Zahn complaints unfounded, public disclosure commission finds

Bellevue City Council candidate Janice Zahn. Courtesy photo

Bellevue City Council candidate Janice Zahn. Courtesy photo

For the second time in as many weeks, a complaint against Bellevue City Council candidate Janice Zahn has made its way to City Hall.

Only this time, the complaint went through the official ethics process at the state Public Disclosure Commission. It was dismissed by the commission.

According to Bellevue resident Anita Neil, who filed the complaint on Feb. 22, Zahn misused public resources for her council campaign at the Feb. 13 council meeting, during which she was interviewed for the open Position 5 on the council.

Zahn is a finalist for that position, and she is also running a campaign for an elected position on the council this November. Neil alleges that Zahn’s announcement of her campaign used city resources to promote herself.

Evelyn Fielding Lopez, the executive director of the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, said Zahn did not violate any campaign finance laws.

“We have reviewed the complaints regarding your candidacy for Bellevue City Council and there does not appear to have been any violation of the campaign finance laws,” she wrote.

In her letter to the disclosure commission, Zahn elaborated on Neil’s complaint.

“As part of the 10 minutes I was allowed for an opening statement and to respond to questions, I stated that I was ready to work hard as a council member and a candidate, and that I launched a campaign in the past month, raised over $15,000 and have scheduled a kick-off event,” she wrote. “In the 15 seconds of my 10 minutes total, I never once solicited support or contributions for my campaign. I did no promotion of and provided no specific information about my campaign kickoff event.”

She is serving as chair on the city of Bellevue’s Transportation Commission. Most members of commissions are legally treated as public officials, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington.

Neil said the use of public time to talk about a campaign was a violation of city code.

“With all the challenges Bellevue must address these days, we do not need a council member taking office that has no regard for basic campaign laws and who willingly uses public resources for her political goals,” Neil writes in the complaint to City Clerk Kyle Stannert. “Please investigate this matter and please ensure that our public television and council meetings are not used for campaigning in the future.”

Zahn said the accusation was disheartening.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to serve on the council. I wanted to be transparent with the council during our candidate interviews so I told them about my campaign. I thought it would serve to show I wasn’t interested in just the open position, but to serve Bellevue any way I could,” she said. “I understand this is politics and it tends to be like this, but it does feel there are folks out there who don’t want me to be on the council.”

Neil forwarded the complaint to the current council members after filing it at the city. The process for formal complaints is to send them to an ethics officer.

According to city policy, “the subject of the complaint then has 20 days within which to file any response with the ethics officer, whose decision on the merits of the complaint must be issued within 30 days of the city clerk’s mailing of the complaint.”

Zahn has responded to that officer.

“The main thing I want to say is that I thought I acted appropriately,” she said. “But if I did the wrong thing, I want to remedy that.”

In a separate complaint, former council candidate Renay Bennett emailed the council, accusing Zahn of taking an illegal payment from her employer, the Port of Seattle. However, a State Auditor’s Office investigation found no wrongdoing with the 642 employees, including Zahn, who received the payments. The Port’s Chief Executive Officer Ted Fick and the Port Commission issued the payments inappropriately according to the state constitution, the investigation found.

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