If elected, mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan must stay mum on city issues where her siblings have a financial interest.
That could include the major expansion of the Washington Convention Center, on which one of Durkan’s sisters has worked as the lead land-use attorney. Outside City Hall previously reported that Durkan’s opponent in the mayor’s race, Cary Moon, would be recusing herself from and decisions surrounding the expansion, due to the fact that her husband is the lead architect on the project. In that story, Outside City Hall originally reported that siblings aren’t covered by the city’s ethics code, giving Durkan some breathing room on the project. In fact, siblings are covered by the code, a complicating factor for Durkan, whose well-connected family has interests across the city.
Wayne Barnett, Executive Director of Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC), says, the Seattle Ethics Code requires Durkan to recuse herself from “any matter that her siblings have a financial interest in.” Barnett explains, “Anything where [Durkan’s] siblings make money or lose money.”
Stephanie Formas, Durkan’s spokesperson states, “If elected, [Durkan], of course, will consult with the ethics commission and City Attorney’s office to make sure that all appropriate steps are taken, including any decisions that may involve a sibling. “
When it comes to conflicts of interest, the Seattle Ethics Code is quite strict and broad. All city elected officials, employees, contractors and volunteers may not “[p]articipate in a matter in which any of the following has a financial interest”: the individual, spouses, domestic partners, siblings, in-laws and others. “So, if either Durkan’s sister or [mayoral candidate Cary] Moon’s husband had a financial interest in a matter, [the candidates, if elected,] would need to recuse themselves,” states SEEC’s Barnett.
While Durkan has seven brothers and sisters, only one appears to present potential recusal issues for the candidate: Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson’s T. Ryan Durkan, one of Seattle’s leading land-use attorneys. Ryan has represented Amazon, the Washington State Convention Center, the University of Washington, Daniels Development, Pacific Place and clients who are affected by Sound Transit. In the next four years, all of these clients will almost certainly have business before city hall. Ryan Durkan did not respond to questions concerning her current case load, so it isn’t clear if she currently represents any of these clients.
Ryan Durkan did, however, state, “One of my law partners served on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and has considered these issues for our firm. We have a different understanding than some of what is expressed here. We intend to request a meeting with Mr. Barnett to make sure our understanding is correct. Suffice it to say, we will proceed in an ethical fashion.”
Jamie Durkan has retired from lobbying
Two other of Durkan’s siblings are well known in Seattle political circles: Martin “Jamie” Durkan Jr and Tim Durkan.
For the last 30 years, Jamie worked as a lobbyist. This year, however, Jamie told Outside City Hall that he has retired from lobbying. As of December 31, 2016, Jamie had filed the necessary city paperwork to terminate his work for all of his Seattle clients: the Rental Housing Association of Washington; Lamar Advertising; and Clear Channel Outdoors.
Tim previously worked for Mayor Greg Nickels and Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. (Full disclosure, he also has a photography business and has donated his work to Outside City Hall.) Currently Tim works for Seattle Information Technology. If elected, Jenny could play no part in promoting, firing or hiring him for a new job within city government.
The other Durkan siblings do not appear to be involved in matters that have any financial interests at City Hall.
Meanwhile, questions remain around how Moon would navigate the mayor’s office around her husband’s interests.
Previously Outside City Hall has reported on Moon’s recusal issues due to her husband’s, LMN architect Mark Reddington, involvement in the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center. There has also been some question about whether Moon, if elected, could take a seat on Sound Transit’s board due to LMN’s contracts with the transit agency. Durkan has made the Sound Transit conflict a campaign talking point, describing herself as the candidate who could “serve as an active Sound Transit Board member and be involved in all critical Light Rail decisions without having to recuse herself.”
SEEC’s Barnett clarified that either Durkan or Moon could sit on Sound Transit’s board but might have to recuse herself from voting on a particular item if conflicts of interest present themselves.
LMN has other clients that might raise conflicts of interest if Moon is elected.
Both candidates say they will do whatever needs to be done to run the office ethically.
“It’s time to bring back transparency and the highest level of ethics to the Mayor’s office,” says Moon.
Durkan agrees. Says Formas, “Jenny is committed to operating City Hall with the highest ethical standards. She had an opportunity to talk to the ethics commission and will continue to consult with them if any issues arise.”George Howland Jr. served as news editor for Seattle Weekly from 1999 to 2006. He now writes for Outside City Hall about city politics, housing, homelessness and land use. Outside City Hall is funded by The Displacement Coalition. Howland works under his own editorial direction. The Displacement Coalition plays no role in choosing his specific subjects or editing his copy.