Special Washougal City Council meeting causes concerns

Forum for all community organizations will be held Thursday

The scheduling of a special Washougal City Council meeting has generated interest as well as questions about transparency.

The meeting, which will be held Thursday, at 7 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St., is sponsored by council members Connie Jo Freeman, Jon Russell, Caryn Plinski and Jennifer McDaniel.

In an email sent by Russell May 9, the meeting was described as a “faith-based public forum,” involving faith-based outreach organizations and non-profit services.

“In a year when budgets are tight, unemployment is high and state mandates drive up the cost of living, faith based outreach organizations and non-profit services in Washougal are helping our city in many different ways,” he wrote in an email to City Council members, as well as Mayor Sean Guard, City Administrator David Scott and City Finance Director Jennifer Forsberg.

The purpose of the special meeting, according to Russell, is to “share ideas and concerns to explore if/how the city and the organizations can support one another.”

Guard emphasized in a May 11 email that the meeting will be open to all community organizations, not just faith-based and non-profit groups. He included school organizations and service clubs such as the Soroptimists, Garden Club, Rotary and Lions clubs, as examples.

“As we started last year through our strategic planning outreach efforts, we continue to meet with all community organizations and I am encouraged to see that the council appears to be in agreement that these efforts are worthwhile to our community,” Guard said.

During the council workshop last night, John Wagoner, of Washougal, questioned the transparency of how the meeting was planned, since it involved a quorum of four council members.

Scott said the process was “technically legal.”

“The mayor or a majority [of council members] can call a special meeting,” he said.

Russell and McDaniel were not in attendance at the workshop.

Russell said by phone last night, he needed three other council members to approve the press release and establish a meeting.

“We were approached by some pastors regarding how they could serve the city,” Russell said. “They wanted to have a dialogue with the city in a formal setting about how the congregations can meet some of the needs we have. We have opened it up to other non-profits.

“I think that’s a good dialogue to have,” he added. “Some of the churches have already stepped up. The upkeep of our parks is definitely something we used volunteers for in the past. Is there a way we can look at non-profits to ‘adopt’ a sidewalk or help with the beautification of the city?”

Councilman Paul Greenlee said he was “stunned and amazed” when he received the email about the special meeting.

“I have no idea what ‘faith-based’ actually means,” he said. “We are treading dangerous waters regarding who is excluded and who is included.

“All organizations interested in providing community service should attend,” Greenlee added.

Guard restated that “everyone is invited” to the special meeting.

“The meeting could be a positive thing,” he added.

As one of the newer council members, Freeman said she was “rather shocked” that the scheduling of the meeting has caused such a problem.

“Caryn and I are like deer in the headlights,” she said.

Freeman was approached by Bethel Community Church Pastor Rich Blum, who asked her how the local congregations could serve the city.

Councilman Dave Shoemaker requested that the rules of council be reviewed at a future workshop.

An official notice from the city about the special meeting is expected to be released today.

“We followed the law that has been set out before us to establish a special council meeting,” Russell said by phone. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for dialogue between non-profit leaders, the public and City Council. We can accomplish things together.

“It would be no different if there was going to be a town hall meeting, set by four council members,” he added. “We are just doing it at City Hall.”