All the Bills We Have Not Seen

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Posting on behalf of Kim Rosenberg

All the Bills We Have Not Seen

At the August 9 City Council meeting, Council President Kozlowski updated the community about the proposed Council Retreat with the mediation lawyer that was to take place in September. A few things got in the way of setting a date—first off, it’s hard to make plans to get a bunch of busy people together; second, Councilor Jenna Edginton resigned so waiting until a new councilor is appointed makes sense, and third, the investigation that was announced at a special session on June 14, 2023 is not yet complete and must be in order to move forward with mediation at the retreat.

Rumors and conspiracies about the investigation abound but unless we can see a summary of the findings, the public only knows a few things.

The investigation was announced at the June 14, Special Session. If you sneezed you missed it, so I’ve transcribed it here:

Council President Kozlowski: The City Attorney is in receipt of a complaint from an employee and council has evaluated potential responses, I’d like a motion to move to the next step.

Councilor Mayerle: I move that the city engage through the City Attorney an investigator to conduct a privileged investigation of allegations made in an employee complaint and recently received by the City Attorney’s office.

Councilor Mayerle also moved that Councilors Kozlowski and Spegman be the members to work with the City Attorney during the investigation. So, we know that shortly before the June 14 meeting there was an employee complaint and that it was serious enough to require an independent investigation and that it must be complete before the mediated retreat can take place.

The City of Manzanita’s Rules of Procedure isn’t a long document at 28 pages. It’s not difficult to understand or laden with jargon or legalese like so many government documents are. It’s a pretty straight forward guide to the rules of city government and the way things are supposed to be done for all the players involved—councilors, mayor, city manager, citizens.

Chapter 10—Interactions with Staff and City Attorney isn’t even a page long, but it gives guidance to council. It also clarifies the rules of city government for the community. If you wonder about how things work like I do, it’s required reading.

Most of this page-long chapter is about how council works with the City Manager. Council, which includes the mayor, “shall respect the separation between the Council’s role and the City Manager’s responsibility by:
A. Not interfering with the day-to-day administration of city business, which is the responsibility of the City Manager.
B. Refraining from actions that would undermine the authority of the City Manager or a department head.
There’s a couple of paragraphs about requesting information but that’s it for Section 1.
The next section about the City Attorney is only a sentence long but it’s simple and direct. “Council members may make requests to the city attorney for advice with the concurrence of the majority of the Council” (p 26).

So, before a council member can contact the City Attorney, a majority of council has to agree that there’s a good reason to do so. This protects the city from incurring unnecessary legal bills. It’s a check to make sure that individual councilors or mayors don’t run up bills on the city’s tab for no good reason.

But in early February after less than a month in office, the mayor contacted her personal attorney who then contacted our city attorney starting a chain of events that has now cost the city $30,000, not including the bills for the current investigation and additional legal fees associated. Oh, and while there was always going to be a retreat, it’s now a retreat with a mediation lawyer and I’m betting it’s not going to be cheap.

When the mayor bypassed the rules and called her personal lawyer without talking to anybody on council, she put her personal interests ahead of the city’s and started the meter running on legal bills the city will have to pay. Before the phone call in February there was no executive session, no employee complaint, no investigation, no bills. Nada.

What does a reasonable person do a month into a volunteer gig that maybe wasn’t going the way they anticipated? Do they call their lawyer? Why? If there was a city problem, wouldn’t they talk to their colleagues on council first and get the approval needed to talk with the City Attorney?

This isn’t the only time the mayor has violated the City’s Rules and Procedures or completely failed to understand her role as mayor.

There were the times she published opinions in the media as the mayor and not as a private citizen.

There was the time she leaked information from the executive session about the city manager’s performance review.

There was the special budget meeting when she clearly didn’t understand where or how policy is made.

There are more instances, but I’m at 913 words. The point is this time the mayor’s disregard for rules and procedures has cost the city a whole lot of cash money.

I’ve heard from a few people who blame the mayor’s lack of experience for her behavior, but that hasn’t been a problem for any other member of council. So, to me it begs the question, at what point do we insist that the people elected to govern follow the rules and laws like the rest of us?

Kim Rosenberg