Clallam County Community Development Director Sheila Roark-Miller says being under investigation for malfeasance in office is tough, but she’s convinced in the end she’ll be proven innocent.
In fact, she said, if the circumstances were the same, she’d do it all again.
The investigation arose after a whistleblower in her office wrote to Rich Sill, Clallam County’s human resources director, complaining that Roark-Miller “seemed to be utilizing her power in order to get special privileges that are not granted to the public.”
Specifically, Roark-Miller was said to have called out an inspector from her office for a Sunday inspection. When a second inspector described his concern that a window failed to meet the code for an egress window, “she informed the inspector that was not the case,” the whistleblower wrote.
The most serious charge concerns a backdated permit. On Jan. 4, 2012, Roark-Miller instructed staff to put Dec. 28 on a new commercial permit.
Roark-Miller defends all of those actions.
“The contractor had his nephew coming home from Afghanistan and wanted to spend a few days away, and so he called his former co-worker, who happened to be an inspector, and asked for an inspection,” Roark-Miller said.
Roark-Miller said she told the inspector to take time off to make up for the extra work, but he declined. “He didn’t want to be paid, or anything else. He explained it to me that he just wanted to do his friend a favor.”
Roark-Miller said she later sat down with the inspector, who was a recent hire. “I counseled him later that now that he is in the public sector, people will know him.”
“I wanted him to know that he has governing guidelines as a bargaining unit employee. It’s different from working as a contractor and you have to decipher that. I encouraged him to work it out with his supervisor.”
She said, “Another person in the office made assumptions from overhearing partial conversations, including hearing me talk with the other inspector, that more had happened.”
Roark-Miller said, “The crazy thing to me is, if they had just come up to me and asked me what happened that Sunday, and what happened to the egress windows, I could have explained it. If human resources or legal had asked, I could have shown them.”
“For the egress window, I would have said, ‘Here’s the code.’
Roark-Miller said she openly discussed backdating the permit with her staff.
And, she added, “Anyone who looked at the paper trail could see exactly what happened. It’s notated in the computer, on the hard copies. And I was explaining all along to my staff, and saying these are the parameters that I have to make these decisions.”
She said the “application was substantially complete — everything was there.”
In that case, she said, “Most building officials would say, ‘We need to fix this to avoid the applicant being impacted by a mistake.’”
She explained the events that led to the backdating, saying, “The person (in my office) who was doing the plans for this particular project went on vacation.”
On Dec. 21 the remaining documents required for the permit were received by her office. “There were people there to handle it, but they weren’t notified,” Roark-Miller said. “Christmas came and went and January arrived. All of the documentation was in the office for ten days, and nobody did the work.”
In the end, she said, it’s her fault.
She said the application was for a small farm, which would have meant seeking out water for commercial use, which isn’t easy under the Dungeness Water Rule, which became effective Jan. 2.
She said fixing the mistake may have avoided a lawsuit.
She admitted she could have documented her decision in greater detail. “I should have probably made an e-mail record, or a written record, to better document it.”
Bagwell added, “I think it would be important to distinguish that Sheila wasn’t trying to squeeze or approve permits that weren’t complete. She was saying, let’s try to get the process done so we can legitimately approve it.”
Despite the fact that an investigator has suggested the backdating was a criminal offense, Roark-Miller said she would do it again.
“I’ve said all along, ‘Yes, I did that and I’d do it for you, your neighbor, and for the person down the street. I’d do it for your worst enemy.’”
Roark-Miller said that’s what her job calls for. “It’s what I should be doing — making sound judgments. And if I have to go on the front page, then dammit, I will.”
She said she believes in the end she’ll be exonerated.
“A good person should be able to find the difference between a crime and what I did,” she said.
Her attorney, Ken Bagwell, pitched in, too. “Someone can characterize it as illegal, but practically speaking, it’s not — and she fixed a mistake.”
After receiving the whistleblower complaint, Sill turned it over to the Bullard Law Firm in Portland, Ore., which has a contract with Clallam County. The lead attorney on the case, Akin Blitz, hired former FBI agent Ken Bauman to conduct the investigation and to write up his findings. The cover letter from the report, which has been delivered to Assistant Washington Attorney General Scott Marlow, says Roark-Miller may have committed a litany of violations, including “injury to a public record,” which is a felony.
Marlow will determine if further action is required.