Kirkland City Council candidate Martin Morgan owes the city more than $8,000 in unpaid utilities, which he said stems from an ongoing civil dispute with his neighbor over his water line.
Records from the city’s Finance and Administration Department show that Morgan has a delinquent balance of $8,078 in water and garbage fees from one of his three adjacent Kirkland homes in the 8000 block of 122nd Ave. NE.
The city issued a second lien against Morgan’s home on March 7, 2012 for two years of unpaid balances totaling $7,336. The first lien was issued in 2011 and is no longer active.
The last payment Morgan made on the delinquent account was on May 20, 2011 for $250, according to his utility bill account history report.
But Morgan said he refuses to pay the balance, at least for now.
“It’s all caused from my neighbors,” said Morgan, who is vying for Position 1 against Jay Arnold.
The Reporter first reported on Morgan’s longstanding dispute with his neighbors in 2009, when he unsuccessfully ran for council against Mayor Joan McBride.
Police records showed nearly 40 calls were made to the Kirkland Police Department between 2006-2009 by Morgan or his neighbors.
Many of those calls were prompted by a dispute over a utility easement in which Morgan’s water line, which runs under his neighbor’s driveway, is located.
The city first notified Morgan of a possible leak in his water line in 2005, according to city documents. At that time, he said his bills were consistently more than $1,000 per month.
However, he said after an altercation with his neighbor in 2008 that resulted in his arrest, Morgan said he avoided fixing his water leak.
During that incident, Morgan sprayed three of his neighbors with a garden hose after an argument about the water main, according to the police report and Kirkland Municipal Court charging documents. An officer also discharged his taser and shot a dart into Morgan’s back after Morgan fled inside his house, the documents continue.
He later pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault and resisting arrest, but he said the court would dismiss his guilty conviction, pending a one-year probationary sentence.
Morgan said he was forced to avoid fixing his water leak in an attempt to stay out of trouble with his neighbors to get his guilty conviction expunged from his record.
“I also couldn’t fix the leak without fear of being arrested on my property,” Morgan said, noting his neighbor also sprayed him with the hose a week before his arrest.
He noted in correspondence with the city, assistant attorney Oskar Rey “was always insinuating that if I was out there digging that I would be arrested. So I had enough of that,” he said.
However, in a letter the city sent to Morgan in 2008 and again on April 28, 2011, Rey said the Kirkland Police Department was aware that Morgan needed to repair or replace his water line.
“If you do so in a lawful and reasonable manner, the city will not get involved,” Rey said, noting that the city was not in a position to provide legal advice regarding the utility easement because it is a civil matter. “In this regard, you may want to consider retaining a licensed plumbing contractor to do the work – doing so would likely minimize the possibility of disputes with your neighbor.”
Morgan said he asked the city to shut off his water main in 2011.
“Finally I said, ‘Screw you, I’m not paying it,’” Morgan recalled of his utility bill. “I quit paying the bill to force the issue that the city would have to turn the water off so I could fix [the broken water main] … They knew the day they shut it off I would go in and get a back hoe to fix it.”
He also questions why the city waited so long before staff turned off his water on June 15, 2011.
“Why wait? This is one of the reasons why I do what I do because I know the city is flawed down there and I know who it is,” Morgan said.
Tracey Dunlap, director of the city’s Finance and Administration Department, said that Morgan did not request for his water to be shut off until his water line was already leaking for several years.
“In 2011, he asked why we didn’t turn off the meter when we knew there was a leak but we don’t do that,” Dunlap said. “We notify the customer that water is leaking.”
City records show that staff informed Morgan about his water leak on several occasions, including in 2005 when the leak was discovered.
Morgan said he did not seek a legal resolution to his civil dispute because it would be too costly.
But he has since replaced his water line.
He also said he hopes voters will look past this issue.
“It’s just what it is,” Morgan said. “I don’t want to make this about me. What I realized during this is how the city doesn’t care. We work for them and I don’t like that; they should work for us. They should help us resolve things. Residents deserve better.”
He said if voters elect him, he hopes to “be the guy who’s easily accessible by every resident. I’m not a politician; I’m not a rubber stamp. I want the city to be run by citizens. I want the city to be held accountable … I want to be a council member who echoes the citizens’ concerns.”
But his opponent asks voters to decide.
“I do think it’s a distraction for him, at least that he’s got some personal things to settle,” Arnold said. “I think it’s something voters should consider.”
Meanwhile, Dunlap said Morgan’s utility bill will continue to accrue additional base charges for water and garbage. She said city staff are currently having conversations with Waste Management to find out if the company is picking up garbage at his home with the lien, which will determine if the city reduces the outstanding balance on his utility bill.
“I want to find a true resolution,” Morgan added. “If there’s some part of what I owe by my average usage, I’m good with that. I’m not trying to get out of obligations; I just want it to be fair and amicable.”
The city of Kirkland has also sued Morgan twice for various code enforcement violations, with the first lawsuit resulting in a $20,000 fine he currently owes the city’s collection agency. Morgan has until 2016 to pay the fine, according to a settlement agreement.