You tell me:
Read all about it after the jump.
If there's one thing City Commissioner Dan Saltzman has been mentioning a lot in his re-election bid, especially compared to the police bureau, it's his Children's Levy. He mentioned it 12 times in an hour at his city club appearance a couple of weeks ago, for example. But Saltzman has been far less candid about the fact that in his role as Allocation Committee Chair of the Children's Levy, he made a three-year contribution last year of $600,000 to his girlfriend's charity, without declaring a conflict of interest to the board:
Saltzman's girlfriend, Liz Burns, is a development specialist at Cares NW, a worthy nonprofit that works with victims of child abuse. The charity had been running successfully for over 20 years without any city money as a collaboration between local hospitals, before Saltzman voted for the allocation of the money to it last year. Burns says it was "common knowledge" that she and Saltzman were dating at the time, and that she thinks it would have been "inappropriate" for him to bring the matter to the attention of the levy board at the public meeting to vote on the funding.
“I’m not really involved with the grant writing or grant funding," she adds. "I deal with individuals and small local companies."
Update, 5/4/10 This turns out not to be strictly true. Back to the original post...
Did Saltzman suggest to Burns that her charity apply for the grant, or coach her on how the allocation decisions are made? "No," she says. "Again, we kind of stay out of that for obvious reasons."
Commissioner Saltzman's campaign manager, Emerald Bogue, told the Mercury in an email Friday that "this isn't a campaign related question," and referred us instead to Mary Gay Broderick, communications director at the Children's Levy.
Broderick seems a little perturbed by the omission, it turns out. While it "wasn't a secret" that Saltzman and Burns were dating, she admits to what seems to be a little retrospective apprehension about the deal.
“I think that in retrospect, it would have been better if some kind of public disclosure had have been made," she says. "I suppose perception wise, it would have been better.”
“It wasn’t a matter of whether or not Cares Northwest should have been funded," she continues. "They would have gotten the funding anyway. They’re a wonderful organization. But there’s two issues. The question isn’t should it have gotten funded, the question is, should he have recused himself from the vote? Should he have said something?”
Broderick is right: The funding passed with a 5-0 vote. But under city ethics rules, which govern the Childrens' Levy, city commissioners are supposed to avoid "even the appearance of impropriety."
"I think this is an ethical breach," says Jesse Cornett, who is running against Saltzman in the May Primary. He thinks this is a campaign issue, and a very pertinent one. "The fact that they were dating when this appropriation happened should raise serious questions for voters when they fill out their ballots."
Cornett says he thinks the idea that the relationship was "common knowledge" idea is inaccurate. "This isn't something that has ever been raised to the taxpayers who are paying for these programs," he says. "Also I think that Cares NW does wonderful work, and I hope that Dan Saltzman's ethical lapse doesn't damage the work of the program."
"Dan does not think he needed to disclose the personal relationship," says Saltzman's chief of staff, Brendan Finn. "Cares NW was one of the highest scoring proposals, with over 90 percent. There's no economic interdependence between himself and Liz, and he's disappointed that folks are playing politics with the Children's Levy."
Saltzman also denies coaching Burns, or suggesting that her charity apply for the grant.