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City council abruptly dismisses planning commissioner

  • Written by Madeline Coats & Bob Kirkpatrick

Nicolas Duchastel was officially removed from his position on the city’s planning commission after nearly two years of challenges between him and members of the Woodinville City Council.

Councilmember Chuck Price made the motion to remove Duchastel during council comments after the action items were already completed in the late-night council meeting Tuesday, June 16. The motion was passed in a 5-2 vote, with Councilmembers Susan Boundy-Sanders and Al Taylor voting in opposition. 

“Over the last few years, on many occasions, the commissioner’s behavior called into question his ability to represent the city with integrity and respect,” Mayor Elaine Cook said. “The majority of council felt that this action was necessary.”

Boundy-Sanders said the “late-night ambush-style dismissal” of Duchastel is a result of “personal vendettas by members of the council majority.” She added that public office is no place for “contrived private grievances” and condemned the action as well as the claims of Duchastel's wrongdoing. 

"In dismissing Commissioner Duchastel, the council majority violated not only this basic stewardship duty but also the Woodinville Municipal Code and court precedent that requires performance-related 'just cause' for removing a commissioner," Boundy-Sanders said. 

Woodinville Municipal Code 2.12.020, paragraph three states "members of the planning commission may be removed by a majority vote of the entire city council for neglect of duty, conflict of interest, malfeasance in office or other just cause, or for unexcused absence for more than three consecutive regular meetings. The decision of the City Council shall be final and there shall be no appeal therefrom."

Just cause, according to City Attorney Jeff Ganson, cannot be based on arbitrary or capricious reasons, but must be for actual reasons bearing on performance of duties. He told council as such in a Jan. 21 meeting after Councilmember Rachel Best-Campbell asked the mayor to add a last-minute item to the agenda to start a conversation to remove Duchastel because she had lost confidence in him. 

During the June 16 meeting, Price said Duchastel “has not represented the city and the community with dignity and proper decorum.” He cited a moment last summer when the commissioner supposedly said something offensive, although no specifics were mentioned. 

Deputy Mayor Gary Harris included various moments when Duchastel allegedly yelled or talked aggressively toward him, adding that he felt threatened it would escalate to a physical altercation. Councilmember Rachel Best-Campbell also noted various problems with the commissioner since she was a private citizen, including filming her son after a confrontation between the two.

Duchastel said he was surprised by the last-minute decision, especially since he claims to have only met Price once or twice. He has still not been told what exactly led to the decision Tuesday. The commissioner said he has hardly interacted with anyone at the city since February, except for a public comment he made to the council in support of the Pride proclamation and the organizing of the Peace March June 7.

Members of the planning commission first heard of Duchastel’s removal at their meeting the next day when Councilmember Best-Campbell announced the decision. Best-Campbell said the council has struggled internally to deal with Duchastel’s behavior. 

She claimed the reasons for dismissal to include harassment of minority business owners, personal attacks on progressive women in leadership, and odd interactions with children in the community. None of these issues were discussed with specifics in the Tuesday council meeting. 

Stephanie Young resigned from the planning commission immediately after the announcement, citing shock over the “blatant slander and obvious animus toward another human in a public forum.” She said the discussion should not have been allowed as a non-agenda item during the council meeting without any opportunity for response or public comment. 

Young said she used to post agendas for the planning commission and city council on social media, but was asked to stop by a council member “because it encouraged people who disagreed with them to come to meetings.” 

“I resigned because I don’t want to be part of a local political system that allows people to feel so unchecked and justified in making such a public assassination,” Young said. “Nor do I want to be part of a political organization that is unwelcoming of public comment.”

Kevin Stradler, chair of the planning commission, had very few words regarding the removal of Duchastel and resignation of Young. He said commissioners come and go, and he does not decide who gets to stay or leave. 

The action to remove Duchastel drew the ire of several area residents who sent scathing emails addressed to city council members and cc’d them to the editor of the Weekly demanding accountability of those casting a yea vote.

A few of the complaints addressed to the council can be read on the Letters to the Editor pages of this edition.

Despite the support of calls to action Duchastel said he currently has no plan to return to his former position having dealt with constant acts of “unfounded personal attacks” to his character the past two years.

Instead, he wants to focus on other ways to give back to his community.

“This is not how local government should work,” Duchastel said. “This just looks like a smaller version of our very divisive and aggressive government that we have right now at the federal level. People locally need to see this and pay attention. Elections matter, please learn about your local elected officials, ask questions and remember to vote.”

Editor’s note: A video of the council vote and dismissal of Duchastel can be viewed on the city website. Go to the Meetings Portal icon, scroll down the City Council tab and look for the June 16 meeting. From there scroll to the Reports of Councilmembers link.

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