David Madore, a Clark County commissioner who also serves on the C-TRAN board of directors, has filed a conflict of interest protest over a vote by fellow C-TRAN board member and Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt.
Madore alleges that Leavitt, an employee of PBS Engineering and Environmental, failed to disclose that his company has a contract with TriMet, the Portland transit agency, even though the C-TRAN board is considering the terms of an agreement with TriMet for the operation of light rail in Clark County.
Leavitt cast two votes favorable to the proposed TriMet agreement during a May 21 meeting, then recused himself from a third vote after Madore raised the conflict of interest issue.
Leavitt denied that a conflict exists and said the matter has been brought up, and dealt with, before.
The C-TRAN board Code of Ethics states that board members are to disclose any financial or personal interest which would tend to impair their independent judgment, and then abstain from voting. The policy applies to “even the appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest between public duties and private interests.”
The issue arose during a May 21 meeting when the C-TRAN board voted to work with TriMet officials on an agreement for the operation of light rail over a planned new I-5/Columbia River bridge. The board also directed staff to develop a financing plan for the operation of light rail. Leavitt voted with the majority, approving that course of action.
But then, Madore offered an amendment that would have described the board’s action as information gathering only and not to be interpreted as implying support for the light rail project. The board voted in favor of that amendment but the measure failed due to the city of Vancouver’s “block veto” power, which included a “no” vote by Leavitt.
Madore distributed a copy of a contract between TriMet and PBS Engineering and Environmental that identified Leavitt as a “Senior Environmental Engineer” with an hourly salary rate of $48.08. Madore said that the contract, and others like it between TriMet and PBS, created the appearance of conflict of interest.
After Madore distributed the contract, Leavitt abstained from a subsequent vote but had already cast two votes on issues that involved TriMet. The contract between PBS and TriMet involved work on TriMet’s Milwaukie, OR light rail line.
Madore said the conflict of interest policy exists in both the C-TRAN Code of Ethics and state law. He said multiple contracts between PBS and TriMet have been ongoing for more than four years and Leavitt is specifically named in those contracts.
In a May 28 letter to C-TRAN executive director Jeff Hamm, Madore asked that Leavitt’s vote on the non-support amendment not be counted and that the amendment be recognized as passed. Madore also asked that C-TRAN’s legal counsel, Tom Wolfendale, be consulted on the conflict of interest matter.
Wolfendale responded to Madore, saying: “A+ this time, the validity of Director Leavitt’s vote on that motion, which resulted in a city of Vancouver veto ... cannot be determined until I complete my investigation of your conflict of interest complaint (and that of two others) regarding Director Leavitt.”
The other two complaints about Leavitt’s apparent conflict of interest were from private citizens, not members of the C-TRAN board, according to C-TRAN spokesman Scott Patterson.
“I don’t work for TriMet through PBS,” said Leavitt. “The fact that PBS is doing work for TriMet has been brought up before by Mr. Madore and Mr. Wolfendale has rendered an opinion.”
“The ‘appearance’ of conflict, to nobody’s surprise, continues to be brought up by those in the vocal minority that are opposed to the CRC project,” stated Leavitt, “and have shown a propensity to resort to harassing techniques to get their way. I can’t explain what their thought process is, but it appears those particular individuals continue to be misguided in believing my participation (or that of a mayor that supports the CRC) is somehow a make-or-break for the project. This recent regurgitation of the same-ol, same-ol accusation is just another example of the lack of statesmanship and irresponsible behavior from a sitting county commissioner.”
Leavitt said that recusing himself from a third vote on May 21 was to avoid a protest. “Recusing myself from the vote was considered by many (who spoke to me afterwards) to be an example of ‘taking the high road,’ ” said Leavitt. “But, I was also criticized by some for recusing myself since there is no conflict of interest. Either way, the issue was voted on and action taken.”
Questions about Leavitt’s neutrality arose in 2010 when Leavitt responded to questions from Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe. Wrote Leavitt to Gathe: “The Company (PBS Engineering and Environmental) has had previous and may have current contracts with both ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) and WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation). To the best of my knowledge, the Company has no current contracts associated with the CRC project, either of the DOTs, or any of the multitude of consultants that are working on the project.”
Leavitt continued: “Most certainly, as an employee of the Company, I am not working under any professional services contract associated with the CRC project. I will immediately alert you to any potential conflict of interest, whether legal or a matter of public perception, and consequently remove myself from the decision-making action.”
Matter will be investigated
The C-TRAN board Code of Ethics provides that Wolfendale will investigate the allegations of conflict of interest and decide whether the matter warrants referral to the C-TRAN board for consideration. If he refers the matter to the board, the board would then establish a three-member Ethics Committee from its own ranks. That Committee would then issue a report to the board along with an advisory opinion.
The board would then decide if a violation exists and, if so, Leavitt would be required to recuse himself from voting on certain issues. Other penalties, including reprimand, are available.
Marvin Case may be reached at (360) 687-4122 and at email@example.com.