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Nov. 28, 2020

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Vancouver City Council dismisses ethics complaint against McEnerny-Ogle

Complaint alleges mayor made false testimony about massage businesses

By , Columbian staff writer

The Vancouver City Council has unanimously dismissed an ethics complaint filed against Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, deciding against referring the claim to the city’s hearing examiner for further investigation.

The complaint alleged that McEnerny-Ogle lied during testimony to the Washington Legislature when she addressed the floor three separate times in 2018 and 2019 about a bill aimed at tightening licensing restrictions at massage establishments.

The complaint was filed by Vancouver resident Tom Bird last month.

McEnerny-Ogle said she stands by her testimony.

Dan Lloyd, Vancouver’s assistant city attorney, said that even if the allegations in the complaint were true, they wouldn’t fall under the scope of a city ethics complaint.

“In essence, Mr. Bird alleges that the statement in the testimony that the mayor made false statements to the Legislature,” Lloyd said. “His allegations, in my view, are out of the scope of Policy 100-36.”

The policy cited by Lloyd, which guides council ethics, deals primarily with avoiding conflicts of interest for personal gain. McEnerny-Ogle’s conduct, he said, was not relevant, even if she did make false statements in Olympia. Lloyd didn’t investigate the truthfulness of the statements themselves — that would have been left to the hearing examiner, if the council decided to pursue an investigation.

The other six members of the city council agreed with Lloyd’s recommendation on Monday, voting unanimously to dismiss the complaint. The mayor recused herself from the discussion.

“I don’t see a violation here, and I wouldn’t support going ahead with the hearings officer and spending city resources,” Councilor Laurie Lebowksy said.

“I’ve been through two of these, and basically when going through them, there was no question that something had happened and something that needed to happen, and I’m not seeing that here,” Councilor Bart Hansen agreed.

Councilor Ty Stober suggested the city revisit its ethics complaint process.

“Does anybody in the world have the ability to bring an ethics complaint?” Stober asked.

McEnerny-Ogle said she stands behind her testimony.

“I was speaking in support of legislation requiring photo identification for massage and reflexologists,” she said in a text message. “Our goal was and is to stop illicit activity.”

The complaint

On Aug. 10, Bird issued a formal written complaint to the city council that McEnerny-Ogle had fabricated or exaggerated incidents and information about Vancouver’s massage parlors in order to shore up support for an anti-human trafficking bill.

The bill — House Bill 2291 — never made it out of committee, though a later version would eventually become state law. It would require photo identification on reflexology and massage therapy licenses.

During her testimony to the House, McEnerny-Ogle cited a 2013 ride-along with the Vancouver Police Department to a massage parlor in her neighborhood.

She told the lawmakers that as soon as she showed up with police, “the individuals inside started running.”

“We were able to go into the business and found several individuals, and we had a problem. We had a license up on the wall, but we had no identification, and we could not ask for that identification,” McEnerny-Ogle said in her testimony.

In his ethics complaint, Bird attached a police report of the incident in question.

The report, filed by the Shumway neighborhood police officer, indicates that the only occupants of the building were two women. One woman ran and was detained, while the other woman produced her visa and passport. The officer didn’t make any arrests.

McEnerny-Ogle later testified in favor of a later version of the legislation, House Bill 1082, which passed and was championed by Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver.

Bird alleges in his complaint that the bill amounts to discrimination against massage therapy businesses.

“If you have to lie to get legislation passed, then the legislation wasn’t needed,” Bird wrote in the document.

In a follow-up email to The Columbian, Bird said he was “angry, and disturbed, but not surprised” by the city council’s decision to dismiss his complaint.