Woodland mayor’s comments about city councilors widen rift

They say his words during assessment border on slander

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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The perpetually chilly relationship between Woodland Mayor Chuck Blum and the city’s council is on the verge of becoming nonexistent, council members warned this week, after incendiary comments Blum made about them during an assessment became public.

Blum’s comments about individual council members were included in an organizational assessment performed by Proth-man, an Issaquah-based company that specializes in helping governments find permanent and interim employees. The city council hired Prothman to determine whether it would be wise to hire a city administrator.

Multiple council members described Blum’s comments as bordering on slander. None indicated they would take legal action against him, however.

“It made the whole group of us look like jerks, and it’s awful,” said council member Marilee McCall, who Blum described as sending the “nastiest, demanding e-mails” to him. McCall said Blum’s depiction of her was false.

Prothman’s report, which was compiled through reviews of city documents and interviews of city employees and council members, not only called for the city to hire an administrator but also cited numerous areas of Blum’s administration that needed improvement, including capital project planning, annual performance reviews and its relationship with the council.

Blum responded to Prothman’s critiques by calling George Prothman a “headhunter” and denying that he had met with the company’s representatives on two occasions, as their report stated. He said he met with Greg Prothman but did not discuss official city business. Prothman wrote that he met with the mayor in his office and at Los Pepe’s restaurant in Woodland.

“It was not a comprehensive study of how this city is run,” Blum said in an interview this week.

Council members said they believed Blum misguidedly believed Prothman’s assessment had been directed toward him. As such, Blum turned his ire toward them rather than addressing each item listed as needing improvement, the council members added.

When interviewed this week, Blum said he had responded to critiques and questioned why the focus on the assessment centered around his comments about council members.

“We’re at odds with one another,” the mayor conceded. “They want to go in one direction. I feel it’s prudent to go in a different direction than they suggested.”

Blum disagreed with the council spending $20,000 on the assessment. He added that, when he took office, he invited council members to have a weekly meeting with him, but they refused.

Blum’s comments in the Prothman report exemplified why forging a dialogue with the mayor is so difficult, council members said.

“This is soap opera stuff,” said council member Benjamin Fredericks, whom Blum described as “very full of himself” and loving to “grandstand.”

Fredericks expressed disappointment that Blum’s playing the role of a “victim” slowed the city’s progress. “Unfortunately, for the next eight months, we’re just treading water,” Fredericks said, referring to the fact that Blum will be up for re-election in November.

Blum’s comments were shocking and hurtful, said Aaron Christopherson, the council’s youngest member.

The mayor said Christopherson followed McCall around “like a puppy” and had once asked him to falsify a loan application. Christopherson clarified that he asked the mayor to verify his status as a council member, in order for him to buy a house.

“To say I asked him to falsify documents is untrue and it’s actually quite hurtful,” Christopherson said, adding he would continue to respect the mayor and love him as a human being.

But he had doubts about the council’s ability to move forward.

“The relationship between the mayor and council. … I don’t know if it will ever improve,” Christopherson said. “I don’t think it will.”

Fellow council member Al Swindell, who avoided the brunt of Blum’s criticism, denounced the mayor’s comments.

“I hope he regrets what he wrote,” Swindell said. “It does nothing to move the agenda forward. It’s a hateful thing.”

Attempts to contact council member Susan Humbyrd were unsuccessful.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4536 or ray.legendre@columbian.com.