Conflict of interest 101

By Seattle Times editorial board
The Seattle Times

BOTHELL Mayor Joshua Freed continues to mix his financial affairs as a developer with his public duty. The conflict of interest is glaring.

Freed must now make a choice: He can remain in office, serving the public, or he can continue seeking profit from land that’s of interest to Bothell residents. He cannot do both.

Given his insistence on making a buck from land the city is trying to preserve as open space, the choice seems clear.

The Freed saga is a profile in questionable judgment.

It began in 2013, when he and other members of the Bothell City Council were briefed in executive session about a prime 38-acre property, the back nine of the Wayne Golf Course. The land, threaded by the Sammamish River, would be put up for sale by its longtime owners, councilmembers were told, but the city didn’t have the resources to purchase it. Meanwhile, the public was left in the dark about the offer and the city’s decision not to pursue the property.

After Bothell’s purchase rights had lapsed, Freed and his homebuilder-investment group submitted the winning bid for the back nine. The maneuver reeked of self-dealing, but an independent investigation exonerated Freed of any legal conflict of interest. His actions, however, were a cynical trust destroyer, at odds with the public interest. To paraphrase George Washington Plunkitt, Freed saw his opportunities and he took them.

What followed is the inspiring part of the story. The mayor’s action galvanized residents to create OneBothell, a citizen organization committed to preserving the open space for recreation and public use. There was leafleting, grass-roots organizing and citizen education. Last month, three of the group’s candidates won election to the City Council, creating a majority supportive of OneBothell.

Freed appeared to put the conflict to rest when he relented and agreed to sell the property to an innovative land-conservation group, Forterra, which has a demonstrated record managing preservation deals in the public interest. The purchase price had not yet been set.

Here’s the rub: Despite this agreement, Freed and his investment group have decided to pursue permits for a 50-home subdivision, as The Seattle Times’ Lynn Thompson reported. The effort could drive up the back nine’s value and boost Freed’s profit. There’s nothing illegal with Freed’s latest move, but it appears wrong and violates the public’s trust in its elected leader.

A graceful, legacy-building, civic-minded overture would be for Freed to ensure the Wayne back nine is preserved for the people of Bothell, without escalating the price. If he doesn’t, he should focus on his development career without the distractions of city service.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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