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Maple Valley City Council asks Mayor Bill Allison to step down over allegations and investigation
After weeks of rumors and speculation, members of the Maple Valley City Council asked Mayor Bill Allison to step down over allegations of improper communication with at least one juvenile female during his role as a driving instructor.
Councilwoman Victoria Laise Jonas broached the “800 pound gorilla in the room” at the end of the City Council’s retreat on Saturday.
Four of the seven council members asked Allison to resign temporarily until the investigation is completed and a charging decision is released by the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
A King County Sheriff’s Office detective investigated the allegation and the report was sent to the prosecutor’s office.
The City Council could force Allison out of the mayoral position with five votes.
Maple Valley is a council-manager form of government where the City Council elects the mayor from within its ranks.
Allison told the council Saturday that the complaint was unfounded and the case was closed. He also refused to step down.
Allison told The Reporter during a phone interview Tuesday that he never considered stepping aside.
“I wasn’t going to step down on a false accusation,” he said.
Allison added during the interview that he received information that morning from King County Sheriff John Urquhart that the allegations were unfounded and the case was closed.
Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor’s Office, was contacted shortly after Allison made the statement and responded in an email that he,“checked with the DPA (deputy prosecuting attorney) and the case is still under review.” Donohoe said by phone Friday a charging decision has not been made.
Urquhart told The Reporter Tuesday night that he is “not super familiar with the case,” but that “it is my understanding we have a verbal from the prosecutor’s office that they are going to decline the case.”
Urquhart acknowledged that nothing official has been decided.
“To say the case is closed is a little premature,” he said. “Technically it is not closed yet.”
Although the police report and specifics of the allegations remain closed to the public, those close to the matter indicated that it involved inappropriate conduct involving at least one juvenile female at the I-5 Driving School, which Allison co-founded in September of 2011. The driving school has offices in Maple Valley and Auburn. He remains an active instructor at the school.
Allison denied making any inappropriate comments to students when asked by The Reporter.
In light of the allegations, Allison said the I-5 business has installed cameras in the cars and is inviting parents to join their kids during driving lessons.
“We have installed cameras in the cars to protect all employees and students in the community,” he said.
When contacted by The Reporter, council members agreed that more facts were needed before any conclusions could be made, but the rumors and uncertainty cast a shadow on the city.
Councilwoman Linda Johnson said she wished Allison would have stepped down when the investigation started. Now, she said, the council is in the uncomfortable position of potentially forcing his hand.
“I don’t think anybody wants to see that happen,” Johnson said. “But by the same token, as electeds we have a responsibility to protect the city. If that’s what we need to do, that’s a decision that’s got to be made collectively.”
Jonas said elected officials are held to higher standards of professional ethics and was disappointed that news of the investigation came from community members rather than Allison.
“It is troubling; we strive to be an open and transparent government,” Jonas said, who added that she would have preferred the sensitive conversation be held in executive session, but that it was illegal to do so.
“I am hoping these allegations are unfounded and the case is closed so we can move on as a community,” Jonas said.
Councilman Layne Barnes said he would not vote to remove Allison from his post based on current information.
“I have to presume innocence until facts prove otherwise,” he said. “It’s very difficult, when you have a lack of facts, to make good decisions.”
Councilman Noel Gerken was among the group who asked Allison to step down during the retreat, but declined to comment on how he would handle the controversy moving forward.
“It’s very sensitive issue so we’ve got to be aware of that and consider privacy and personal issues,” he said.
Councilwoman Erin Weaver, who did not ask Allison to step down, called the discussion “unproductive” because it “devolved into a personal attack rather than actual fact finding.”
“Council members were operating in a vacuum without any accurate information, only gossip and hearsay,” Weaver said.
Deputy Mayor Sean Kelly, who referred to Allison as his “role model” at the retreat, said the controversy has caused him to lose sleep and debate whether to stay in politics. He called the issue a distraction that needed to be discussed for the good of the council, Allison and community.
“We are not trying to be mean or vindictive to Bill,” Kelly said. “We are trying to figure out what is going on and do what is best for the city and Bill. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. He’s my mentor.”
This is not the first controversial situation of its kind involving Allison.
Johnson confronted Allison at the retreat about allegations of inappropriate behavior with a minor from the early 2000s when Allison worked as a youth minister at New Community Church in Maple Valley. According to the church website archives, Allison joined the staff in 2001.
Allison told The Reporter that he and the church separated ways 10 years ago, but said the reasons were between he and New Community Church Pastor Ken Mitchell. Allison said he and the church have “a mutual respect for each other and love for each other. Our relationship is fantastic.”
Mitchell declined to comment on the matter.
Johnson told The Reporter that she was aware of an unceremonious ending to Allison’s relationship with the church when he was originally elected to the council, but didn’t know specifics.
“I couldn’t imagine anyone running for political office with something in their background that they weren’t able to stand up and tell everyone about,” she said.
Jonas said she understood why Allison would not care to discuss the matter.
“I understand that because he is being investigated he needs to be cautious on what he says,” Jonas said.
Allison was the city’s youngest mayor and has been a member of the Maple Valley community since 1999. He was elected to the City Council in 2010 before being selected by the council to replace Gerken as mayor in January 2012. The council tabbed him for a second term in January of 2014, with the term ending December 2017.
Sgt. Cindi West, communications officer with the King County Sheriff’s Department, said cases involving individuals with positions of power, unfortunately, come up fairly frequently. The key, she said, is to look at the “totality of the circumstance” when interviewing suspects and to never discount a victim because of his or her age.
Barnes said that no matter the outcome, community perception is very damaging.
“Even if fully cleared there will be some people who always believe otherwise,” Barnes said.