In case you haven’t heard, King County Democrats Chair, Bailey Stober, has been accused of harassment, creating a hostile work environment, and misappropriation of funds. He is currently under investigation and refuses to acquiesce to demands that he resign.
Last night there was a King County Democrats meeting. I attended, but was not allowed in the executive session, which is always closed to the public. From what I gathered from hallway gossip, most of the two or so hours we sat outside consisted of people inside asking questions they knew the answer to in order to make a point.
I enjoyed myself in the hallway, meeting other PCOs and learning about how things work at the county level. At some point some committee members who identified themselves as serjeants-at-arms were sent into the hallway to make sure no one was standing too close to the door, in case we were listening in. Of course, we were listening in, but we couldn’t actually make anything out and had begun chatting instead. They should have been more concerned that everyone inside the room had functioning cell phones (aka recording devices) on their persons.
Later, one of the same serjeants-at-arms came out to tell a PCO not to leak sensitive information to the press. This was a bizarre admonishment, because the PCO wasn’t in the meeting and didn’t have sensitive information to leak. He said as much. By now it was ten at night, and we were all slumping a little. Maybe this why I was so incredulous about the rest of the evening.
The serjeant-at-arms came out again and told the reporter that they needed to monitor interviews. The reporter did not like this and refused to be monitored. The most absurd moment in this utter circus was when the serjeant-at-arms said to a committee member (whose voting credential had fallen out of his pocket and onto the floor without him noticing) “Do you pinky-promise not to leak sensitive information to the press?” I think this serjeant-at-arms knew that what they were being as was absurd, yet there was a self-seriousness about everyone’s tone and demeanor, but none of the training or actual professionalism required to make it believable. I imagined that what was going on inside the meeting room was equally farcical and more upsetting.
Once executive session ended, we were allowed back in the room. A few things happened that I think are important. First, confidential materials had been distributed during executive session that needed to be returned. However, rather than ensuring that they had all been returned before opening the doors to the public, they attempted to do so afterward. The acting chair announced that two copies were still missing and that if any committee member was found to be in possession of one they would be risking a charge of misconduct.
Second, when a motion was set forth to further the investigation into Bailey’s actions, the acting chair announced that there were no rules of debate in the bylaws. That’s right. King County Dems have no established rules of debate.
Third, the body decided they needed to form a new investigation team—the vice chairs who had done the preliminary investigation had been deemed too biased. Unfortunately, no such team existed, and they had no formal process at hand to appoint one. Rather than, say, draw names out of a hat or go through a strikethrough process, they agreed that the vice chairs could appoint two investigators, that Bailey could appoint 2 investigators, and that those four investigators would come to consensus on the fifth investigator. I don’t know of any investigation where it is considered ethical for the person under investigation to be allowed to choose any of the people conducting the investigation. The conflicts of interest seem self-evident to me, and I was disappointed that no one stood up to cry foul.
Finally, an amendment was made to the motion which ultimately passed that called for the investigation to include discovering who leaked a confidential memo to the press. This is not a bad amendment per se. What was bad was the framing. I confess that I had to leave the room for a moment when this amendment came to the floor. Few things make me more angry than miscarriages of justice. The woman who introduced the amendment said that the worst thing about this entire conflict was the leaked confidential memo. She has been presented with everything that Bailey is accused of, sat in the same room as the victims, and decided that where the organization is most vulnerable is due to an as yet anonymous whistleblower and not the reason for the whistleblowing. Her proposed amendments was met with applause. As a sexual assault survivor, as someone who spent years being ignored on this subject, this was triggering. I left. I walked down the hall into a different room, closed the door, and for the first time since I was a child, I screamed. I breathed, and then I went back inside in time to see the amendment pass. I have never felt more helpless.
What all of this highlights is that a lack of process is dangerous. For the sake of expediency, the body just allowed the person being investigated to appoint his own investigators. I urge Legislative Districts and other counties to put processes into place about how to investigate your chairs or other leaders in your org. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have shown us that abusive men in power don’t get to stay in power anymore. While it is inconvenient, even painful, for the organizations that go through public accusations, it is made more inconvenient when you don’t have a way to sort through it. It’s painful for the victims most of all who, rather than feeling heard, safe, and affirmed, are part of a drawn out faux-trial. The longer this goes on, worse it is for everyone and the more likely it is that Bailey will continue to do harm. The best thing Bailey could have done was say “I’m sorry; what can I do to make it better?” and then gone and done those things.
Full disclosure, I think Bailey should resign immediately. He has said he wants due process, but if I learned anything last night, it’s that KC Dems don’t have one to offer, and it is partly Bailey’s fault as their chair. I fully believe the victims in this situation, but even if I didn’t, the accusations and the financial situation Bailey has put the organization in have reached critical mass. Bailey’s continued presence is a hindrance to fundraising efforts, fuel for our political opponents, and alienating to anyone who identifies as a victim of sexual harassment. Further, Bailey’s behavior since the accusations has been categorically unprofessional and childish.
My final anecdote from last night took place at the start of the meeting. Bailey, rather than opening the meeting by announcing his resignation, brought up the treasurer to give a financial report. She did so, painting a dire picture. KC Dems would be in the hole $3,000 if they paid all their outstanding bills. That doesn’t include pending litigation that is likely to result in a yet to be determined fine. A member of the Executive committee took this opportunity to pay his dues. Bailey also took the opportunity to perform a piece of theater. He handed over a check made out for $5,000 to the treasurer. He did not say where it had come from. This was met with applause. I cringed and rolled my eyes. Great. He is the reason they are in this financial situation to begin with, and $5K hardly addresses the $163K in funds he has depleted. In this moment Bailey proved his interests lie in himself over the wellbeing of the organization, that his is a politics of theater and not of substance.
Edit: The check for $5,000 has since been rescinded. It was the fulfillment of a 2017 pledge from Dow Constantine, according to the KCD treasurer.