City manager raises ethics questions about council member

Suspecting that City Councilman Bill Knobloch is working with a group that is suing the city, the city manager filed a preliminary ethics complaint this week over Knobloch’s failure to disclose whether he has conflicts of interest.

“I honestly believe Bill Knobloch is somehow assisting or supporting the lawsuit with the city,” City Manager Mark Dombroski said, referring to a lawsuit brought by the Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance over the city’s use of utility funds.

Dombroski, whose last day with the city is Friday, requested an advisory opinion this week from the city Ethics Board because Knobloch has failed to submit an annual conflict of interest statement required of all elected officials. While Knobloch filed his 2008 statement, he is six months overdue for turning in his 2009 statement. All other council members have complied with the requirement. If Knobloch is found to have violated the city’s ethics code, Dombroski can then file a formal complaint to the council.

While Knobloch shares some of the alliance’s concerns about utility spending, he strongly denies a connection to the alliance.

“That’s false,” Knobloch said. “(Dombroski) is in attack mode. He’s trying to marginalize me.”

Less than a dozen advisory opinion requests have been brought to the Ethics Board since it was formed two years ago, said its chair Dennis Willerford. Dombroski’s request is the first Willerford knows of that involved a city employee and a council member.

Knobloch, who spearheaded the formation of the Ethics Board, said the matter of filling out the conflict of interest form simply slipped his mind while he attended to other matters.

“Nothing has changed from last year when I filed, and I’ve been very, very busy,” he said.

Knobloch stressed that he has no conflicts of interest but agreed he should have signed the document. He promised to complete it this week.

Mayor Chris Snow doesn’t believe Knobloch’s failure to sign the form is a serious infraction. However, he said, forgetting to adhere to the city’s ethics policies does little to build the public trust many people say the city lacks.

“A number of questions have been bandied around by council members and the public about conflicts of interest, so it’s important that we comply with (ethics policies) scrupulously,” he said.

Dombroski said he and other administrative staff reminded Knobloch to fill out the form several times.

“There were repeated attempts to get him to do so,” Dombroski said. “I’ve got documented proof where he said he’s not going to sign it.”

Dombroski said several instances lead him to suspect Knobloch is working with the alliance.

“Given his position (on utility fund issues), my question is if he sees the lawsuit as a constructive tool to bring about his agenda on utilities,” Dombroski said.

According to Dombroski, Knobloch and senior alliance member Sally Adams arrived together and spoke at a Wing Point homeowners meeting last spring in which Adams solicited funds for the alliance. Knobloch was also spotted speaking with Adams at a Winslow pub after leaving a council meeting early, Dombroski said.

Dombroski said Knobloch frequently e-mails, meets with and seeks advice from people closely associated with the alliance.

“You string all of this together and then not turn in your conflict of interest form…it’s a little suspect,” Dombroski said. “I think it’s suspect. It smells. (Knobloch) is one of the four council members tasked with settling (the lawsuit). Given all the events, you’ve just got to wonder.”

Knobloch said Dombroski’s suspicions are groundless.

“This is absolutely ludicrous,” Knobloch said. “I’m shocked at this level of gossip – because that’s what this is, gossip.”

While Knobloch and Adams carpooled to the Wing Point meeting, both stress that they were there for different reasons and that at no time did Knobloch ask attendees to support the alliance.

“He was there to talk about the Wing Point Way (road repair) project,” Adams said. “I was there to talk about the ratepayers issue. We were in the same room, but he’s not a member and has never been involved in any way.”

Knobloch and Adams say the pub meeting was a chance encounter, and that they never exchange information pertaining to the lawsuit.

The alliance’s lawsuit, which is currently undergoing settlement negotiations, contends that the city has misappropriated utility funds in the past, and that it may do so again with funds earmarked for the $14.3 million Winslow sewer plant upgrade.

The suit has blocked the city from borrowing money it needs to complete the sewer plant and the $10 million Winslow Way reconstruction project. The city is expected to double sewer rates to make up the difference for the sewer plant project and to possibly delay or cancel the Winslow Way project unless a settlement is reached.

Knobloch believes Dombroski is retaliating against him for his criticism of Dombroski’s management of city finances.

There may also be bad blood between the two men because Knobloch supported opening Dombroski’s job to new applicants after voters changed the city form of government in May. The change abolished the elected mayor’s office and transformed Dombroski’s former city administrator position to city manager. While Dombroski’s contract states that he automatically becomes city manager if a change in government were to occur, Knobloch’s suggestion that the city seek new applicants frustrated Dombroski.

Calling the ethics matter “politics at its worst,” Knobloch believes Dombroski is firing a final shot before moving to Washington D.C. for a new job.

“I’m very sorry he has raised this issue as he departs the city for the East Coast,” Knobloch said. “It’s not the way to leave.”

Dombroski denied that he wants retribution.

“I’m leaving the island. I have nothing to gain,” he said. “I’m just reporting that he did not comply. It’s up to the ethics board or the City Council to decide what may or may not happen now.”

6 thoughts on “City manager raises ethics questions about council member

  1. Balanced reporting, but what was Knoblock thinking? He blew off the ethics form for a reason. One has to wonder what it is.

  2. Knobloch is supposed to be representing the city in a lawsuit settlement talks with the RPA, namely Sally Adams & Dick Allen. These talks, among other things, involve substantial sums of money that might be given to the RPA to settle the suit.

    In addition to the allegations that Mr. Dombroski made, Sally Adams has also given money to Knobloch’s re-election campaign. This can be verified by reviewing Konobloch’s C3 forms on file with the pubic disclosure commmission.

    Even elected officals are entitled to differences of opinion about their government. However, I believe an elected official’s duty is clear. Right now there is at a minimum, a glaring appearance of impropriety on Knobloch’s behalf. He has taken money from the co-founder and secretary of a group that is in litigation with the city. He is representing the city in settlement talks that involves substantial sums of money with that same person. He has failed to complete a conflict of interest form and possibly has refused to do it of his own volition. I could go on, but that right there is enough to give anyone pause.

  3. I like lots of information, but I do not want to see anyone’s file from the pubic disclosure commission.

  4. Bill Knobloch has been around COBI for a long time, and he should be acclimated to “politics at its worst.” His expression of outrage is understandable, but a bit overblown. I recall that a few years ago, with a different council membership, Bill was often at odds with a sometimes reckless and bombastic member of the council. He did not conceal his glee when an upright member of the City staff blew the whistle on his colleague’s violation of the building code, which requires permits for over-the-water structures. What goes around comes around.

    I’m sorry to see Mark Dombroski go, and grateful to him for taking care of this piece of business.

  5. Jon — why be oblique — you are talking about the inimitable Neezan Tooloee, the Manchurian Candidate who ran against Mayor K while singing her praises the whole campaign. And the incident you refer to was the deck — oh, the kid’s pirate hideout — that sat overlooking the waterfront property. That was quite juicy.

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