Annexation opponents claim Burien Councilman Robison has a conflict of interest

By Eric Mathison

As proponents of Burien adding White Center and North Highline to the city look forward to the Nov. 6 annexation vote, opponents are talking up a potential conflict of interest by annexation’s most vocal advocate on the Burien City Council.

Annexation foes are charging that Burien City Councilman Jerry Robison has been the attorney for the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, (NHUAC) which has endorsed Burien annexation. Therefore, Robison has a conflict of interest and should recuse himself from discussions and votes on annexation.

Robison and NHUAC’s president say he has advised NHUAC on issues but has not served as their attorney.
Robison told the Herald he will not recuse himself on annexation matters and has not been asked by City Manager Mike Martin to take that action.

Asked by the Herald, Martin responded, “The bottom line is there is no conflict of interest in this case.”

This latest dispute is important for the future of annexation for two reasons.

If Robison withdraws on this matter, the council would be evenly split 3-3 on annexation. Despite being ill, Mayor Brian Bennett attended the Burien City Council meeting April 2 to move that the annexation vote date be set for Nov. 6. Bennett, Robison, Deputy Mayor Rose Clark and Councilwoman Joan McGilton voted to set the annexation election. Council members Lucy Krakowiak, Bob Edgar and Jack Block Jr. voted against.

Also, Robison’s recusal may be the opponents’ last chance to stop annexation.

Despite a city council election that replaced annexation proponent Gordon Shaw with annexation critic Bob Edgar, the opponents have failed to convince a majority of the Burien council or the King County Boundary Review Board to stop moving forward on annexation.

The opponents base their argument on NHUAC minutes obtained from the group through a public records request.

The Oct. 19, 2011 NHUAC minutes, as provided to the Herald, state “President Barbara (Dobkin) said she had consulted lawyer Jerry Robison and that he didn’t believe they would need to carry insurance….)

The Dec. 2, 2010 minutes outline a report from Jenn Ramirez-Robson, then a Burien city staffer. “She (Ramirez-Robson) also made sure everyone had heard the news that Jerry Robison, who has served a lawyer for NHUAC, and moderated at our recent campaign forum, is about to be appointed to an opening on the Burien City Council.”

The June 3, 2010 minutes say “Jerry Robison, NHUAC Attorney: Jerry was on the original council & helped draw up the Bylaws.”

Annexation opponents Debi Wagner and Chestine Edgar say that Robison’s close relationship with NHUAC means he may be representing North Highline’s interests above the concerns of Burien citizens.
“Who is really his client?” Chestine Edgar asks.

Dobkin, who is NHUAC’s president, says the group has asked Robison’s advice but he has never been the group’s lawyer.

“We don’t have the money to pay an attorney,” Dobkin declared.

If Robson attended a Boy Scout meeting and gave them general information, he would not be considered their attorney, Dobkin said.

Dobkin said she has been conferring with lawyers in the state attorney general’s office about how to handle Wagner’s public information requests but that doesn’t make them NHUAC’s attorneys.

Robison also denies he’s been NHUAC’s attorney and says he never received money for his advice to the group.

Robson said his only official legal connection was in 1996 when a disgruntled losing candidate sued NHUAC over perceived irregularities in NHUAC’s first election.

Robison said he filed a notice of appearance with the court when it appeared King County would not provide the group with legal representation. When the county finally stepped in, Robson said he withdrew but did represent the winning candidate as an individual.

Robison said he has not given advice to NHUAC members on annexation. He implied that Councilman Bob Edgar might have a conflict of interest since he was involved in the anti-annexation movement.

Wagner countered that Bob Edgar was working with fellow Burien residents on a Burien issue while Robson was representing an outside group, NHUAC.

Dobkin said NHUAC passed a resolution supporting annexation to Burien before the first vote on annexing the southern portion of North Highline. She said individual members may support annexation but the group has been more focused lately on specific North Highline issues.

Burien City Councilman Jerry Robison should not be confused with the Times/News publisher, Jerry Robinson.