Chris Daniels at KING 5 broke a big story about the city's bike share program late yesterday:
The city has launched an independent investigation into a formal complaint surrounding SDOT Director Scott Kubly and the bike sharing service known as Pronto.
The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission confirmed Tuesday the probe was launched last month after a February 10 ethics complaint was filed against Kubly. Commission Chair Wayne Barnett would not comment on the complaint itself, nor would Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.
The commission hired former King County Prosecutor Marilyn Brenneman to investigate Kubly and the contract calls for her to be paid $20,000. Brenneman, who prosecuted fraud crimes, in addition to Martin Pang, Gary Ridgway, and Frank Colacurcio, is well respected from her three-decade career.
It's worth keeping in mind that ethics complaints are filed all the time, and it's not clear yet whether there's any merit to this one, or what exactly the investigation is focused on uncovering.
Kubly's prior experience at Alta Bikes, a bicycle share company involved in Pronto, was part of the reason the mayor hired him to begin with. But according to Josh Feit over at PubliCola, Kubly never sent a letter to the ethics department accounting for the potential conflict of interest raised by his past position.
Even more troubling is Daniels' discovery that SDOT overstated the true number of Pronto Cycle Share members during the city council's deliberations over whether to save the bike share service. In February, SDOT officials asked the council to save Pronto, which was heavily in debt. One of the pro-Pronto arguments was that approximately 3000 people who'd already signed up for annual memberships deserved to have their purchases honored. (The council voted 7-2 earlier this month to buy out Pronto.)
In reality, as Seattle Bike Blog's Tom Fucoloro observes, membership had dipped to 1,972 by January. No one caught or bothered to clarify this discrepancy—not SDOT, and not the city council analysts who used the 3000 figure to educate council members on the pros and cons of the idea of buying out Pronto.
Mike O'Brien, the council's transportation chair, told KING 5 he's "disappointed" and was operating under the "assumption the department was giving us correct numbers."
I don't know about you, but at this point, SDOT is losing my trust. Kubly comes across as a smart, progressive transportation nerd—the kind of guy you want to root for. But rather than offer an apology for the latest screw-up, SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan has been tight-lipped about why the agency presented the number of Pronto memberships the way it did. In a terse statement, Sheridan said its council materials noted the membership total represented a 2015 figure. "One year’s data was used as it provides an easy point of comparison with other cities," he said.
That's a fair point, but it's also not the full story. It doesn't account for the number decreasing by nearly a third to 2,000 by the end of the 2015. And here's Fucoloro:
While it may be technically accurate for the city to budget for 2015 user fee levels (that’s a fairly low bar to reach), the reality of current membership levels certainly deserved at least a mention during Council deliberations. All they had to say was, “We believe we can reach or surpass 2015 member levels through our marketing efforts,” and it would have been fine.
Some humility is in order. Do better, SDOT.