Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Felsted removes himself from Pullman City Council race; Family's attorney tells candidate there could be conflict of interest"

Devon Felsted's on-again/off-again Pullman City Council candidacy appears to be off, for good. From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Pullman City Council hopeful Devon Felsted has informally removed himself from the upcoming election.

Felsted, who is president of the family-owned Pullman Disposal, Inc., said Wednesday that he has been advised by his attorneys that he would be caught in a conflict of interest if elected.

"I'm really disappointed," said Felsted, who was running unopposed to replace Councilman David Stiller. "I was really looking forward to running."

Pullman Disposal is the only licensed solid waste disposal company for the city and its outlying area. State code of ethics statutes pertaining to municipal officers restrict a city from working or exchanging money with an elected official on a business level for more than $18,000 per year. The city's trash bill with Pullman Disposal is about $45,000 per year, even though the two agencies do not have a binding contract per se.

Though Felsted is not a major stockholder, his parents, Bill and Val Felsted own the company and, in planning their estate, put stocks into a trust for their five children.

This trust is considered a beneficial interest, said City Attorney Laura McAloon. Both direct and indirect beneficial interests can be conflicts.

"The estate planning brought to the forefront some other issues," she said. "Once that happened, it would be clear cut that there's a conflict."

Questions regarding a possible conflict of interest arose in June. After some research, McAloon determined Felsted's position as president - with no ownership in the company - was not a conflict.

McAloon said Wednesday the recent developments with the company have highlighted a conflict. As president of the company, Felsted has "some benefits attached to his title that could be construed as a conflict."

If elected, she noted, Pullman Disposal would risk losing business with the city under state law.

Felsted said that although he wants to be a councilman, he won't give up Pullman Disposal.

"I don't want to invite any problems," he said. "I don't see it as a conflict, but I can see how there would be the appearance of one. It's not worth it to me to defend myself from a conflict of interest."

Felsted said he was under the impression that he could not withdraw from the race because the ballots already have been sent to voters. He said he is going to speak with attorneys to verify whether or not he needs to file formal withdrawal papers with the county.

McAloon is researching how the city should proceed to fill the position. She said the council may be able to appoint someone to the position, but she's looking into all options. Stiller will remain in the position until someone is appointed.

"I frankly have not done any in-depth research on it," McAloon said.

Mayor Glenn Johnson said as far as he knows, the council will open the position to any interested party who lives in Ward 3. The council would then appoint someone to the seat. That person would then have to seek reelection in November 2008.

Johnson said he was disappointed to hear Felsted will not sit on the council.

"It's really sad to hear that," he said. "He's a good guy ... To be honest, he is a great guy, and he would have made a great councilman."

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