In an hourslong meeting Tuesday night, members of the King County Democrats responded to harassment allegations against their chair by ordering more investigation into the allegations and pledging to find members of their party who "leaked" information about the allegations to the media.
The embattled chair, Bailey Stober, did not resign, as some in the party have called on him to do.
The allegations against Stober have focused on his treatment of the group's former executive director, who Stober fired in early February. The former employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, says Stober mocked women because of their physical appearance and pressured party members to drink alcohol.
An investigation by the organization's three vice chairs, one of whom has since resigned, found that Stober called Koss Vallejo a "stupid cunt" and "stupid bitch." The Seattle Times first reported on the allegations in the vice chairs report. Since then, Koss Vallejo and other people involved in the party have further described an environment of berating language and pressure to drink alcohol to The Stranger and independent journalist Erica C. Barnett. Party members have also questioned Stober's handling of the organization's finances. Stober has denied the allegations and criticized the vice chairs' report.
According to video of Tuesday night's meeting, the group voted to appoint a new body to investigate the allegations against Stober and his firing of Koss Vallejo. The investigation will also attempt to figure out who "leaked" the vice chairs' report and other information to reporters. Stober voted in favor of expanding the scope of the investigation to identify the leakers. He also raised concern about how the party will pay for the investigation, which will include a financial review. (Asked in recent weeks about allegations that he mishandled party funds, Stober has told reporters the organization is in fine financial shape.)
The new investigatory group will be made up of two people appointed by Stober, two people appointed by the vice chairs, and a fifth person appointed by those four. Stober and the vice chairs have three days to appoint their picks, and that group has about three weeks to complete its investigation.
More than 100 people have now signed an open letter calling on Stober to resign and saying "claims of harassment cannot be dismissed." Others appear more worried for Stober and media coverage of the allegations.
In advocating for more investigation, one party member said at the meeting Tuesday that the vice chairs' report was incomplete because it didn't include Stober's reaction to the allegations. (The vice chairs and Stober dispute whether he was given an adequate chance to respond.)
"Talk about the cart before the horse," the member said. "I don’t want to put the hangman's noose in front of the tree and then you say, 'oh we’ll have a trial.'" Another member who advocated for investigating "leaks" called the sharing of confidential information "one of the things that’s been most destructive to our party about this whole unfortunate situation."
"It has hurt all of us out in the field, our fundraising, our relationships with our members, our donors, our supporters, our allies," the person said. "This also needs to be investigated." The crowd applauded.
Beyond his treatment of employees and volunteers, the vice chairs and Koss Vallejo have criticized Stober for spending too much party money on hotels, food, and other expenses. Stober told The Stranger that party fundraising has been slow in recent months, but that the organization's bills are paid and the situation is "not catastrophic." In contrast, treasurer Nancy Podcshwit told the group at the meeting Tuesday that the King County Democrats are broke.
The organization spent $12,241 in January and February and raised about $7,000 in January and February, despite budgeting an expected $27,000, Podcshwit reported. The organization has $3,886 on hand with $1,800 in rent coming due on March 1 as well as a $500 Comcast bill, a $500 legal bill, and a $550 bill for food from a recent lobby day, Podcshwit said.
“Taking all that out, we don’t have any money," Podcshwit said. "If we pay the other bills that I have, we’re in the red by about three grand.” The organization also faces a likely fine from the state attorney general for alleged campaign spending violations. It’s not yet clear how much that will cost. “Anybody who can pay their dues, I really need it, really need it," Podcshwit said.
Stober responded to Podcshwit's report by handing her a $5,000 check he'd recently received as a donation to the organization. UPDATE: That donation, reportedly from King County Executive Dow Constantine, now appears to be on hold.
Part of the meeting Tuesday night was public, but the bulk of the discussion about the specifics of the allegations was in executive session. Executive sessions are closed to the public and press, and members in the room are instructed not to share what happens in the session.
A group called the Washington State Democratic PCO Media Group live-streamed the public portions of the meeting (part one, part two). Barnett was also there. See her updates—including the group's efforts to keep an eye on her and make sure no one was "leaking"—on Twitter.