By Jack Mayne

The SeaTac City Council unanimously approved the 2019-2020 biennial budget of $220.9 million with an estimated ending fund balance in 2020 of $78.3 million, which retains the city’s current service level. The current budget will have a reserve of $25 million to carry over to the new biennium.

The budget contains no increase in its property tax levy which Finance Director Gwen Pilo (pictured above) said the city decided again not to increase.

Councilmembers lauded the city staff for its hard work controlling budget excesses.

Could have increased tax
Legally it could increase the tax up to 1 percent. Councilmember Rick Forschler asked if any other city did not take the increase, Pilo said “I am not aware” of any other city in the county that had a policy to not take the tax increase.

Councilmember Clyde Hill said it was good not to take the 1 percent increase, but noted that expenses are raising for the city and suggested the “void is getting larger and larger,” likely making an increase necessary in the future.

Pilo said the city is banking the capacity so “if we were to find ourselves in a bind, we could take that.”

Property taxes could decrease
Any actual decrease to property owners is dependent upon the actual valuation of their property, she said.

Pilo said the levy will produce $17,114,888 based on a rate of $2.58 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, “a zero percent increase.” The actual levy amount will be determined after the county assessor certifies SeaTac’s assessed valuation in December.

Pilo said the assessed valuation rate from King County set SeaTac at $6.6 billion, an 8 percent increase over the 2018 rate. She said that was a preliminary rate not including the “airplanes at the airport” which the state provides to the city later.

That means the city levy rate is $2.58 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, a decrease of about $17 per $100,000 of property tax valuation “so that is a decrease to our property owners.”

‘A very long road’
Councilmember Peter Kwon said he wanted to point out the soundness of the budget process the current council has maintained.

The balanced and maintained SeaTac tax level has been “a real struggle, a very long road to get here,” said Kwon.

“Over the last three years, I have watched other cities in our area raising taxes, imposing new taxes in order to cover shortfalls in their budgets,” Kwon said. “Meanwhile, SeaTac hasn’t and we’ve also actually eliminated the utility tax, promoted economic development and returned money to the public to improve parks, hire more cops, install sidewalks, all of that. The real credit for this is due to our staff, our city manager, our finance director, our department heads. They really did all of the work. Over the last three years I have watched things change so I wanted to make sure that the recognition is that is very well deserved is recognized here.

“I wanted to thank all of you,” Kwon added. “All staff for stepping up to the plate and making this happen. This is just nothing short of a miraculous recovery for a small city like SeaTac. When we explain this to other cities, they just don’t believe it. I think we all should be really proud of this.”

Kwon’s comments were supported by the other councilmembers, plus a comment from newly appointed Councilmember Amina Ahmed, “healthy budgets leads to healthy services.”

City Manager Joe Scorcio said “undoing decades of OK budgeting to put a very aggressive performance based budget in place … that is the thing for the next two years to keep your eye on.”

The Council also passed by unanimous voice vote an updated schedule of license, permit and other fees for city services, plus updated other basic finance policies.

Convention Center?
The Council approved a request by City Manager Joe Scorcio to refer study of a potential convention center to the Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee, an issue being pushed by City Councilmember Rick Forschler. Scorcio said the proposed study would cost up to $50,000, the level up to which he can approve expenditures. He said the study should be able to clarify wether a convention center would be feasible in SeaTac.

“We don’t know whether or not it’s worth pursuing until we can get a sense from the market whether or not it’s viable here,” Scorcio said. “This will get us the initial analysis by people who know the business. I think it is a critical first step if we want to ask the question. Otherwise we are just guessing.”

Scorcio said SeaTac has a “very unique physical area” with all of the hotels and three light rail stations but the study would not be site specific. “If the market is not there, it doesn’t matter where it’s located.”

Councilmember Clyde Hill asked whether the study would recommend a site for such a facility and Scorcio said the city isn’t trying to focus on specific sites or site criteria. He said the study can show if “we are way off base.” He said he favors a study.

“We’re really talking about is the market in SeaTac,” but only if there is sufficient demand here considering the city has the hotels, the airport, the transportation.

Councilmember Joel Wachtel said he generally supported a potential convention center.

