The Lynnwood City Council has asked the city’s board of ethics to investigate allegations that Councilmember Josh Binda violated city code when he used the council chambers to film a promotional video from which he benefited financially.
Following a lengthy discussion about the matter during its Jan. 23 business meeting, the council voted 6-0 – with Binda abstaining — to have the ethics board rule on whether the first-term councilmember violated the Lynnwood Municipal Code governing public officials’ use of city property “for personal gain or profit.”
In a separate interview with Lynnwood Today Jan. 23, Binda denied that he did anything wrong when he used his city ID last month to gain access to the vacant Lynnwood City Council Chambers, where he and his cameraman spent three hours filming the 45-second video. Binda said the video, which was posted to his cmjoshbinda Instagram account, was filmed to promote his “Love Conquers All” speaking tour to 13 Puget Sound-area high schools.
Binda’s Instagram account predates his election as a councilmember. He used Instagram throughout his campaign and the content covers his past as a social activist, an individual and a councilmember.
Binda sent a flier to Lynnwood Today earlier this month announcing the tour, which included appearances at two Edmonds School District high schools — Edmonds-Woodway on Jan. 17 and Lynnwood High Feb. 3. The goal, he said in his announcement, was to “talk with students about compassion for one another and the power of love.”
Binda said during the Jan. 23 Lynnwood Today interview that he was compensated by all of the school districts included on the tour for his work as a public speaker. He said the tour was developed following an initial successful speaking engagement in 2022 at his alma mater, Kamiak High School, for which he wasn’t paid.
During both his Lynnwood Today interview and his remarks to the Lynnwood City Council Jan. 23, Binda said he believes his work as a public speaker and his status as a councilmember are separate.
“What I’m doing is completely my endeavors as a public speaker,” Binda told Lynnwood Today. “It has nothing to do with politics, and I think the city officials’ opinions aren’t necessary… We all have jobs outside of politics. I don’t know why they thought I would be doing this for free.
“As a public speaker, I did the work that public speakers do and the school districts compensated me as a public speaker,” Binda continued. “I feel like there’s this connotation where they expect me, especially me as a young Black man, to work for free. It’s normal for public speakers to be compensated for what they do,”
Binda argued that the video was meant to announce the tour to high school students, not to promote the paid speaking tour. He also stated that the contracts with the schools were “already set in stone way before I even announced it in my video,” and he repeated this sentiment at the city council meeting.
“In terms of personal gain or profit or such, anything that was compensated, contracts or scheduling and all of that, through the school districts, the schools and all of that, that was already set in place,” he told the council. The contracts were signed “way before any video came out and there was nothing signed after a video came out,” Binda said.
Binda provided Lynnwood Today with two partial contracts. In the document from the Lake Washington School District, dated Jan. 3, Binda was paid $1,000 for his keynote speech and $250 for his post-assembly question-and-answer session at Redmond High School. The document from Northshore School District, dated Jan. 9, states that Binda was paid $4,500 to provide a 25-minute keynote speech, in-person planning and an after-assembly hangout with students at some Northshore schools.
According to a contract Lynnwood Today obtained from the Edmonds School District, Binda signed an agreement Jan. 17 outlining the services he would provide at Edmonds-Woodway High School that same day. However, the document also lists services that included a pre-planning meeting with students Jan. 9 — prior to the contract’s signature date.
The Edmonds School District also confirmed that Binda, as of Jan. 24, was not scheduled to provide services at Lynnwood High School in February 2023 and that he has no contract with the school.
During the Jan. 23 council meeting, it was clear that councilmembers had many questions regarding Binda’s use of the council chambers to produce a video related to his public speaking career. Binda also is an agent with John L. Scott Real Estate.
Council President Shannon Sessions started the conversation by acknowledging that concerns about Binda’s use of public facilities had garnered public attention and invited Binda to speak first. Binda declined, stating he’d like to hear from Lynnwood City Attorney Lisa Marshall and also listen to other councilmembers’ opinions.
