A former Yacolt town clerk’s recent request for a Washington State Auditor’s Office probe into local officials’ alleged unethical behavior is the latest example of the ongoing tensions between leaders, former leaders and residents in the town.
Lynne Oldham accuses town officials of purposefully attempting to humiliate her by including an attachment in the council minutes suggesting she raised her middle finger at the town’s former mayor, Joe Warren. Warren’s mother-in-law, Linda Lesbo, submitted the statement to the council June 20, but did not read the part about the alleged obscene gesture.
Mayor James Weldon denied Oldham’s allegations of wrongdoing. The town removed the attachment from its website in a timely manner, he noted.
The Washington State Auditor’s Office will investigate Oldham’s allegations of unethical behavior this fall, spokeswoman Mindy Chambers said. If it concludes that wrongdoing occurred, the body has no authority under state law to issue sanctions.
Chambers said she had never heard of any complaints filed with the auditor’s office involving an attachment to council minutes.
Oldham is peeved with Yacolt’s town officials, who she believes either didn’t read the minutes or purposely left the statement in to tarnish her reputation. She views the attachment as an ethics breach and is seeking other avenues of recourse, she said.
Oldham vehemently denied that the incident with Warren happened.
“I’m 62 years old,” Oldham said. “I’m not running around flipping people off.”
Warren maintains the obscene gesture happened. However, he too questioned why no one omitted the unread portion of Lesbo’s prepared statement from the attachment included in the minutes.
That the “obscene gesture” portion made it into the minutes raised questions about whether anyone had read the minutes, Warren added.
“At this point, it’s simply a mistake for it to get put in the minutes,” Warren said.
The past eight months have been turbulent at times for the Yacolt town government as it has adjusted to an influx of new faces.
The town’s council has appointed three new members and a mayor. The council turnover resulted from one member dying (Ron Madler), one being named town clerk (Cindy Marbut) and another being appointed mayor (Weldon).
In March, a state audit determined the town violated state laws when it purchased equipment from a town employee without going through the competitive bidding process. Warren resigned a week after the audit’s release, but said his decision to step down after six years as mayor resulted from unspecified health reasons.
Three months later, council members voted 3-2 against a resolution recognizing Warren. Council members who voted against the June 6 resolution said they did so because the town staff had failed to notify them of their intention to honor Warren.
That vote infuriated some town residents, who viewed it as an insult to Warren’s service. As a result, town residents asked officials at the June 20 meeting how they could start a recall petition.
Reading from a prepared statement during the June 20 meeting, Lesbo lambasted council members who voted not to recognize her son-in-law. However, she did not read the final two written sentences referring to Oldham’s obscene gesture.
The item appeared on the attachment following a conversation between Lesbo and Marbut. Lesbo said she held no ill will toward Oldham and was ready to forget about the obscene gesture.
“This is more of a personal thing than town business,” Lesbo said.
She credited Marbut with convincing her to include it in her statement.
“They put it in the minutes and I went ahead and typed it up,” Lesbo said.
Oldham rejected Lesbo’s explanation on how the passage critical of her made its way onto the attachment.
“If you didn’t want it in there, you shouldn’t have printed it,’” Oldham said, before labeling her accuser “cowardly.”
Marbut declined comment for this story.
Weldon responded to Oldham’s concerns in a written email bearing his signature. In the email, he expressed confusion about why Oldham continued to bring up Lesbo’s accusations when she found them so detrimental to her reputation.
Oldham alleged someone besides Weldon wrote the email because he does not have a computer or typewriter. Town officials said Weldon did write the letter, but did not type it.