Kent Mayor Cooke fails to pay condo assessment fee

A Meridian Valley Country Club condo association says it plans to sue Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke for unpaid assessment fees. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
A Meridian Valley Country Club condo association says it plans to sue Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke for unpaid assessment fees.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

A Meridian Valley Country Club condo association plans to sue Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke for failing to pay a condo assessment fee of $4,071 to paint the complex.

The Meridian Valley Condo Five Association sent notice to Cooke on May 1 that her payment is 30 days late and that it plans to sue Cooke in order to get the payment, according to documents provided to the Kent Reporter. The complex sits along the fifth fairway of the Meridian Valley Country Club on the East Hill.

"She's basically walked away from her financial obligations," said Susan St. Clair, a condo owner in the six-unit complex and spokeswoman for the association, during a phone interview. "She's not returned any calls or messages. She doesn't say anything."

Cooke, in a Tuesday interview at the mayor's office, said she hadn't received any notices, calls or memos from the association. When shown a copy of a May 4 memo that said the association planned to take legal action, Cooke said she had only one thing to say.

"No comment," the mayor said as she declined to answer any further questions about the dispute.

Cooke said prior to ending the interview that she hadn't paid the assessment fee.

Cooke is in the first year of her third four-year term as mayor. She is paid an annual salary of $102,000.

St. Clair said she decided on behalf of the association to go public with Cooke's failure to pay.

"I think people should know that this woman is managing a $200 million (city) budget and she can't even manage her own personal finances," St. Clair said. "She had committed to the painting and the lighting last year."

The mayor presents the city budget to the City Council but the council oversees and adopts the budget, said Council President Dana Ralph in response to whether Cooke's personal financial issues could impact the city.

"Her personal business is her personal business at this point," Ralph said during a phone interview. "It has no impact on the financial health of the city."

As far as the condo fee, Cooke made a motion at the April 19, 2012 homeowners association meeting that each homeowner would be assessed their portion of the painting cost at the time of the painting, according to an April 24 memo to Cooke. The memo also stated that Cooke signed a sheet this past March 3 that the fee for the painting cost would be due April 1 along with the first 2014 quarterly dues payment of $750.

Cooke said she paid the dues fee of $750. St. Clair confirmed that Cooke had paid that amount.

Another memo sent by the association describes that the other five owners must pay the $1,067 to cover the lack of payment by Cooke. That amount includes the painting as well as new fees for lighting and legal costs. St.Clair said the legal costs were for rewriting the association's rules and regulations so if anyone leaves without paying fees or goes through a bankruptcy, the association is first in line for payments.

"We'll pay it but we will take legal steps to get the money because she committed to it last year," St. Clair said.

It's unfair to the other condo owners that Cooke didn't pay her assessment, said St. Clair, who recently moved into the complex after purchasing a condo in December.

"We have a neighbor in his 80s and a couple in their 90s and I feel bad for these people because she's dumping her financial obligations on all of us and trying to get away scot-free and I just think it's wrong," St. Clair said.

Cooke previously served as president of the condo association. The condos were built in the 1970s.

"I expect payment and don't want to be bullied around because she doesn't want to pay her assessment," St.Clair said.

Cooke said during a phone interview last week about the April 24 memo that she had moved out of the condo and now lives with her mother in Kent. She said she had received foreclosure warnings from the bank but not a final notice.

The mayor said she has had to start over financially since her husband David Cooke committed suicide in June 2009. Cooke found out after her husband's death that he listed their possessions only in his name, including the condo that he used as leverage for his Kent business ESP Printing, Inc. Cooke thought she owned part of the business but did not.

ESP Printing filed chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 2009 with debt of $6.45 million, including $4.7 million to HomeStreet Bank. McCallum Print Group bought the business in November 2009 for $3.3 million with all of that money used to pay off debt.

Suzette Cooke said she filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2011 because of the high costs of dealing with her husband's estate. David Cooke did not have a will. She said her mother lost money in the printing company as well.

According to U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents, Suzette Cooke had 11 creditors, including five banks, two attorneys, a dentist and the estate of David Cooke.

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