Wood Questions Council Conduct
The Dalles Mayor Steve Lawrence was not present at Monday’s council meeting, but that did not keep resident Chip Wood from admonishing the elected body for its actions in late February.
Tim McGlothlin, acting mayor, started the March 13 session by telling the audience that Lawrence was ill and would not be in attendance.
During the audience participation portion of the meeting, Wood addressed the council about their behavior at the Feb. 26 open hearing to consider disciplinary action against Councilor Darcy Long Curtiss.
The public was not allowed comment during the hearing.
“You cast a pall over your credibility when you decided to censure Councilor Long-Curtiss,” Wood said.
“All council people should be able to speak their mind. You, for too long, have had an image of things happening in a back room.”
He was referencing Long-Curtiss’ complaints that decisions were being made by the council out of the public eye.
Wood asked why the council had considered action against Long-Curtiss but not against Councilor Taner Elliott, who was found last year to have violated two state conflict of interest laws and two for misuse of a public office.
“He had violations, and no one censured him,” said Wood.
He filed the complaint that led to the 2017 finding against Elliott by the Oregon Ethics Commission. Wood told the council Monday they were complicit in the violations because they had voted for policies that benefitted Elliott’s development on Thompson Street.
Wood questioned why the council had chosen to go after Long-Curtiss for giving her opinion on conduct by the mayor, Elliott and Councilor Linda Miller, as well as a member of the Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Committee.
Long-Curtiss claimed these officials were hostile to the development plans of Michael Leash, who wants to put a national brand hotel at First and Union streets, and James Martin, owner of Sunshine Mill, during his renegotiation of a financial contract with urban renewal.
Wood also questioned why the council had been silent on Lawrence’s admission at the Feb. 26 hearing that he had fabricated the reason for Long-Curtiss to come to city hall earlier that month so that he could address her perceived code of conduct violations.
Long-Curtiss said at the hearing that the mayor told her their conversation would be about “homelessness and tourism.”
She said the mayor had brought her into a room with a closed door and she perceived his actions and words as threatening. She said Daniel Hunter, the city’s human resource director, had been present, which she felt was intended to further intimidate her.
Long-Curtiss said she refused to comply with the mayor’s demands that she quit speaking out about perceived wrongdoing.
Elliott then requested action against her. He presented as evidence of the need for censure or reprimand a Facebook post suggesting the council was not operating in a transparent manner, an internal emails dispute between her and Elliott involving Leash’s plans, and comments she made in a Chronicle article.
Wood asked how the complaint lodged against Long-Curtiss by the mayor had transferred to Elliott for presentation without some type of secret discussion.
Bradley Timmons, attorney for Long-Curtiss, told the council Feb. 26 that they would be violating her First Amendment right of free speech if they censured her or reprimanded her.
He said the city was not allowed by the 14th Amendment to enact a code that prohibited councilors from making negative statements about others who served, or their actions, if that code violated free speech.
At the advice of Gene Parker, city attorney, the council did not pursue action. He asked for more time to review the matter upon the advice of the city’s insurance company, which had urged “caution” due to the potential for a constitutional challenge.
Councilors Russ Brown and Linda Miller criticized Long-Curtiss Feb. 26 for statements she had made.
No one on the council addressed the mayor’s admission of fabricating the reason for his requested meeting with Long-Curtiss. There was also no response from the council to Woods’ accusations.