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Nicholas McCarvel

VIEWS: 10 PAGES: 7

									Nicholas McCarvel
Ashley See
CMJR 300 – Investigative Reporting
Final Draft
11 December 2007

             Kathy Keolker: The Story of One Woman with Two Sides

       Kathy Keolker doesn‟t smile much.

       It‟s not because the Renton mayor is an angry person; nor is it because she

lacks the appreciation of a warm greeting.

       Instead, Keolker is jaded. And, diving into her past, you can‟t blame her.

       In a few weeks time, at the ringing in of a new year, Keolker will lose her

title as mayor of Renton, exiting the world that is public office after over 25 years

there, a world she may never re-enter.

       Her departure has been anything but smooth. One month ago, Keolker, 53,

lost a tightly run race for re-election against Denis Law, a city councilmember

who attacked Keolker‟s icy personality and tight-lipped style to oust the current

mayor from her seat in city hall.

       Keolker called his campaign “dirty” and threats of lawsuits have been

made on both sides. Lawsuits are one item Keolker knows almost as well as the

inner-workings of city government.

       An examination of public records revealed that Keolker was involved in

two major lawsuits in the last 25 years. These two lawsuits paint a very different

picture of a woman who says she aimed to “serve the public” during her time as a

city councilmember (1983-2003) and as mayor (2003-2007).

       In 1985, Keolker, then a first-term councilwoman and married to Denis

Keolker, her first husband, were served a lawsuit by acquaintances, Patrick and
Lois Brouillette. The suit claimed that Denis had “sexually and physically abused”

their daughter, Chalisa between 1981 and 1983.

       The suit stated that Kathy Keolker “knew or should have known of the acts

of her husband” and that Chalisa, who was around six years old at the time,

“suffered great and substantial mental and physical pain” as a result of Denis‟

actions.

        The suit requested compensation for Chalisa‟s injuries and potential lost

earnings along with punitive damages. Three months after the papers were

served to the Keolkers, however, the case was dismissed because of an out-of-

court “agreement” between the two parties.

       Though the Keolkers escaped the lawsuit without any documented

financial losses other than lawyer fees, the couple legally divorced just over a year

later, in November of 1984, following twelve years of marriage. It was clear that

the accusations had taken their toll on their marriage.

       Emerging from the ugly lawsuit, Keolker was re-elected to city council in

1987, marking the beginning of her second term. The year had been a good one

for Keolker, who had recently married a man named Austin Wheeler, her second

husband. Keolker chose not to get rid of her married name because of its

recognition with the public, and instead hyphenated her last name to become

Kathy Keolker-Wheeler.

       Toward the end of her second term in office, Keolker was part of a second

lawsuit, yet this time as the plaintiff.

       Keolker had begun working for King County Solid Waste as a Waste

Reduction and Recycling Manager in the Solid Waste Division in August of 1988.
Keolker was in charge of filling a job opening in her department later that year,

and when her superiors specifically instructed her to select a younger candidate

rather than an older, more qualified candidate. Keolker refused, saying she

wouldn‟t do so because of discrimination laws.

       Eventually Keolker agreed to disqualify the candidate, but the damage was

already done. Keolker was demoted within her department, and eventually she

was terminated from her Solid Waste position.

       These events led to Keolker suing Tim Hill, King County Executive for

wrongful employment termination, lost wages and benefits. The trial would

include over the summoning of a dozen King County employees and the legal

process stretched over a two-year period.

       Keolker‟s lawyer in that case, Sidney J. Strong, confirmed that she had lost

the suit. Speaking last week, Mr. Strong stated that the jury members “felt bad”

about their decision, and went as far as scheduling a meeting with Keolker to

explain their reasoning, which was based on Washington state law.

       These two lawsuits, and Keolker‟s two stints as a city councilmember

showed her in two very different lights. One, as an aloof and irresponsible parent

and spouse, who let a child be abused by her husband; and two, as an upstanding

and strong female professional, standing by what she thought was the letter of

the law for the rights of others.

       For much of the 1990s, Keolker maintained a strong public standing as a

councilmember, being re-elected in 1991, ‟95 and ‟99 while also being chosen by

fellow council members as council president for each of those terms.
       Keolker, perhaps with the weight of public office on her shoulders, had

presented herself as two strikingly different individuals. Her public life seemed

to be taking its toll.

       “I haven‟t had a private life for 25 years,” she said in an interview this

week. “If you‟re an elected official, then that‟s who you are 24/7. Your job doesn‟t

stop at 5 o‟clock; it follows you everywhere you go.”

       Keolker fueled her success of the „90s into a campaign to run for mayor of

Renton in 2003. She would win the election, but her victory wasn‟t without

controversy.

       Jesse Tanner, a concerned Renton citizen, accused Keolker of using city

council meeting time for campaigning purposes. The complaint was filed with the

Public Disclosure Commission, but eventually was rejected after an investigation.

       As mayor, Keolker has proved herself fiscally responsible, while claiming

to help kick start what her 2007 campaign called a “renaissance” in the Renton

economy. An investigation of documents from her personal travel expenses over

the last two years by showed that Keolker was frugal and responsible when

attending conferences.

       The investigation, however, did find that Keolker was irresponsible on two

separate occasions: First, in a trip for the city in June of 2006 to New York and

second, in a trip to Las Vegas also in June of the same year.

       A document requested citing the Washington Open Public Records Act

shows that Mayor Keolker traveled to New York City for a bond rating

presentation. During her time in New York, the mayor stayed at a reasonably

priced Marriott Hotel and ate out with the per diem allowed funds. Her plane
ticket, however, which was booked through Delta Airlines over two weeks in

advance, was uncharacteristically expensive.

       A review of recent airfares shows that coach tickets to New York can be as

low as $250 dollars, but usually hover around $400-500, depending on fuel

prices and the like. Keolker‟s ticket was an astounding $948.59, however, nearly

twice the price of a typical ticket. When contacted, Delta Airlines would neither

confirm nor deny that Keolker‟s ticket was purchased as a first class cabin ticket.

The ticket price itself, however, is reason enough to believe that the mayor and

her office were not thorough enough in booking her travel to and from New York.

       A travel agent contacted confirmed that unless booking last-minute and/or

around the holidays (neither of which occurred during Keolker‟s trip to New

York), such a price would denote a first-class ticket.

       The second occasion occurred also in June of 2006, when Keolker traveled

to Las Vegas for the U.S. Conference of Mayors 74th Annual Meeting. Though her

plane ticket and hotel room were routine, Ms. Keolker was accompanied by Linda

Martinez, a woman only known as a “community supporter” of Keolker‟s 2007

campaign for re-election.

       Why Martinez accompanied Keolker to a conference held for mayors is

unclear, and continuous phone calls to Keolker‟s campaign manage, Raechelle

Turner, went un-returned.

       Such practices by Mayor Keolker are uncharacteristic when compared to

the rest of her mayoral record, yet the inconsistency shows that while Keolker

maintains a clean and up-front image, her tendency is to stray away from that

image once in awhile.
       The mayor would not comment on any questions pertaining to financial

documents.

       The inconsistencies of Ms. Keolker‟s character and public responsibility do

not end at a couple of lawsuits and suspect travel preferences. During her term as

mayor, she was part of private, and, naturally, public ordeals that further cloud

her image and character.

       An investigation into files at the King County Administration Building

found that Keolker filed a restraining order against her second husband, Austin

Wheeler, in the fall of 2004 following their separation in April of that same year.

       In her statement to the Court, Keolker claimed that there “have been

physical altercations between us in the past” and that “[Wheeler] may be angry

that I have filed for divorce.” In Wheeler‟s response, however, he claimed there

“is no history of physical confrontations in our 18-year marriage.”

       The crumbling of Keolker‟s marriage was vastly different than the newly

elected mayor who was making waves of change in the City of Renton. In 2005,

Keolker legally changed her name from Kathy Keolker-Wheeler back to Kathy

Keolker, keeping her first husband‟s name and ridding herself of Austin‟s name.

       But Keolker‟s personal difficulties followed her into office. In 2006, she

was caught up in a scandal known in Renton as “Lipstickgate”, in which the

mayor claimed a city councilmember had written the word “Bitch” on her

mayoral bathroom mirror.

       Fellow council members criticized Keolker for her handling of the ordeal,

especially after she refused to take a lie detector test by police. The scandal

became the centerpiece of her opponent‟s case, Mr. Law. The councilman and
local publishing company owner subsequently defeated Keolker in November‟s

election.

       An investigation into Keolker‟s past both as a public official, mother of two

and a twice-divorced woman has shown that the mayor has had two sides in all

parts of her life.

       While the mayor will be unemployed for the first time in many years come

2008, she is unsure of the future holds for her.

       “I‟m exploring possibilities,” Keolker said. “I‟m trying to figure out what

fits for me right now, but I‟m very, very sad to be leaving city hall.”

       Whether or not Keolker will re-enter the realm of public office is unknown.

But for now, the Renton mayor will savor her last few weeks in office before

embarking on a new adventure.

       One characteristic Keolker may have to answer to when applying for new

jobs is the tale of her two sides. It‟s clear what the citizens of Renton decided last

month on election day, and now Keolker must decided not only what she stands

for, but who she is.

       Her inconsistency aside, Keolker may be justified in not smiling much;

she‟s been through a lot, both personally and professionally.

       “It‟s not fair, but it‟s reality,” she said. “The public isn‟t forgiving.”

								
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