Washougal council members defend walking out of meeting

Mayor says it fuels speculation about perceived rifts

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: April 5, 2011, 9:56 PM

 

One day after they walked out of a Washougal City Council meeting, council members Jon Russell and Michael Delavar defended their decision as a move to protect the voice of two fellow members who were absent.

But Mayor Sean Guard and other council members in attendance slammed Russell and Delavar’s walkout, saying it gave local residents ammunition to criticize perceived rifts in Washougal’s city government.

“I’m personally embarrassed for the city,” council member Paul Greenlee said.

Russell and Delavar’s walkout came after the Washougal council voted 3-2 to form a committee to review the city’s ethics policy and resulted in the abrupt end of the council meeting. Their sudden departure left only three council members present — one less than the minimum number for the seven-person council to hold a public meeting.

Council members Jennifer McDaniel and Dave Shoemaker missed Monday’s meeting due to excused absences.

Delavar called the decision to hold the vote with only five members present a “curious” one.

“I think that would be a gross injustice to those council members for them to not have their voices heard,” Delavar said.

Delavar supported a review of the city’s ethics policies, he said, but had concerns about the committee’s ultimate function.

“It could easily be used as a tool for political maneuvering rather than investigating ethics,” Delavar said.

The committee would evaluate the city’s ethics policy and report back to the council on whether changes are needed, Guard responded.

Russell also criticized Guard’s decision to bring up the subject of ethics and then allow the council to vote on it. The council has rules in place for committee formations to start with the appointments committee, Russell said. Russell, McDaniel and Guard sit on the appointments committee.

“The disagreement (Monday) night was more about process,” Russell said. He expected the council would talk about the meeting during the next council workshop and “get back on track.”

Monday night’s episode highlights a growing disconnect between Guard and Russell about what comments are appropriate for council members to post online.

Russell’s recent remarks on his own blog and newspaper website forums criticizing the administration and other council members necessitated a vote on the formation of an ethics committee, Guard said. Russell apologized in an open letter to the mayor last month for comments made on his Facebook page and blog.

That McDaniel and Shoemaker were absent did not factor into the decision to address ethics issues Monday, the mayor added.

“Given the circumstances of the last few weeks, I chose to bring this forward sooner rather than later,” Guard said, noting he had no control of council members’ vacation plans.

Russell described the mayor’s decision to “cram” the committee vote into Monday’s meeting as “unfortunate but it’s politics.”

The council’s vote against the appointments committee selecting ethics committee members marked the last straw, Russell said. Russell and Delavar walked out of the council chambers in silence soon after.

Council member Molly Coston introduced the motion to have the appointments committee select the members of the ethics committee as a way of “bringing balance to the situation,” she said. However, she later voted against it because Russell refused to recuse himself from the appointments committee.

“Jon’s ego wouldn’t let him recuse himself,” Guard said.

Told of Guard’s comment, Russell responded, “That’s too bad. That kind of stuff doesn’t need to be said.”

Forming an ethics committee was not a pressing matter, when compared to other issues like unemployment and economic concerns facing the city, Russell said. He plans to continue to blog when “things get to the boiling point and I feel like the public needs to know about it.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517, or ray.legendre @col_smallcities