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Investigation fully rejects all ethics allegations against Bike Bellevue staffer

Screenshot of text from the ethics investigation report reading, "Conclusion
For the reasons stated above, we conclude that the actions of Mr. Loewenherz alleged in the Complaint to be a violation of RCW 42.23.070 and the City’s employee ethics code, were not."
Without caveat, the investigation rejected the ethics accusations against Franz Loewenherz.

Not only did the City of Bellevue’s investigation find no ethics violations, but their full report (PDF) shows that the work of Mobility Planning and Solutions Manager Franz Loewenherz and the outreach process for Bike Bellevue were remarkably squeaky clean and professional. Ryan Packer at The Urbanist received the report after making a public records request.

Though the stated intention of the ethics complaint was to remove Loewenherz from the Bike Bellevue project and force a complete restart of outreach for the plan, the effort appears to have backfired spectacularly. Instead, the investigation uncovered that the plan was in fact developed with the utmost level of care and professionalism, which should give Bellevue city leaders full confidence in moving forward. I also think it would be appropriate for city leaders to make a public show of support for Loewenherz, who I imagine has had a very stressful couple months because of this.

The complainant Phyllis White and anyone else who may have worked on it behind the scenes should be ashamed for attempting to smear the reputation of a dedicated public servant like Loewenherz in an attempt to influence city policy. This is a horrible thing to do to someone, and a dishonorable way to engage in local politics.

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In my previous story, I went through the specifics of the complaint, then summarized them this way: “A city staffer tasked with developing and carrying out the Bike Bellevue plan sent notices of public proceedings to bike media and advocates, used the word ‘team’ in a casual manner once, shared public comments, and shared updated language about parking impacts.” Though the official investigation used more words to get there, they broke down the complaints similarly. And then with far more resources and research than was available to me, they failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing.

For example, not only were Loewenherz’s communications with Seattle Bike Blog and other biking and urbanism organizations fully appropriate, as I argued in my previous story, but investigators found he had sent similar emails to representatives from organizations like the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and the Bellevue Downtown Association. It turns out, the complainant had caught him in the act of informing community stakeholders of an upcoming public proceeding. From the report:

On September 7, the same day he sent the first email to the CBOs [the report uses this abbreviation for “community-based organizations” to refer to a group that includes Seattle Bike Blog], Mr. Loewenherz sent very similar emails to the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and the Bellevue Downtown Association with the same links to the Bike Bellevue Transportation Commission materials and announcing the Konveio online engagement tool. In the emails to the Chamber and to the BDA, Mr. Loewenherz made the same request he made to the CBOs, encouraging the Chamber and the BDA to share the materials with their membership through their communication channels and to highlight the Konveio tool in their public messaging.

The investigation also determined he was just doing his job when he forwarded a public comment from a Kemper Development Company representative to representatives from Complete Streets Bellevue and Eastside Urbanism. It turns out, he was responding to a request for such comments. “The documents were public records that the City would be required to provide upon request and would eventually be published to the City’s website,” the investigation found, concurring with what I said in my original post. But they dug deeper and found that “Mr. Loewenherz similarly provided records to other requesters who have expressed concerns about the Bike Bellevue project.” So the complainant caught him in the act of being responsive to the public’s request for information.

And finally, the complaint alleged that he was trying to use the group Eastside Urbanism as a “communications proxy” by sending them the city’s updated language around parking impacts. But after reading the full email exchange and interviewing witnesses, the investigators determined that almost the exact opposite was true. “In the context of the entire email chain, it does not appear that Mr. Loewenherz was requesting Eastside Urbanism communicate a specific message about Bike Bellevue or serve as a ‘communications proxy’ as alleged in the Complaint. Rather, the evidence supports Mr. Loewenherz was explaining that the City had to be careful in its communications about Bike Bellevue to maintain a factual tone that was consistent across all public facing materials.” So the complaint caught him in the act of clarifying and explaining the city’s public outreach language.

Though the complaint alleged five instances of unethical behavior, the investigators found that there were at most only three distinct accusations. And all three of those accusations were found completely unjustified and were rejected in whole.

Here’s the thing that has been kicking around in my head ever since I first read the complaint: Someone read all of this guy’s emails, and this is the worst that they could find?!? They may have raided the cleanest email outbox in all of King County. The complaint took individual messages as out of context as possible, and it still smelled minty fresh. It reminds me of when Inspector 34 in The Adventures of Pete & Pete ate BBQ chicken, “one of the messiest foods known to man,” without getting a drop of sauce on his face, hands or clothes. Shouldn’t there have been at least something improper in there? A backhanded compliment? A hint of side-eye? A face-palm emoji? Anything?!?

So I dunno. Give this guy a medal or something. Or better yet, give his project an enthusiastic green light to move ahead.

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3 responses to “Investigation fully rejects all ethics allegations against Bike Bellevue staffer”

  1. Anthony Avery

    Really glad to hear it. An outright rejection of the accusation is clearly the best message they could’ve sent. There should be some recourse for Ms. White for her completely fabricated accusations. I would be surprised if this came from a single person, but rather I assume an organized group put this together and had Ms. White be the one to formally submit to save face.

  2. Sal

    Hey Smiling Strange!

    thanks for the Pete and Pete reference

  3. Jason

    Phyllis works for the Bellevue Farmers Market, really sad that an employee of an organization that should support biking would do such a heinous thing to a city employee just doing their job.

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