A Sequim man has filed an ethics complaint against a Port Townsend City Council member, alleging he used his private practice and elected position for personal gain.
The complaint, filed by Greg Overstreet on behalf of Joe D’Amico of Sequim, accuses council member David Faber of three violations of city code.
It also suggests Faber should have recused himself from a June vote when the City Council rejected a settlement offer to lift a lien on property D’Amico’s mother is managing as the executor of an estate.
The complaint alleges special privileges for others, accepting employment reasonably expected to involve the disclosure of confidential information and the disclosure of confidential information for financial gain.
Faber, who works privately as an attorney, disputes the claim, saying his representation of a client who was a neighbor of the property Penne D’Amico manages had concluded several months before the city placed two liens on the estate, and he isn’t part of the negotiating team that may have had confidential information about the proceedings.
The complaint was filed with the city July 25 and forwarded to Peter Eglick, a Seattle attorney from Eglick & Whited PLLC of Seattle.
The city previously hired Eglick to serve as its ethics hearing officer, Interim City Manager Nora Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the standard procedure is to allow the ethics officer an opportunity to review the complaint and to determine initially if the claim has merit.
If so, a full public hearing would be scheduled.
Mitchell didn’t immediately know a timeline for Eglick to determine if the complaint has merit.
Eglick received documents from both sides earlier this week and has asked Overstreet for additional detail.
In a letter dated July 31, Eglick referred Overstreet to city code that requires “precision and detail” in an ethics complaint.
“On an initial review, the Complaint does not appear to meet this standard and would therefore be subject to dismissal,” Eglick wrote in the document, obtained Aug. 8 by Peninsula Daily News.
D’Amico responded through his attorney and disagreed with the “precision and detail” standard.
“This is an ordinance-based complaint process lacking any discovery powers for a complainant,” Overstreet wrote in a July 31 document. “Instead, the ordinance contemplates that you — the Ethics Hearing Examiner — will investigate the allegations.”
The complaint specifies Faber’s representation of Silas Holm, who lives adjacent to property owned by the William Lawrence Short estate. It suggests Holm insisted on the city filing an abatement action against the Short estate and that Faber “championed” the cause.
Faber acknowledges representing Holm in the defense of a quiet title/adverse possession action brought against the Short estate, but he wrote in a letter to Eglick dated Aug. 4 that “the timeline of events make such violation(s) impossible.”
Faber said he appeared in Jefferson County Superior Court on behalf of Holm on Nov. 21, 2016, and that final action in the case was taken on Dec. 6, 2017, “the date on which the Short Estate made payment in satisfaction of a monetary judgment awarded to Mr. Holm.”
“On or about that same date,” Faber wrote in the letter, “Mr. Holm paid his final invoice to my law firm and my representation of him concluded.”
The complaint argues Faber “essentially lost the case” and “was angry.”
Separately, the city filed an abatement action in superior court against the Short estate in 2018 through code enforcement after years of neighborhood complaints before the city council about the amount of junk stored on the three properties.
The estate worked to clean up one property in 2016-17, the claim states.
Late last year, the court imposed liens on the other two parcels owned by the Short estate for a total of $90,500.
The City Council learned of a proposed settlement in April 2019 that would lift one of the liens, allow the estate to sell the property and finance the cleanup of the final parcel, Faber said.
But the council rejected the vote 5-1 in June. Council member Bob Gray was the lone dissenting vote, and council member Ariel Speser abstained because she wanted to learn more about how the property would be cleaned.
Faber joined those who voted to reject the settlement, saying at the time of the vote it was his “fiduciary responsibility to the city.”
“I’m a little concerned about the fairly meager payment in comparison to the time and many, many hours I know staff has put into this,” Faber said prior to the June vote. “If we clear these liens off the top, we are sending the message that code compliance is voluntary, effectively.”
The complaint alleges Faber used his relationship with Holm, who opposed the Short estate, and power within the council — he is deputy mayor this year — as motivating factors.
“Even ‘assuming all facts alleged are true,’ ” Faber quoted from city code, “a simple reference to the public record and the timeline thereof of both the Quiet Title and Abatement actions make clear that Mr. D’Amico’s complaint is based upon and rooted in an impossibility.”