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State auditor finds no issues with billings from ex-Black Diamond city attorney | Read Letter

A letter has been sent from the state auditor’s office to Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, regarding the investigation of billing practices of Loren Combs, former city attorney.

The letter, signed by James W. Griggs from the auditor’s office and sent Jan. 27, stated, “We found no issues with the billings in question.”

Hurst had sent a letter to State Auditor Brian Sonntag Nov. 25, 2009 regarding allegations of over billing, double-billing and fraudulent billing.

Hurst’s letter stated he had been contacted by “former and current officials with the city of Black Diamond” regarding the allegations.

The letter from Hurst stated, “After reviewing the documents last night, I was concerned that a number of the allegations, which involve significant over billing, double billing and possible fraud, appear to rise to the level of requiring the notification and assistance of your office to protect the public interest.”

The Jan. 27 letter from Griggs stated, “We recently investigated your concerns as part of audit of the City of Black Diamond. We would like to share the results with you. To address your assertions, we reviewed the City’s process for determining whether its legal bills correctly reflected the services rendered. We reviewed legal bills from January 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009 and interviewed city staff. We found no issues with the billings in question.”

Combs had been the Black Diamond city attorney for 15 years until Nov. 21, 2009. According to city officials he resigned, but Combs maintained he was terminated by Howard Botts, who was mayor at the time.

The city and Combs were involved in a dispute with the development firm YarrowBay. The Kirkland-based developer is in the process of building two master planned developments in the city, The Villages and Lawson Hills.

Since May 2009 YarrowBay had questioned the billing practices of Combs and asked the city to enter into mediation.

Combs’ employment with the city ended in a flurry of activity Nov. 21. Leonard Smith, the city administrator, was placed on administrative leave following a background check that turned up a Peeping Tom investigation when he was city administrator of Tumwater. He was terminated for cause Dec. 8. Smith filed a claim against the city for severance compensation following his termination. The city’s insurance company is handling the claim.

City officials stated Combs resigned and tried to retract it at the Nov. 21 executive session. Combs maintained he was terminated.

Combs said by phone Dec. 15 the billing allegations “I read are false. I considered it an honor working with this city for the last 15 years. They have been great people to work with.”

Combs noted he has practiced for 33 years and never received a reprimand.

Black Diamond hired the Issaquah firm Kenyon Disend to provide the services of city attorney Jan. 7. Noel Treat will act as city attorney.

Yvonne Ward served as interim city attorney from Nov. 21 until Kenyon Disend was hired.

Auditor Letter 2

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