In a letter to local Democratic Party leaders, the chair of the Washington State Democratic Party said the process the King County Democrats have undertaken to address allegations against their chair "appears neither just nor fundamentally fair." She also said that King County Democrats Chair Bailey Stober should step down.
"Many in the King County Democrats have said that it is unreasonable to leave the current chair in place—with all of the powers of the chair—until this matter is resolved. I agree," State Party Chair Tina Podlodowski wrote in response to a resolution the 36th District Democrats are considering. On Tuesday, the executive board of that group approved a resolution calling on Stober to resign and saying the group will withhold its membership dues until he resigns or is removed. The full group will vote on the resolution next week.
Stober did not reply to a request for comment about Podlodowki's letter. UPDATE: In a text message, Stober said, “I’m just honestly surprised the State Party Chair has time to weigh in on an internal local party matter when there are 98 house seats up, over a dozen senate seats and 2 competitive congressional races on the ballot. Seems like an odd use of time but it doesn’t change anything. This is a local party issue that will be resolved by the local party - it has absolutely nothing to do with the State Party.”
Stober faces allegations that he bullied and harassed a former party employee, including calling her a "stupid cunt" and "stupid bitch." Some in the party say Stober also mismanaged party funds. Stober has denied the allegations.
Stober has been placed on leave from his day job at the county assessor's office. The county party voted to begin a new investigation into the allegations, allowing Stober to select two of the the five people who would do that investigation. That plan has since stalled out, with some members of the organization resigning and others refusing to participate in the investigation.
Now, the newest developments offer more insight into the financial allegations. As independent journalist Erica C. Barnett first reported reported this week, the organization's treasurer and other members of its finance committee have compiled a list of times they say Stober inappropriately managed party money. They say he spent unnecessarily on travel, an expensive wifi plan, and a party leadership retreat on Vashon Island that gave "the appearance that the chair was partying on contributions to the organization." The report also alleges Stober misled members about party fundraising. Read more here.
That report "justifies" removing Stober from his position, "especially if the current Chair continues to refuse to step aside," Podlodowski wrote. "I urge every member of the King County Executive Board to carefully and thoroughly review these findings, and to make certain they review all the additional findings, evidence, and sources in this matter." According to Podlodowski, the King County Democrats Executive Board could vote to remove Stober until the matter is resolved. Podlodowski said the party will now create a process local party groups can use for situations like this in the future. The dysfunction in the King County Democrats is affecting party operations, she wrote. "Right now endorsement processes are on hold, volunteer efforts are mostly stagnant, and important elections in key swing districts are being ignored."
She also denounced party members who have "sought to silence or blame victims rather than deal with the facts of the matter at hand."
"As the first female party chair in 25 years for the Washington State Democrats, I’ve lived and keenly feel what the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are expressing today," Podlodowski wrote. "I’ve frankly been shocked and disappointed by the actions of some in local democratic party leadership to disavow or dismiss women during this entire state of affairs at King County."
Read her full letter below:
Dear Robert, Jeff, Sophia and the Executive Board of the 36th District Democrats,
Thank you for the resolution you passed regarding the current organizational crisis at the King County Democrats. Many of us want to engage in fixing these problems and are frustrated as we observe a process that appears neither just nor fundamentally fair, especially to the individuals raising serious concerns.
As chair of the Washington State Democrats, I cannot compel the King County Democrats to act. But I join you in asking them to do so.
From my reading, the King County Executive Board has a few options to explore and implement. At the Board meeting on March 19th the body could vote to determine and enunciate a clear process to resolve this matter — swiftly and thoroughly and transparently. In the meantime, the Executive Board may also vote to suspend the current chair pending the outcome of that process.
Many in the King County Democrats have said that it is unreasonable to leave the current chair in place — with all of the powers of the chair — until this matter is resolved. I agree. And surely, the extensive findings just released by the King County Finance Committee justifies this action, especially if the current Chair continues to refuse to step aside. I urge every member of the King County Executive Board to carefully and thoroughly review these findings, and to make certain they review all the additional findings, evidence, and sources in this matter.
We have already seen several dedicated Democrats resign their positions over this matter, including two King County Vice Chairs, as well as the Vice Chair of the 34th District Democrats. We have seen Democrats raising legitimate concerns be shouted down and personally attacked — although the concerns that have been raised should never be the subject of “sides.” A seeming onslaught of actions on social media has sought to silence or blame victims rather than deal with the facts of the matter at hand. As Democrats, we are better than that. The King County Executive Board has the authority to resolve this matter now, and I ask them to act. The board has more than a fiduciary responsibility to act. The board is elected to reflect the values of our party, as well as to ensure we are focused on our mission of electing Democrats. Right now endorsement processes are on hold, volunteer efforts are mostly stagnant, and important elections in key swing districts are being ignored.
When Joe Pakootas and I ran for State Party leadership over a year ago, we pledged to make change and review concerns over “cultural” practices, concerns voiced by women, people of color, Young Democrats, and the LGBTQ community, among others. We created the first Code of Conduct at the state level in the history of the party, and we have started the cultural change through a variety of trainings put on by allied organizations. But we still have a long way to go. Ours must be a party where everyone feels welcome and is treated with respect.
As Democrats, we stand with women. We believe women when they raise issues of harassment or abuse, and we take their concerns seriously.
As Democrats, we stand with workers. We strive to ensure that the proper, legal employment practices and policies are being upheld. And we hold ourselves to high standards as employers.
As Democrats, we value honesty. We strive to conduct our fiscal duties with transparency and lawful compliance.
As Democrats, we treat others with respect. We strive to conduct our official party business in safe and harassment-free spaces, and we treat people with the dignity they deserve.
It is important that we do not shield unacceptable behavior with an attitude of “that’s how it’s done in politics.” Because it’s not how we do it at as Democrats.
I ask the Executive Board of the King County Democrats to move swiftly to address the issues of harassment, abuse, fiscal impropriety, and employment practices that have been raised. We have processes to fix, wounds to heal, and elections to win.
Let me re-emphasize that — we need to come together and heal, as this entire situation has caused major divisions, misunderstandings, and misconceptions amongst friends and allies. When this matter is resolved, I’ll be asking the King County Executive Board and the leadership of all the King County District Organizations to work with the State Party to make that right.
I will also be working with the Chairs Organization to support efforts to build a process that every one of our 88 local party organizations can choose to adopt to use should a similar situation arise in the future. King County was wholly unequipped to deal with issues related to the Chair. That can’t happen again, or to any local party organization.
Finally, as the first female party chair in 25 years for the Washington State Democrats, I’ve lived and keenly feel what the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are expressing today. I’ve frankly been shocked and disappointed by the actions of some in local democratic party leadership to disavow or dismiss women during this entire state of affairs at King County. I’ll personally be reaching out to each of these individuals for discussion, as I’m struggling to understand their actions and perspectives. Many other democratic women are too.
Thank you again for this opportunity to engage and for your resolution aimed at addressing this problem. Because I have been told to expect similar resolutions from other Legislative District Organizations, I will be copying this letter to my Executive Board, the King County Executive Board, as well as to every Legislative District Chair in King County.
In solidarity and with gratitude for all you do,