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WSU president accused of intervening in ethics investigation over $15M contract

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(The Center Square) – Washington State University President Kirk Schulz has been accused of interfering with an ethics violation investigation after a complaint was made against two employees in relation to a request for proposal to develop a police use of force database for the Attorney General’s Office.

In 2021, the state Legislature enacted Senate Bill 5259, which tasked the Attorney General’s Office with creating a request for proposal for a private or public university to collect and store police use of force incident data. The information would be available for the public to view and download. After the process ended last year, the contract was awarded to Washington State, the only university to bid on the project.

During that process, Police Strategies CEO Bob Scales filed several ethics complaints against the attorney general’s office employees and Associate Professor David Makin, who was writing the university’s proposal, and the university’s Director of State Relations, Chris Mulick. Scales intended to subcontract with several universities that looked at bidding on the project.

In emails obtained by The Center Square, Makin emailed Mulick on Feb. 18, asking him if he’d reach out to the attorney general’s office to “determine if they have a date for the release of the RFP” because he was “uncertain if I should simply email or if there is another approach” due to his receiving public records requests regarding SB5259.

Mulick replied that he could send the email because “I have not received any such [public records] request.”

Attorneys in the attorney general’s office eventually emailed them back with the month it would be released and the time parameters.

While the ethics complaints against the attorney general’s office employees were dismissed by the State Ethics Board, which is staffed by employees of the attorney general’s office, Scales also filed ethics complaints against Makin and Mulick to university Provost Elizabeth Chilton on March 31.

Scales received a letter on April 11 signed by Schulz stating that “the University does not believe that those individuals have participated in any illegal or unethical behavior and, therefore, will not be taking any further action on your complaint regarding those individuals.”

Emails obtained by The Center Square show that Schulz was in communication with Nathan Deen, the division chief for the WSU Division of the attorney general’s office, between the time of Scales’ complaint and when the April 11 letter was sent regarding Scale’s ethics complaint. Deen was also copied in Schultz’s April 11 email to Scales.

According to the university’s 2022 Faculty Manual, the provost handles ethics complaints and determines within 10 days “whether the allegations, if proved, state cause to discipline a faculty member. If the provost determines that the charges do not state grounds for discipline, they shall communicate that decision to the complainant.” The manual calls on the provost to “generally” have the investigation completed within 30 days.

The manual also states that “the timelines may be extended by the provost at any time upon their determination that exigent circumstances exist, e.g. unavailability of witnesses or faculty, complexity of issues. Any extension of the timelines must be communicated in writing to the accused faculty member and the complainant. The provost may also of their own initiative, after learning of concerns regarding faculty conduct, initiate an investigation and pursue disciplinary action consistent with the other requirements of this policy.”

On April 26, two weeks after Schulz sent a letter saying no investigation would take place, Chilton emailed Scales saying she had been traveling and would look into the matter. The ethics complaint was then handed over to university Chief Audit Executive Heather Lopez. She met with Scales several times via Zoom and communicated via email.

In an email to Lopez, Scales wrote that Schultz’s communication with Deen “seems like it would violate the complaint review and investigation procedures established by the WSU Faculty Manual. It is also likely a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The AGO is trying to protect its own interests at the expense of its clients’ interests.”

According to Scales, no investigation has been formally launched.

“I assume they are just going to ignore me and take no action on my complaints,” Scales wrote in an email to The Center Square.

In an email to Lopez, Scales wrote that “WSU is currently negotiating a $15 million contract with the AGO for the data project that is the subject of my complaint. It is possible that an investigation into my complaints could jeopardize these negotiations. If a WSU investigation into my complaint were to find that Mulick and Makin violated ethics rules and/or public procurement laws in order to be awarded the project, it is likely that the AGO would have rescind the award and reissue the RFP.

“WSU would likely be disqualified from bidding again. These are very high stakes for WSU with millions of dollars involved. I expect that is why the AGO and the WSU President attempted to quickly quash any investigation of my complaint.”

When The Center Square reached out to Schultz for comment, University Marketing and Communications Vice President Phil Weiler replied in an email that “to the best of my knowledge, Washington State University does not have any direct involvement in the complaint you referenced. My understanding is that a potential vendor interested in competing for a contract with the Washington Attorney General’s Office was unhappy with the process and has since made a number of allegations.”

Weiler directed questions elsewhere.

The WSU official was among those copied in Scales’ email to Chilton regarding his ethical complaint and Scales’ April 12 email.

When asked about those emails, Weiler wrote, “Washington State University did receive a complaint from Mr. Scales regarding several university employees. WSU is looking into those claims but we do not have anything to add to your story at this time.”

Washington State University is still investigating Scales’ complaint.

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