marshall didn’t want to monitor me at the time, and she said as much herself on Twitter the following day.)
In the day or so since the meeting, I have spoken to several members of the King County Democrats who are thinking of leaving the group. Their shared frustration can be summed up as: This is not what we signed up for. Even if there is a new investigation into Stober, the vice chairs, and the so-called “leakers,” it will almost certainly take months, and require everyone involved, including Koss Vallejo, to be interviewed again, a process that could involve responding to submissions from Stober like the trove of text messages from Koss Vallejo that he appears to believe will vindicate him. Stober has reportedly suggested that bad press from “leaks” is at least partly to blame for the group’s anemic fundraising. I would argue that the existence of a significant investigation into sexual harassment and financial impropriety is more damaging to the King County Democrats than “leaks.” Moreover, “find the leakers” is a phrase more closely associated with a different political party.
*Quick civics lesson: Whistleblowing, or “leaking,” is free speech protected under the First Amendment that is backed up by considerable case law. Truth is an absolute defense to libel. Reporting a fact that another person wants to conceal is not libel. Also, Robert’s Rules of Order, the rules under which the King County Democrats generally operate, is not the law.

Morning Crank: The Dizzying Array of Potential Pedestrian Treatments

1. I’ll be on KUOW today at noon talking about sexual harassment, tolling I-405, and more with Civic Cocktail host (and ex-Seattle Times editorial board member) Joni Balter and former state attorney general Rob McKenna. Who won’t be on KUOW tomorrow? Tavis Smiley, who was suspended by PBS this week after an investigation found “multiple, credible allegations” of sexual misconduct by the host. The allegations include having multiple sexual relationships with subordinates, some of whom believed their “employment status was linked to the status of a sexual relationship with Smiley,” and creating a “verbally abusive and threatening environment.” Smiley has responded by denying that he “groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately” to any of his coworkers, which, it should be noted, are not the acts he is accused of committing.

KUOW pulled Smiley’s radio show (which is separate from his public TV show) voluntarily, and will run the second hour of “Here and Now” in its place.

2. George Scarola, former mayor Ed Murray’s director of homelessness, made an odd comment the other day about his current status at the city. “Up until the new mayor took office—Mayor Durkan—I was the director of homelessness. I promptly submitted my resignation,” Scarola said, adding that he did so “just to give her a clean shot at exactly what she wants to do, and that hasn’t had any effect yet.” Scarola is still at the city—in fact, he attended a Ballard District Council meeting where neighbors complained about the ongoing presence of homeless people at the Ballard Commons park just last night—but his position is now at the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, not the mayor’s office.

3. Jessyn Farrell, the state-legislator-turned-mayoral candidate who came in fourth in the August primary election, is going to work for Civic Ventures, the progressive think tank founded by Seattle venture capitalist and billionaire do-gooder Nick Hanauer. Earlier this year, Hanauer said he would bankroll the campaign for a homelessness levy proposed by then-mayor Ed Murray; although the city later abandoned that proposal in favor of a joint city-county proposal that kicked the conversation about a homelessness tax into 2018, Hanauer will likely be involved in that campaign as well. Farrell, who also headed up the Transportation Choices Coalition before she was elected to represent the 46th legislative district in the state house, did not say what her title will be, but did say that she’ll be working on “rebuilding the middle class” and “making cities work for people.”

4. If you want to get an idea of of how complicated traffic planners’ jobs are, and how hard it can be to balance road users’ needs and rights without creating ridiculously out-of-whack hierarchies (where drivers can move freely and pedestrians are constantly at risk) or unintended consequences (long periods where pedestrians are just stuck waiting at corners, unable to move in any direction), check out this presentation that Seattle Department of Transportation transportation operations manager Ahmed Darrat presented to the Pedestrian Advisory Board on walk signal timing last night.  Twenty minutes went by as Darrat explained eleven ways SDOT can shift the balance of mobility between cars and pedestrians—assuming slower walking speeds near hospitals and retirement homes, giving pedestrians the option of pushing a button for several seconds to extend the walk time, “passive detection” of pedestrians using thermal sensors—and then Darrat switched to the next slide, which listed another dozen options. (More details on the dizzying array of potential pedestrian treatments here).

The biggest point of contention right now in conversations about how quickly pedestrians should be able to cross the street is the existence of so-called “beg buttons”—buttons a pedestrian (or, in many cases, cyclist) must push to alert the traffic system that cars need to stop to allow people to cross the road. The problem with beg buttons isn’t just that they feel insulting—cars don’t have to ask permission to drive, because we’ve built a system that either assumes they will be there or that senses them when they roll up to an intersection—but that they contribute to a culture in which people walking and cycling are an anomaly on the road. Beg buttons give drivers who hit pedestrians a built-in excuse—he didn’t have the walk sign, officer!—empower cities to crack down on “jaywalking,” and contribute to the overall sense that cars rule the road. And if a pedestrian isn’t aware that they won’t get permission to cross the street unless they push the button, they may get stuck waiting through several light cycles while cars move through unimpeded. Blind people, people with limited English reading skills, people who can’t read, and other people with sensory impairments are particularly impacted by beg button requirements.

Darrat said federal standards require accessible pedestrian signals at every intersection; push buttons just happen to be the only option currently available to SDOT; however, he said, “we’re committed to looking at how we treat pedestrian signals from a more global perspective and coming up with some ideas as to how we’re going to take steps toward standardizing it” so pedestrians don’t have to figure out dozens of potential signal situations—different walk cycles by time of day; half cycles for cars; “pedestrian recall”; leading pedestrian intervals”—to cross the street. Imagine if instead of figuring out whether to push the button and if it’s safe to run and whether the signal will change when you push it if the light’s already green and how long you’ll have to wait if you don’t make this cycle, you could just go out into the street at regular intervals. You know, like cars do.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.