PDC dismisses complaint against city of Camas, officials

State finds no evidence Camas leaders 'seriously violated campaign finance laws' in build-up to community-aquatics center vote

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An illustration shows what the "aquatics" portion of the proposed Camas Community and Aquatics Center may have looked if voters had approved a $78 million bond proposal in the Nov. 5 election. (Contributed illustration courtesy of city of Camas)

A campaign-finance violation complaint filed against the city of Camas officials and administrators during the heat of the November general election has been dismissed. 

On Monday, Dec. 9, the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) determined it had found no evidence to support allegations that city officials or administrators had violated the state’s campaign finance laws before the Nov. 5 election.

Staff has determined that, in this instance, no evidence supports a finding of a violation warranting further investigation,” states a letter written by Erick Agina, a PDC compliance officer, and signed by B.G. Sandahl, deputy director for the PDC’s Executive Director Peter Lavallee. “Based on this information, the PDC finds that no further action is warranted and has dismissed this matter.”

Glen Morgan, a Thurston County, Washington man once dubbed by the Seattle Times as a “serial filer of campaign-finance complaints aimed at Washington’s Democratic candidates and organizations,” filed the complaint with the PDC on Oct. 7. 

In his complaint — which mistakenly referred to Camas as “the city of Chelan,” Morgan alleged the city of Camas, then Camas Mayor Shannon Turk, members of the Camas City Council, City Administrator Pete Capell and Parks and Recreation Manager Jerry Acheson had “seriously violated Washington State’s campaign finance laws” by hiring a professional services firm to assist with public outreach regarding the city’s proposed $78 million community-aquatics center construction bond on the Nov. 5 ballot.  

Lee Marchisio, an attorney with the Seattle-based law firm Foster Garvey, represented the city in its complaint and filed a letter to the PDC in late October, claiming Morgan’s complaint “lacked foundation for two reasons.”

“First, the complaint does not allege any specific conduct that promotes passage of the bond proposition or that is otherwise prohibited by (state law),” Marchisio stated in his letter to the PDC dated Oct. 24. “All of the materials and activities produced by the City and its consultant have been informational only. Second, the City has a longstanding practice of engaging the community and also of hiring consultants to assist with community engagement activities, including for City initiatives that do not require ballot propositions. The City’s activities surrounding the Aquatics Center and the Bond Proposition, including hiring its consultant to provide community engagement services, are therefore normal and regular conduct of the City consistent with (state law).” 

The PDC’s investigation of the matter upheld Marchisio’s assessment. In his Dec. 9 letter sent to Morgan and city of Camas administrators, Agina, the PDC compliance officer, stated the PDC’s review “found the materials produced by the City and its consultants to be informational and congruent with PDC (law interpretations).”

Hiring a consultant and using city resources to help inform the public about a bond proposition on the ballot and gather feedback from residents about that bond, he added, “is not a violation of the law.”

Capell, Camas’ city administrator, said Tuesday city leaders were convinced the complaint was frivolous from day one. 

“We knew from the outset that nothing we did was a violation,” Capell told the Post-Record. “The things that we did (with the consultant) to be able to provide information and have visuals is acceptable and … is the same thing we did for the Lake and Everett (traffic roundabout), which wasn’t on the ballot.” 

Capell said the complaint did have an impact on the city and taxpayers, however. 

“I don’t have the final bill yet, but I would say it cost the city at least $5,000 in addition to any staff time required to provide information,” Capell said.