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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Council Roundup: Agreement reached on investigation

Also, retiring Utilities director lauded, consultant to estimate light-rail tunnel costs and boosts for shopping centers considered

On Monday, the City Council voted unanimously to hire a consultant to investigate allegations of potential conflicts of interest among council members.

The consultant, Jeffrey Coopersmith, an attorney with the law firm DLA Piper, will interview council members and review documents to determine the scope of the alleged conflicts.

Coopersmith alone will be responsible for determining which allegations to review. He'll then provide an interim report to the council setting out the alleged conflicts and indicating which ones will be included in a final report.

Coopersmith will work with City Manager Steve Sarkozy and City Attorney Lori Riordan on the effort; the total cost of the contract cannot exceed $49,500.

One of the allegations stems from a private business agreement by Councilmember Kevin Wallace and whether it constituted a possible conflict of interest with his public advocacy for a particular light rail alignment in Bellevue.

Two other council members, Claudia Balducci and Grant Degginger, previously requested, and were reviewed for possible conflicts of interest by Riordan, who determined that none existed. Balducci is a board member of Sound Transit, the agency that will build and operate a light rail line in Bellevue. Degginger works for a law firm that represents Sound Transit on projects outside of Bellevue; he represented Sound Transit in 2003 on a case in Tacoma. 

Council extols contributions of retiring Utilities director
Also on Monday, council members praised Utilities Director Denny Vidmar, who started his Bellevue career as an inspector and rose through the ranks to lead the department. Vidmar is retiring after 27 years of service; his last day is April 22.

Named director in 2005, Vidmar, among other responsibilities, oversaw: Bellevue's long-term water supply needs through the Cascade Water Alliance; compliance with federal stormwater requirements; maintenance and improvements of  utilities infrastructure citywide; and stewardship of Utilities' financial stability, including the highest possible bond rating for a utilities department of Bellevue's size.

Under Vidmar's guidance, the 179-employee department won numerous awards, including the Platinum Award in 2010 for Utilities Excellence from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. Mayor Don Davidson presented Vidmar a commendation for his service and several council members complimented him for his steady leadership and calm demeanor.

City Manager Steve Sarkozy has appointed Nav Otal, currently the department's Deputy Director, as Utilities' Acting Director.

Consultant to estimate cost for downtown light rail tunnel
The council approved an agreement with a consulting firm to provide an independent estimate of the construction cost for a proposed downtown light rail tunnel.

The contract with Hill International, for up to $250,000, will result in an estimate that can be compared with the estimate of Sound Transit, which will build and operate the East Link light rail line from Seattle, through Bellevue, to Redmond.

Last year, Bellevue and Sound Transit agreed to a term sheet calling for the two entities to split the projected $320 million in extra costs it would to build a downtown tunnel, compared with the cost of building a downtown street-level option. The independent estimate will be used as Bellevue negotiates a final agreement with Sound Transit later this year to jointly fund the tunnel.

Feedback: Marina Arakelyan, Projects Manager, 425-452-4632 or marakelyan@bellevuewa.gov

Council looks to rejuvenate neighborhood shopping centers
In an ongoing effort to improve the health of Bellevue's neighborhood shopping centers, the council reviewed recent work to analyze market demand and redevelopment opportunities at the Newport Hills Shopping Center, south of Interstate 90.

The shopping center's owner, community members and city officials have worked together to consider new uses and development scenarios for the retail property, 40 percent of which is now vacant. The council Monday encouraged the parties to continue the dialogue and to craft amendments to the city's neighborhood business zoning that would enable reinvestment.

The council was also briefed on the ongoing redevelopment of the Lake Hills Shopping Center and work anticipated at the Kelsey Creek Shopping Center, both in east Bellevue.

Feedback: Paul Inghram, Planning Manager, 425-452-4070, or pinghram@bellevuewa.gov

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