King County executive accused of steering lucrative contract to two donors

KING COUNTY, Wash. — The King County Office of the Ombuds is investigating after former Parks Director Kevin Brown filed a whistleblower complaint against County Executive Dow Constantine, alleging Constantine steered a lucrative contract for concert concessions at Marymoor Park to his former campaign contributors and political supporters, David Meinert and Marcus Charles.

Brown said on Jan. 31, 2012, while he was still director of King County Parks and Recreation Division, he was asked by Constantine via text to meet him and his chief of Staff, Sung Yang, at restaurant Local 360 in Seattle to discuss Marymoor Park.

He said well-known Seattle restaurateurs and entrepreneurs Marcus Charles and David Meinert were introduced as “friends of Dow.” He said he was also introduced to the NW manager for AEG Entertainment.

Brown wrote that “the specific discussion centered on how Dow felt that the current concert promoter [at Marymoor] should be replaced by a partnership between AEG… and SES (Dave and Marcus).”

Brown stated he was instructed to hold “a very abbreviated and unpublished KC parks FRP process to ensure no other competition (one other company did apply coincidentally)” and that he was told to “sit on the review panel, score the proposals to ensure AEG/SES was awarded the contract. This, despite the other application being rated higher by panel staff due to revenue stream and experience.”

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His complaint goes on to say Brown was directed to sign the agreement, “which, after contentious conversation, I did sign, as instructed, with the initials UD (for ‘under duress’) between my first and last name to document my protests and opposition.”

He alleged the contract SES received “cost the County (Parks Division) hundreds of thousands of dollars annually” because “SES began to immediately step away from almost every commitment they made in their proposal that included payment of leasehold excise tax, management of the Clise Mansion, special events, etc.”

Brown alleged that on June 14, 2017, he was instructed that “Dow wanted to ensure that SES was awarded the next concert concession contract as both the concert and concession contract were to soon expire” and wrote that he learned in April of 2018 “that the County had already signed a contract extension with SES… for all concession services at Marymoor through November 17, 2018.”

KIRO 7 is reaching out to both Meinert and Charles.

Dow Constantine’s office has not yet responded an email requesting an interview.

Brown has also filed a retaliation complaint, alleging that in bringing this issue up "countless times" to Director of Natural Resources and Parks Christie True and her deputy director, Bob Burns, "I have been yelled at, bullied, threatened, intimidated and treated as if I did not know how to manage staff or contracts." Brown is no longer in the position of parks director.

Ombuds Director Amy Calderwood released a statement, writing in part, “In light of the nature of the allegations contained in the public records we are releasing today, and the positions and reputations of the individuals involved in this case, the Ombuds is concerned that these records, standing alone, could too easily be misinterpreted or conflated into implied conclusions that we have not yet drawn. Such unwarranted early conclusions, especially on less than the full investigatory record the Ombuds has compiled, and before the Ombuds' report is issued, would be unfair to those involved and contrary to the public interest.”

The Ombuds Office expects to release a final report with its findings by September 3.

The King County Prosecutor, which defends the executive in these types of cases, sent a 7-page response late Thursday afternoon, claiming there were no ethics violations, the contract process was followed correctly, and that Brown didn't properly raise any potential ethics issues during the process.
Dow Constantine wrote in a letter to the Ombuds Office, "I believe the record clearly and unambiguously shows that none of Mr. Brown's allegations have merit."