by Jeff Switzer
What began as part of a community cleanup project has brought the eyes of the nation to the Bothell City Council's doorstep.
On Feb. 24, 14-year-old Matthew Wolff and 10 members of the Alderwood Manor Scout troop were digging weeds and clearing garbage in a city-owned vacant lot when Wolff found four gold coins, wrapped in leather, inside a mason jar. Rather than keep them for himself, Wolff turned them in to the Bothell police.
The issue that has the city's phone ringing off of the hook is that even if nobody claims the coins, Wolff can't get them back: the city attorney says the scout was an agent of the city working side-by-side with city employees on a city-supervised project on city property when he found them. And that, according to the city attorney, means that under state law, Wolff doesn't get to keep the coins.
The NBC "Today" show and CNN have now featured Wolff's story. Ken Schram, a host on Seattle's KOMO Radio, urged listeners on Mar. 5 to call Bothell City Manager Richard Kirkwood if they thought it was unfair that the city wouldn't let Wolff keep the coins he found. Schram's plea brought 400 mostly angry calls to Bothell's Assistant City Manager Manny Ocampo, who had taken over in Kirkwood's absence.
Many people see it as "the Boy Scout found the coins and now the city is taking them away."
"Nothing could be further from the truth," said Ocampo. "The city manager's and the city council's direction is to provide value to the Boy Scouts and recognize the honesty and integrity of this young man."
The city is currently looking at a few alternatives, the first of which is donating them to the Bothell museum, acknowledging the Boy Scouts, and seeing that the coins have ongoing value not only to them, but also to the city.
A second alternative would be to sell the coins and place the expected $2,000 in an account for the scouts to draw from for future community projects.
The issue should be resolved at the Bothell City Council meeting Mar. 11 at 6 p.m., where Wolff is expected to testify. The council will also be considering an ordinance which would allow city volunteers to keep unclaimed items they find on city property, though in Wolff's case, it's a day late and a dollar short and likely wouldn't apply retroactively.