City Council works to end bullying among council members

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman, News Writer

Last week’s City Council meeting highlighted the personal conflicts that often arise between council members — even as the council sought to end that problem by adding a rule to the council’s Code of Ethics that would prohibit bullying among council members.

Deputy Mayor Liz Aspen initiated the discussion after another council member sent an unflattering email to Aspen, Councilmember Paulette Bauman and several citizen groups.

Aspen said the email is one of many examples of how members of the council engage in workplace bullying, which "is when one person or group of people in a workplace single out another person for unreasonable, embarrassing or intimidating treatment."

"We need to write into our council Code of Ethics language to prevent acceptance of behavior using the Internet that undermines the work of the council and uses the process that we have in place to hold council members accountable if they violate this Code," Aspen said.

The council’s Rules of Procedure already discourage "personal insults, slanderous remarks and ad hominem attacks with respect to other city officials and employees," but nothing in the Code of Ethics provides a way to enforce that.

Although the council members carefully avoided saying whose actions necessitated the changes to the Code of Ethics, the discussion centered around one council member who sent the bullying email and who "blogs consistently on the Patch," according to Bauman.

Mayor Bernie Talmas and Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders argued that because the email in question discussed campaigns, it would not fall under the council’s Code of Ethics anyway.

"Under state law, there is a distinction between candidate behavior and legislator behavior," Boundy-Sanders said. "There would be no support in any court for muzzling candidates from speaking about campaign issues. So, my concern being that the particular event that spurred this has flaws in its conception."

Greg Rubestello, city attorney for Woodinville, also pointed out that whatever rules the council adopts, it would need to make sure they don’t "step on anybody’s free speech rights" during campaigns.

"It is shameful that leaders in our community are engaging in this kind of behavior. I understand freedom of speech, for our citizens to express themselves even if it is negative, and I support that," Bauman said. "In the Code, council members need to be held to a higher standard ... We will never always agree, but we need to be able to conduct city business without these attacks that have nothing to do with the issues."

Still, the email came up frequently in the discussion. Bauman said it used "the b-word" and the "evil" about other councilmembers and a citizen.

"Nasty politics doesn’t have to happen in our city," she said. "Certainly, I think we’ve all gotten used to that, but why does it need to happen here?"

Councilmember Art Pregler said he thought the Code of Ethics and Rules of Procedure already deal with this issue, and that creating a new rule about bullying would lead to confusion about whether someone had been acting as a public official — in which case their behavior could be enforced under the Code of Ethics — or as part of a campaign.

Bauman also suggested the council develop procedures for removing a mayor and deputy mayor from their positions (although not from the council.) Under state law, the mayor is elected by the other council members for a two-year term.

"There comes a point in time when the leaders of this community, if they are not upholding the majority and the consensus and the collaboration of this community ... if they are not representing the majority of this council, then I think there needs to be a mechanism to remove — unappoint — our mayor and deputy mayor," she said.

The council passed the amended motion, which directed city staff to draft language in the Code of Ethics to address proper decorum in all forms of communication, workplace bullying, procedures for removing the mayor and deputy mayor, and holding council members responsible for factual accuracy.

Aspen, Bauman, and councilmembers Les Rubstello and Scott Hageman  voted for the motion. Talmas, Boundy-Sanders and Pregler voted against it.

Earlier in the meeting, the council discussed with BLRB Architects plans to rehabilitate the Old Woodinville Schoolhouse. After seeking public opinion for several years about how to reuse the building, the architects narrowed the options down to two: a wine incubator or a cultural and art center.

The wine incubator would provide a space for small wineries, breweries and distilleries to open tasting rooms and begin to draw some customers.

Eventually, as they became more financially viable, they would be able to move into their own spaces.

The cultural and art center would have a black box theater on the second floor, with dressing rooms, storage, a lobby and concession stand.

The first floor could have restaurants, art galleries and retail, and the basement could hold offices for the theater or other nonprofits, or a bar or club.

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