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News / Clark County News

2 city councilors seek ethics probe of Harris

By Laura McVicker
Published: September 15, 2010, 12:00am
2 Photos
Vancouver City Council member Jeanne Harris, right, speaks at a town hall meeting in April.
Vancouver City Council member Jeanne Harris, right, speaks at a town hall meeting in April. Mayor Tim Leavitt is at the podium. Photo Gallery

Click here to see a tape of the public comments section of the meeting.

Jeanne Harris later issued an apology. Click HERE for an updated story.

Two Vancouver city councilors want to investigate what they say was misconduct by Councilor Jeanne Harris following an explosive Monday city council meeting, where Harris told another councilor to “get out of here” and “shut up.”

Councilors Jack Burkman and Larry Smith think Harris violated the council’s ethic to treat other councilors with respect and dignity when she yelled at another council member and later stormed out of the meeting. They want to form an ethics committee to investigate the complaint.

Click here to see a tape of the public comments section of the meeting.

The situation started with heated debate over freedom of speech between Harris and a resident who approached the council to question the city’s role in light rail. That argument led to another quarrel with fellow Councilor Jeanne Stewart over what residents can say — and not say — at meetings.

“I just felt that Ms. Harris has pushed more than one time, especially with Ms. Stewart and the mayor,” Smith said. “Her behavior was uncalled for. It went over the line.”

Smith and Burkman sent their request to the mayor’s office Tuesday, asking that an ethics committee be formed to review the complaint. Smith said that a committee of three councilors will review tapes of Monday’s meeting. If they find Harris violated the council’s ethics, they will then decide a reprimand.

“That can range from total discharge to a letter or a verbal admonishment,” Smith said.

When reached by telephone Tuesday afternoon, Harris defended her actions. She said she’s been frustrated with the number of people who show up to the citizens comments portion of council meetings to vent about the council’s past decisions or talk about things not relevant to city business.

“I was very upset with him,” Harris said, referring to David Madore, the resident whom she yelled at when he tried to talk about light rail.

When asked about her squabble with Stewart, all Harris would say was “in every work environment, sometimes there are people you don’t get along with.”

The situation started during the meeting’s citizens comments portion. As soon as Madore, the creator of the website www.notolls.com, approached the podium, Harris became visibly upset, cutting him off after only a few words.

“That’s not something that has to do with city business,” she said.

‘A misconception’

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt chimed in to tell Madore that the issue of light rail now falls in the hands of the C-Tran board and tolling is an issue for the Legislature.

Madore continued to press the issue, singling out specific council members.

“What are you doing?” Harris said angrily. “Don’t address specific council members.”

She became even more agitated when Stewart spoke up to defend Madore, saying she was concerned that it appeared they were censoring Madore.

“Well, of course you’re concerned,” Harris interrupted. “They’re your friends (anti-toll activists).”

Stewart denied they were her friends, and to that, Harris said, “Oh, get out of here.”

Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe then had to step in, saying residents don’t have free reign to talk about anything.

Jeanne Harris later issued an apology. Click HERE for an updated story.

“I think there’s a misconception that Vancouver City Council is a public forum,” he said. “It is not.”

Still, the council allowed Madore three more minutes to talk about whether the city had any power to change light-rail plans.

“You’re done, You’re done,” Harris said loudly, cutting him off. “Thank you for coming.”

Steve Herman of Vancouver came after Madore and also wanted to talk about light rail. Instead, he singled out Harris, saying she wasn’t going to let him discuss the issue.

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“You are very disgraceful,” he said to Harris.

That’s when Harris became explosive, shouting to Leavitt: “Gavel down! Gavel down!” to stop the speaker.

“You’ve been dismissed. You’ve been dismissed,” she shouted to Herman.

When Leavitt didn’t stop the meeting, Harris marched out of the room. She emerged again at meeting’s end when she thought Stewart was talking bad about her. “Shut up,” she said to Stewart.

Tuesday, Smith said he decided to request an ethics committee review because the situation made him uncomfortable. “I just didn’t think it put the council in a very positive light,” he said. “Fighting among ourselves is not a good example.”

Stewart said Tuesday that she was shaken by the incident and that, of all her years of involvement in city affairs, “this is the most bizarre case I’ve ever seen.”

Asked if she felt she and Harris could still work together, Stewart said: “I think inappropriate conduct at our place of business, doing our business for the citizens, can’t be allowed.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Leavitt said the council will decide on the request for review at the Sept. 20 council meeting.