Field of Schemes
With No Public Bid, Stadium Agency Awards $100,000 Contract
The Fearey Group, a high-powered local lobbying firm that does work for heavy clients like Vulcan and the Port of Seattle, was hired by Safeco Field last December to lobby against zoning changes around the ballpark, changes that would allow developers to build up nearby properties. Safeco is nervous that development there would block views from the stadium. Proponents of the changes say they'll help revitalize the community with urban density.
Whatever one thinks of that debate—I for one believe big buildings should be part of urban views, and I'm guessing Safeco is only against development around the stadium because they want to ward off competing restaurants and bars—Fearey's $100,000 contract with the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (the public board that manages the stadium) is a slap to the voters who are still paying off the stadium. The Mariners PFD was created to watchdog the public's investment. But it seems someone should be watchdogging them.
Public contracts over a certain amount are typically put out to a competitive bid. For example, rules dictate that the state must bid out any contract over $43,000. The city must bid out any contract over $41,000. And the Public Stadium Authority, the public agency that runs Qwest Field, adopted the same rules as King County, which must bid out any contract over $25,000.
However, as an e-mail from Mariners PFD board member Joan Enticknap says: "I think Greg [Smith, a developer who wants to build around Safeco Field] is counting on us being a typical public agency, which won't react...." Enticknap's agency, funded by a portion of the Safeco sales, restaurant, car rental, and admission tax package (with a seven-member board that's appointed by the King County Executive and the governor), definitely didn't act like a typical agency. Indeed, according to state law governing PFDs, unless you've got an "emergency" on your hands, contracts over $35,000 must be put out to the competitive bid process.
However, the minutes of a December 11, 2006, Mariners PFD meeting show that the Fearey Group got its $100,000 contract (one-eighth of the agency's total $800,000 budget) with no bidding process at all.
Despite state rules governing PFDs, Mariners PFD Executive Director Kevin Callan says the agency's procurement rules, unlike the city, state, or Qwest Field's PSA, allow them to issue contracts up to $100,000 without a competitive public bid. (At press time, I had done a public-records request to see those rules, which would appear to contradict state guidelines.)
In addition to questions about obtaining a $100,000 lobbyist in general, it's also not clear that the board ever signed off on the Fearey contract in specific. An e-mail from Enticknap to the Fearey Group on December 20 states: "I'm very glad to hear your team is on board. Bob Wallace and Tom Gibbs [other board members] were very supportive of this. I didn't send it [this discussion of Fearey's plan] to the full board for specific reasons I can get into in person."
Board member Terry Carroll, who voted against hiring a consultant, calling the expenditure "inappropriate," was not cc'd on the e-mail.
Carroll noted that the board didn't approve Fearey's contract itself until March even though Fearey began work in December. By January 8, less than a month after the idea first surfaced at the Mariners PFD board meeting, the Fearey Group had already sent in an invoice for its first week of work in December—$5,586 for a "team brainstorm," a "conference call," and "outlining a scope of work."
It's worth noting that the terms of four members of the board that approved retaining a consultant had expired when the vote was taken.
Fearey's invoices to the Mariners PFD reviewed by The Stranger, one for the month of January and one for the month of February, average $22,000 worth of work: meeting for off-the-record conversations with the P-I and the Seattle Times; meeting with potential allies, such as the Downtown Seattle Association and the Chamber; and lobbying City Council Member Jean Godden. The January invoice also boasts that Fearey "created full site layout and outlined preliminary design for website"—www.saveourpublicviews.com. The website is still not available to the public.
Public agencies are allowed to spend public money on lobbying. The city, for example, has a full-time lobbyist and a contract lobbyist down in Olympia. However, that work is disclosed to the public on the state's Public Disclosure Commission website. Fearey's work for the Mariners PFD was only available through a public-records request.