Battle Ground looks to put bad blood behind it

Defeat of three incumbents a wake-up call, official says

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Now that three Battle Ground council members have lost bids for re-election, the city is looking to put some of the bad blood behind it.

Councilmen Mike Ciraulo and Alex Reinhold were defeated Tuesday, along with Mayor Lisa Walters, who lost her Position 5 council seat. (In Battle Ground, the council members elect the mayor from their own ranks).

While councilors say the loss of three long-serving members will be a blow to Battle Ground's institutional memory, it may also do something else — calm the waters. For months, the council has been marked by accusations, outbursts and ethics complaints.

"If people want to stay in politics, it better (die down)," Deputy Mayor Shane Bowman said Wednesday. "The people of Battle Ground have spoken. They'll vote you out of office."

The latest rancor began in September, when Ciraulo and Councilman Adrian Cortes authored a newspaper column chastising colleagues for running afoul of state rules designed to ensure transparency. The column was loudly denounced by council members Philip Johnson and Reinhold, who considered their colleagues' claims to be spurious.

Complaint withdrawn

Dividing lines were being fortified as late as Monday's city council meeting, where Walters announced an ethics complaint had been filed against a city councilor.

Reinhold filed the complaint against Ciraulo. The impetus for the complaint stemmed from a Sept. 14 campaign fundraiser for Ciraulo — a poker tournament, held at a closed restaurant — that some council members said violated rules on gambling and fundraising.

The Washington State Gambling Commission looked into the matter and, last month, issued a verbal warning to the tournament's organizers. Ciraulo's attorney, Bradley Andersen, wrote a letter to the city last month, arguing that the ethics complaint lacked any merit.

Although neither Ciraulo nor his attorney was provided with the actual charge, Andersen's letter disputed that any gambling took place because no wagers were made at the tournament.

With the election over, and both Reinhold and Ciraulo ousted, the complaint becomes moot. Reinhold on Wednesday announced his intent to withdraw the complaint in an email to council members.

"At this point there is no need to go with the ethics complaint I submitted," Reinhold wrote in his email. "But I would recommend that at some point the council look at the rules and make them a lot clearer than they are now."

Ciraulo on Wednesday called the complaint "politically motivated."

Political posturing will end, Bowman vowed, now that the election cycle is over. He's poised to become mayor next year, when Walters leaves the council. He said it's time for council members to focus on city issues.

Even though Ciraulo won't be on the city council next year, he agreed.

"My hope and desire for the city is (the antagonism) will no longer continue," he said. "With some fresh blood on council, hopefully that happens."