“My caveat is that I don’t want the building of this project to impact the city budget one iota,” he said.

Councilmember Pam Fernald said she has basic questions, “why, who wants it? Do the citizens want it? Do the businesses want it? Somebody asking us to do it? Is there a need? That is what I want to know.”

Other business
The Council was introduced by City Manager Joe Scorcio to two new employees in the community and economic development, permit coordinator Lisa Rawls and plans examiner Joseph Szpek.

By Jack Mayne

Former SeaTac Mayor Michael Siefkes can never again practice law in Washington state, or seek a law license in any other state in the nation following his resignation from the Washington State Bar Association that he chose instead of seeking a hearing before the Review Committee of the Washington Supreme Court.

Shortly before he suddenly resigned as mayor and announced he and his family were moving to Fairview – a suburb of Nashville, Tenn. – he signed a statement agreeing to be disbarred.

His mayoral and council resignation came as a big surprise to other members of the SeaTac City Council.

Disciplinary Board
His resignation as mayor and SeaTac Councilmember, followed by his resignation from the Washington Bar Association “in lieu of discipline” was effective Sept. 2, 2018.

Siefkes had testified before a disciplinary board counsel of the Washington Supreme Court in May 2018 and a decision was issued on Sept. 20 (download PDF of court documents here).

He had for some years represented a mother, who has since died, and her son. The now-deceased mother “suffered from dementia,” the disciplinary board said, and her son “suffers from an autistic disorder … and social phobia.” The SeaTac Blog is not naming the mother nor her son, both once represented by then-lawyer Siefkes, because of their diagnosed difficulties.

The son was the one who filed a complaint with the state about the ineffective legal representation of Siefkes.

Siefkes was interviewed by the Supreme Court disciplinary counsel last May and when asked about the son’s “cognitive or social abilities,” the former mayor “invoked his 5th Amendment rights.” Then Siefkes was asked if he “ever took out a loan from a client” and the “respondent testified he had ever taken out a loan from a client.”

Testimony untrue
The disciplinary counsel said “respondent’s testimony was not true,” because Siefkes took out a loan in September 2009 (from the couple) for $3,600. “The loan was memorialized in a promissory note prepared by the respondent (Siefkes) and when he was asked about it he claimed he did not remember taking out the loan. Respondent’s testimony does not appear credible,” court documents said.

Siefkes, said the disciplinary counsel, noted that the client bought three new vehicles for Siefkes, a new Toyota Tundra, valued at $40,000, a new vehicle from Acura of Bellevue for $31,000, and a third vehicle for $26.600.

“Respondent (Siefkes) said ‘all the funds he received from (the son) were for services rendered and that he was never given gifts other than token Christmas and birthday presents.”

“Respondent’s testimony does not appear credible,” the disciplinary counsel wrote in the report.

Also, “contrary to deposition testimony, respondent told a police detective and a forensic accountant” that the vehicles were gifts, but the disciplinary counsel said “respondent did not perform $297,313.50 worth of work for (the mother and son) … at the very most, respondent (Siefkes) actually provided $206,575 in legal and other services ….”

By taking the $297,313.50 rather than a $206,575 fee, Siefkes violated the law. He also violated several rules of professional conduct.

The disciplinary hearing in May was followed by his quitting as a lawyer.

“The lawyer (Siefkes) agrees that he is aware of the alleged misconduct in disciplinary counsel’s Statement of Alleged Misconduct and rather than defend against the allegations, he wishes to permanently resign from membership in the Association,” wrote Kathy Jo Blake, who acted as disciplinary counsel.

Be a lawyer elsewhere?
Siefkes acknowledges that he cannot ask his new home state, Tennessee, to become a member of the bar there and practice law.

Or any other state.

“I understand that my resignation is permanent and that any future application by me for reinstatement as a member of the (Washington state) association is currently barred.” Siefkes says he agrees to “notify all other states and jurisdictions” of the resignation. He also agreed to “disclose the resignation in lieu of discipline in response to any question regarding disciplinary action on the status of my license to practice law.”

“I agree to be subject of all restrictions that apply to a disbarred lawyer.” It is generally acknowleged that other states will not give Siefkes a license to practice law.