Marshall began by stating that since Binda is not up for reelection for two years, he didn’t violate state laws regarding use of public property for campaigning, adding that the only regulation he may have violated was under the Lynnwood Municipal Code. If the council chose to refer the case to the Lynnwood Board of Ethics, the board’s attorney on retainer would investigate the matter.
Council President Sessions requested that Councilmember Patrick Decker – who made the original motion to refer the case to the ethics board — send the request on the council’s behalf.
In making his motion, Decker pointed to the section of city code that prohibits a city official or employee from “knowingly” using “his or her office or position for personal or family benefit gain or profit, or use his or her position to secure special privileges or exceptions for himself, herself, or for the benefit, gain, or profits of any other persons.”
“In my view, as I read the code,” Decker said, “Councilmember Binda did, in fact, use his position, his official access and public resources to promote an activity for which he received financial compensation.”
Councilmember Jim Smith concurred with Decker’s proposal that the council send the matter to the board of ethics, stating that “city property was to be used for city business.”
On Dec. 19, Binda filmed for three hours with his cameraman in the council chambers, entering around 6:20 p.m. and leaving at 9:20 p.m.. He also loaned his ID to the cameraman so that the man could go in and out of the building unaccompanied while Binda stayed in the council chambers. Binda did not activate city hall’s security alarm after leaving, a fact discovered by the city’s building and maintenance team.
During his Lynnwood Today interview, Binda stated that he attempted to set the alarm system according to instructions he received and believed it was set when he left, so his failure to secure the building was an accident.
After Mayor Christine Frizzell learned about the alarm issue Dec. 20, she reached out to then-Council President George Hurst, who relayed the information to Binda. After a follow-up discussion with Hurst, Frizzell directed the city’s IT department to temporarily suspend Binda’s ID badge access to city hall until further training was conducted. Binda said he doesn’t know if his badge has been reinstated.
During the Jan. 24 council meeting, Hurst shared his recollection of the alarm system incident and subsequent discussions he had with Binda. At the time, Hurst – in his role as council president — told Binda that he didn’t believe had done anything wrong when filming the video,. However, Hurst added that when he made that statement, he was unaware that Binda was receiving payment for the talk.
During her questioning of Binda, Sessions referenced additional instances in which the councilmember’s use of city hall for photographs and videos raised concerns. Mayor Frizzell also recalled what she described as the “first” incident in April 2022, when Binda brought in cameras and lighting to city hall. That resulted in a conversation between Binda, the mayor and the city attorney. Hurst mentioned an instance on June 28, 2022, when Binda ate dinner on the dais and took selfies in the council chamber. In response, the city updated its policy about the usage of the council chambers and key cards were modified to provide less access. Hurst said that he, the mayor and the city attorney spoke with Binda and Binda assured them, “he won’t do it again.”
The finished video, posted on Binda’s instagram account Jan. 10, shows Binda tapping his ID badge at the Lynnwood City Hall entrance and walking through the building as he provides captioned narration. Sitting at the center seat of the council dais, he introduces himself and describes his “Love Conquers All” speaking tour.
Sessions told Binda she believed he had other options besides the council chambers for recording his video. She also questioned his use of his city council email address in some of his correspondence with schools regarding his speaking tour.
“If you’re not using your platform as an elected official as a Lynnwood City Councilmember, why is it that you’d need to have had those Love Conquers All videos taped in this council chamber?” she asked.
This is the second controversy Binda has faced since taking office after his election in November 2021. In 2022, the state Public Disclosure Commission opened a formal investigation into the councilmember’s campaign finances, based on allegations he used campaign donations on haircuts, dental work, jewelry, airfare to Mexico, electronics, event tickets and rent for his apartment. While he later reimbursed his campaign for those expenditures, he still faces a civil penalty. The PDC is scheduled to hold a hearing on that matter Thursday.
— By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis