Vancouver City Councilor Jeanne Harris returns, apologizes again for behavior

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: October 25, 2010, 9:48 PM

 
photoJeanne Harris

Embattled Vancouver City Councilor Jeanne Harris returned to the council Monday after a month overseas, and again expressed remorse for her part in a volatile Sept. 13 city council meeting.

Harris paused before citizen communications to say that her time in Germany, on a privately-funded John Jay McCloy fellowship, “also gave me time to think about what happened.

“Absolutely, there is no excuse for my behavior that night,” she said. “What happened was very inappropriate for an elected official.”

On Sept. 13, Harris lost her patience with two anti-tolling and anti-light rail speakers, telling Mayor Tim Leavitt to “gavel down” one man, and left the council chambers when the mayor did not do so. She and Councilor Jeanne Stewart also exchanged words, with Harris ultimately telling her to “shut up.” The incident was also captured on video and posted on YouTube, where it has garnered national news attention and more than 119,000 views as of Monday night.

Harris’ trip meant that she missed the resulting barrage of residents calling for her resignation or ouster from the city council, and an ethics investigation by three other city councilors that led to her removal from all her council-appointed boards and commissions until 2012.

Harris, 54, is the longest-serving member of the city council, and was to chair the high-profile C-Tran and Regional Transportation Council boards next year. The city attorney told the ethics committee that Harris would have had to break a law to be removed from her seat, which she has held for 14 years.

She apologized publicly by e-mail twice during her trip; Monday marked her first opportunity to say it in person.

“I missed my city,” Harris said. “I’m glad to be back.”

When Harris arrived for a 3 p.m. workshop, she was greeted with a handshake from Stewart and a pat on the back from Councilor Larry Smith, who chaired the ethics investigation against her. The city council, when it approved the ethics sanctions against Harris, expressed a desire to move on from the events of that night.

Speaking after Harris’ apology, Leavitt welcomed her home.

“You are our most experienced council member and a critical component to what we’re trying to do,” the mayor said.

About a dozen people gathered at City Hall to address the council, but just one — Debbie Peterson, a frequent light rail, Columbia River Crossing and local government critic — spoke about Harris’ return.

Peterson said she has been busy and was unable to send out an “e-mail blast” to bring people to the meeting to chastise Harris for what she called a superior attitude that is endemic to many politicians.

“Ms. Harris has gotten off the hook tonight,” she said. “She’s promised she’s never going to do it again. I can say, ‘We’ll be watching.’ ”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.