Monday, February 17, 2020
Feb. 17, 2020

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Harris apologizes, but is angered by councilors’ complaint

She told fellow city councilor to 'shut up' at public meeting

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Two days after she told another Vancouver City Council member at a public meeting to “get out of here” and “shut up,” Councilor Jeanne Harris publicly apologized.

She said Wednesday in a statement that she had “behaved in a manner that is not normal for me,” and wished to apologize to the council, the mayor and the public.

“I have not been asked to do this; I know that I was not being my usual self and recognize that I have disappointed not only myself but many others as well,” Harris said in her statement.

“I appreciate the support and confidence that you have shown me in the past and will work hard to rebuild your trust in me in the future,” she added.

Her apology was the latest wrinkle following Monday’s city council meeting.

The situation started when Harris got into a heated debate with a resident who approached the council to question light rail during the council’s public comment period. She became more agitated when Councilor Jeanne Stewart stood up for the man. It devolved when she told Stewart to “get out of here,” and later shouted at Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt to “gavel down” the next speaker, who had confronted Harris.

She then left the meeting, later returning to confront Stewart and telling her to “shut up.”

Tuesday afternoon, two councilors, Jack Burkman and Larry Smith, sent a request to the mayor’s office asking for an ethics committee to be formed to investigate the situation. They say Harris violated the council ethic to treat councilors with respect and dignity.

Later that evening, Harris wrote an e-mail to the council, griping that she hadn’t been personally informed of the complaint before councilors sent out a press release in the late afternoon.

Harris said in an e-mail to the council that she learned about the complaint from a voice mail message from a Columbian reporter.

“This is rash and uncalled for,” she wrote. “Especially to send out a press release without talking to me first and hearing my side of the story … I take this allegation as a very serious matter and yet no one had the courtesy to call me?”

In her e-mail, Harris asked the council to drop the complaint. She also asked for an apology and said she won’t be at the Sept. 20 meeting, when the council is supposed to decide on whether to form an ethics committee to investigate the complaint. She said that she will be at a fellowship.

In response, Leavitt said Wednesday he appreciated Harris’ apology, but couldn’t drop the complaint. Council code mandates that a subcommittee investigate every complaint, he said.

“It’s apparent to me that Councilwoman Harris regrets her actions Monday night,” he said. “She’s apologetic about it and I accept her apology.”

“There are times when we all make mistakes and blow a gasket and unfortunately for Ms. Harris this happened when the cameras were rolling,” he added.

As for not informing her of the complaint, Leavitt said he tried to reach Harris on Tuesday afternoon between her meetings and couldn’t.

When reached by telephone Wednesday, Stewart said she didn’t want to comment on Harris’ apology. She did, however, say she thought Harris’ e-mail to council detracted from the issue. “In our course of council business, we are obligated to conduct ourselves professionally,” she said. “That’s the mandatory thing that needs to be done here. All this other stuff is using up unnecessary energy.”

Leavitt, who was elected as mayor last fall, said he plans to use Monday’s meeting as a learning tool on how to conduct future meetings. He admits he may have been too lenient in allowing the meeting to continue amid the arguments.

“In hindsight, if I could have done it again, I probably would have adjourned the meeting for a few minutes to allow folks to settle down,” he said.

“I’m in the process of evaluating how lenient I’m going to be,” he added.

Leavitt said the council will still move forward at the Sept. 20 meeting to form the ethics committee regardless of whether Harris attends.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.

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