In the Hall
Ties to Council Member Raise Potential for Conflict
It's been more than four years since Josef Robinson, the son of Andrea Okomski and stepson of City Council Member Nick Licata, was struck by a car and nearly killed while trying to run to a bus stop in Greenwood. Since then, Josef has partially recovered—taking part in his mother's wedding and reading his stepdad's oath of office in council chambers—but he, and Okomski, have never been the same.
After the accident, Okomski and Licata threw themselves into pedestrian-safety activism—in Okomski's case, pushing the city to install crosswalks at bus stops; in Licata's, forming a new council committee on pedestrian safety and overseeing the creation of a new citywide pedestrian master plan. Meanwhile, Josef, now 18, has sued the city for an estimated $20 million—and that's where the potential conflicts began.
Wayne Barnett, head of the city's ethics and elections commission, has said as long as Licata doesn't stand to benefit from the decisions made by his committee, his oversight of pedestrian issues isn't a conflict. But his wife, Okomski, has gotten involved in other aspects of pedestrian planning at the city—seeking a seat on the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board, which advises Licata's committee, and, when the council declined to appoint her, a seat on the Pedestrian Master Plan Advisory Group (PMPAG).
Licata sponsored Okomski's nomination. City Council Member Jan Drago, head of the council's transportation committee, opposed it, saying Josef's suit against the city constituted a conflict of interest. Although Barnett says "the ethics code doesn't directly apply to ad hoc advisory boards" like the PMPAG, he did see a problem with Licata advocating for his wife to be a member. The city and county declined to appoint her.
Enter surrogate Kate Martin, a close friend of Okomski's, who, along with Okomski and two other activists, makes up the Greater Greenwood Bi/Ped Safety Coalition. Licata suggested Martin for the position, reportedly at Okomski's request. Although Okomski says Martin "was involved in pedestrian stuff in Greenwood" before joining the committee and "got there on her own steam," Martin says the Bi/Ped Safety Coalition "wanted somebody from our coalition to be on that group and we understood that Andrea was not going to get appointed." Martin's main agenda item is the same as Okomski's: getting crosswalks installed in front of bus stops on arterials.
In a final twist, Martin was deposed as a witness for King County in Robinson's trial, and could be a witness for the prosecution. Martin's role in the trial underscores that all these interlocking interests, while they don't constitute ethical problems on their own, have the potential to spill over into genuine conflict.
Okomski declined to talk about the status of Josef's trial, saying a reporter's "interest" "doesn't cut it when we're talking about the future of my son."