The city of Seattle has hired a private investigator to find out who leaked a proposed police labor agreement to the press.
The weekly newspaper, The Stranger, published details of the city’s tentative contract with police officers in June. There was heightened interest in whether the contract would implement police accountability reforms.
Officers later rejected it.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray condemned the leak and pledged to take the case to the FBI. But instead the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission is paying a private investigator up to $65,000 to find the leaker.
Wayne Barnett heads the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. He says disclosing confidential information violates the city ethics code, and the leaker could be fined $5,000 per violation.
Barnett: “Violations of the ethics code are only punishable by financial penalties. So there’s no authority of the Ethics Commission to discipline an employee, to suspend them or terminate their employment.”
The investigation could put the city at odds with the Washington state shield law, which allows journalists to protect the identities of confidential sources. Barnett calls these investigations of media leaks “a rare occurrence.”
He says he’s overseen only one other one, a leak to The Seattle Times over a decade ago. In that case, the newspaper declined to disclose its source.
The contract between the city and the private investigator was posted by The Stranger. It calls for Patty Eakes of the firm Calfo, Eakes and Ostrovsky to receive $325 an hour. Barnett says there’s no timeline to complete the investigation. He says if the report points to an ethics violation, the members of the city ethics commission will act as judges and determine the penalties.