Washougal City Councilmen Michael Delavar and Jon Russell quietly left the council chambers at City Hall last night, after disagreeing with the attempt to name members to a council ethics committee.
Their departure resulted in there being a lack of a quorum for the meeting to continue. Mayor Sean Guard and council members Molly Coston, Paul Greenlee and Rod Morris remained. Dave Shoemaker and Jennifer McDaniel had excused absences.
Earlier in the meeting, Guard reminded council during the mayor’s report that he had recently brought up the issue of establishing a committee during a council workshop. The committee would work with Human Resources Director Jeanette Cefalo, to determine if the city’s ethics policies are adequate.
While mentioning “acrimony in today’s political world,” Guard referred to the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona, as well as a shooting at a school board meeting in Florida and televised outbursts of members of Congress and at City Council meetings in the area.
“I believe, as elected officials, our public demands more of us,” Guard read from a written statement. “I believe, as our current ethics policy says, that we should conduct ourselves with a high degree of honesty, fairness, decorum and professionalism.
“If we are not able to exhibit even that small amount of professionalism, then I believe that there should be consequences for both our actions and our words,” he added.
Guard said he had been told by Delavar and Russell that the council does not need an ethics review.
“Clearly, some of the comments over the last two weeks show something different,” Guard said. “I don’t want to see even another week go by without this council deciding if they have had enough of these instances and are willing to do something to begin holding ourselves accountable.”
After the meeting, Guard said in an email that Russell made claims on blogs and the Post-Record website that the mayor had lied about the March 14 meeting with “E” Street merchants and used a state law to keep council members from attending.
“Both are untrue, and I believe that he knew that at the time he made the accusations,” Guard said. “If the accusations were true, why would you not want ethics policies that would hold me accountable for such a thing? I would hope we would be able to control and/or police our actions. We have the rules in place for employees.”
The council’s public works committee, consisting of Coston, Greenlee and Morris, attended the merchants meeting.
During last night’s council meeting, Russell said an appointment committee consisting of him, Guard and McDaniel could meet anytime to discuss appointments to an ethics committee.
“It needs the vote of the full council,” Russell said.
After the meeting, he said in an email he left the meeting early because he wanted the discussion and potential vote about the ethics committee to include the input of Shoemaker and McDaniel.
“We wrote into law a couple of months ago, ‘council committees shall be nominated by the appointment committee and confirmed by the council as a whole,'” Russell said. “We have a process in place to give everyone a voice when it comes to committee assignments. I think the disagreement at this point is about process. We will come back together on Monday and talk it over.”
After last night’s meeting, Delavar said in an email he was uncomfortable with the appearance of an unannounced vote on the creation of an ethics committee.
“It was not on the agenda, and I do not believe that it was necessary to hurry the vote,” he said.
“There was also the absence of two council members who should be weighing in on this issue.
“I could not support the rush to deciding tonight which members would constitute the ethics committee,” Delavar added. “I hope that the mayor does stand by his statement that he wishes for the council to determine the makeup of the committee.”
Before Delavar and Russell left, Greenlee proposed that Coston serve as a member of the ethics committee.
Greenlee later commented by phone about the early exits.
“I thought it was stunning the fact they could not get their own way, so they walked out,” Greenlee said. “I am flabbergasted and embarrassed for the city.”
Morris said he was embarrassed and disappointed.
“There is a lot of tension at any given meeting,” he added.
The next workshop will be held Monday, at 6 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St.