1-man jury Councilman Goering declares colleague guilty
MONROE - To many of her supporters, City Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback’s relationship with the public has helped keep residents informed, bridging the gap between members of the council and the residents they serve.
But Cudaback’s fellow Councilmen Kurt Goering and Kevin Hanford see her as a threat to city business — and they have leveled what appears to be a frivolous ethics complaint against her.
“It reads to me like a political document,” said Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, an expert advocacy group on the state’s Open Public Meetings Act. “It’s intended to politically embarrass Patsy and not to remedy any actual wrong.”
The Tribune gave Nixon a copy of the complaint and read to him over the phone the private Facebook message that Goering says shows Cudaback violating the law by revealing confidential city information discussed in executive session.
In a prepared statement, Goering read the formal complaint into the record at the Oct. 16 City Council meeting.
“It should be noted that the subject matter disclosed in Council member Cudaback’s unauthorized action is irrelevant to tonight’s complaint, as is the level of detail that was inappropriately disclosed,” the complaint says. It goes on to say: “The rules apply to everyone regardless of how long they have served or their gender.”
Goering has already decided she is guilty of violating the law and wants a public apology from Cudaback, a formal censure to be drafted and included in her official public record and for her to pay a $500 civil fine.
Cudaback said last week’s council meeting marked the first time she’s publicly heard what the complaint was about and still did not have the complaint in writing.
“What is the instance, can that not be addressed here?” she said. “I would like the specific complaint in writing and a week in order to respond. I think it’s important to give me an opportunity to respond.”
Tony Balk, a former council member, was in the audience during the reading of Goering’s complaint and said: “It sounded like a southern lynching to have the accusation and the sentence all in one motion.”
While Goering wouldn’t reveal his evidence against Cudaback, the Tribune has obtained the private Facebook message that prompted Goering’s complaint.
“I have a really hard time believing a judge or jury would find (Cudaback) guilty of violating (the law). It’s a stretch,” Nixon said last week.
The primary purpose of the law, he said, is to make it illegal for government officials to act upon confidential information for the purpose of personal gain, such as taking advantage of confidential knowledge of the price of real estate for personal profit.
“She didn’t gain anything from it, no one was hurt, it simply stated” the topic of an executive session, Nixon said.
The private Facebook message at issue involves an April conversation between Cudaback and resident Debra Kolrud.
Cudaback tells Kolrud the specific topic the council discussed during an April 3 executive session.
City councils can go into closed-door executive sessions to discuss certain topics as defined by state law and such topics include the acquisition of real estate or potential litigation.
The law requires the council to disclose the topic to be discussed, how much time the council is expected to be in executive session and if any action is expected afterward. Any action would have to occur in open session.
Cudaback wrote to Kolrud: “One of the items discussed was the legal requirements of recording and approving minutes (so obviously I cannot discuss what was said in executive session) but I would like to talk to you about the issue in person with Gene Brazel present also.”
Brazel is the city administrator.
Because there is no pending litigation on this matter, Kolrud balked at the council’s decision to have the discussion behind closed doors.
“To learn the council went behind closed door under the disguise of ‘potential litigation’ to discuss these meeting minutes not being promptly recorded shows the complete lack of representation this council has to the people of this community,” Kolrud wrote.
According to Goering, anything discussed in executive session should remain confidential. Nixon said just because something is discussed in executive session doesn’t mean it’s confidential.
Kolrud and other members of the community showed up in droves not only to support Cudaback, but defend her claim that she has done nothing wrong.
Every seat in the council’s chamber was filled with either a public official or a supporter of Cudaback. Some even lined the wall.
Resident Jeff Rasmussen follows Cudaback’s forum on Facebook and said he was surprised when he heard about the complaint against her.
“I appreciate the open forum that she fosters (on Facebook). Quite honestly, I wish every single one of you should offer the same thing,” Rasmussen said.
“My other concern is how the complaint was brought up,” Rasmussen said, referring to the previous week’s meeting when accuser Goering declined to go into any detail regarding the complaint, leaving Cudaback to wait until last week’s meeting to hear her offense.
“Shame on you,” Rassmussen said. “To leave someone hanging like that shows lack of integrity in my opinion. It’s good not to always agree with each other, but acting childish is embarrassing.”
Bill Davidson, a Monroe resident of 55 years, said “I’m appalled at what you’re trying to do here tonight. You, mayor, and you (Goering) should be ashamed. There’s nothing wrong with communicating with your constituents.”
Goering’s attempt to accuse, judge and convict Cudaback failed. Hanford said he didn’t realize the council had not been informed on the issue and withdrew his support for Goering’s motion to punish Cudaback.
The council decided to suspend further discussion on the topic until Tuesday, Nov. 6 the next meeting when the city attorney can be present.
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