The clearest evidence yet that Ron Sims is improperly using his position as King County executive to thwart the monorail came in the form of an e-mail late last week on Thursday afternoon, October 17. The e-mail in question didn't come from Sims, though. It was an innocent enough message sent from Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Kery Murakami to monorail consultant Daniel Malarkey in the course of Murakami's reporting.

"Sims gave me an analysis raising some questions... " Murakami's e-mail stated. Murakami, the P-I's transportation reporter, told Malarkey that Sims had presented a county analysis showing that the monorail agency, the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC), had overestimated its revenue base by $500 million. Murakami wanted an ETC response from Malarkey ASAP; the reporter was on deadline for a story about Sims' bombshell findings for the next day's paper.

The story never ran. Malarkey completely debunked Sims' numbers, and Murakami dropped the story at the last minute.

The episode raised a red flag for Malarkey. It wasn't so much that Sims got the facts dead wrong--which he did. (The county had incorrectly assumed that the ETC factored revenue from brand-new cars as part of its motor vehicle excise tax [MVET] base, when in fact the ETC had not included that money. When the state gave the ETC the authority to issue an MVET, it stipulated that the ETC could not issue the tax on brand-new cars.)

The thing that truly bothered Malarkey was this: If Sims had been doing an honest analysis of the ETC's numbers (as opposed to political campaigning), why didn't he contact the ETC before peddling the "findings" to a reporter?

"The first time I hear about this analysis is from a reporter on a deadline?" Malarkey asks, dumbfounded. "This looks more like a political hit piece from Sims than honest fact-gathering." Malarkey has a good point: Why is Sims peddling an anti-monorail study to the P-I two weeks before the election? Sure, politicians like Sims have every right to ask questions about the monorail, but if those questions are in earnest, why didn't Sims ever direct those questions to the ETC before releasing the "findings"? (If Sims had called the ETC, he would have learned that the agency had already cut its revenue base to account for the fact that the MVET didn't apply to brand-new cars; instead, the county said the ETC hadn't done so, and whacked the agency's revenue base by an additional $500 million, unfairly undercutting the ETC's gross revenue expectations.)

Here's an explanation: As chair of the Sound Transit board, Sims is a diehard light rail fan. The success of the monorail represents a direct threat to the future of Sound Transit's beleaguered light rail project. Last summer, this paper accused Sims of using public agencies under his direction to release anti-monorail studies ["Sims' Sins," Josh Feit, Aug 15]. Last week's county "study" heightens our misgivings about Sims. Indeed, Sims' behind-the-scenes chicanery raises serious ethical questions. It leads us to believe that Sims is directing county employees to do blatant campaign work.

Sims' spokesperson Elaine Kraft says that Sims is simply doing his job. She says that as leader of Metro his role is to ask questions about other local transit agencies like the ETC, because the ETC's plans impact Metro. Unfortunately, that doesn't explain why the ETC wasn't contacted about Sims' questions in a timely manner. Kraft says Sims contacted the ETC, sending a letter by post on Thursday afternoon. That doesn't explain why Sims slipped the "findings" to a reporter that same afternoon, though.

When The Stranger asked monorail campaigner Peter Sherwin what he thought about Sims' apparent campaigning, he said, "If this is true it's truly unfortunate, but I guess I'm not that surprised."

Sherwin has a point. It's not surprising that the leader of Sound Transit would work against the monorail. However, you'd hope that Sims had enough courage to stand up for his convictions and officially come out against the monorail, rather than slipping false "findings" to reporters. One would also hope that the King County executive would stop using a public agency to concoct those "findings" in the pursuit of newspaper headlines.