In a long and heated discussion at Tuesday night’s regular meeting, the Puyallup City Council members exchanged barbs on the ethical behavior of city officials during an election season that’s in full swing.
The discussion started after Council members John Palmer and Kent Boyle requested an addition to the meeting agenda regarding controversial conduct involving two Planning Commission members and an applicant seeking to rezone land near Shaw Road.
Several residents have expressed concern that chairman Steve Hastings and vice chairman Chris McNutt attended a private meeting that included a senior representative from Schnitzer West, a developer that has an agreement with former daffodil bulb farmer Neil Van Lierop to purchase his old farmland for industrial development. (Read the full story here.)
The private gathering on June 5 raised concerns about appearance of fairness related to the state Open Public Meetings Act. In an email obtained by The News Tribune, Puyallup City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto wrote to Hastings and McNutt and advised them to recuse themselves from the rezone application process. Both commissioners did so at a public hearing last week.
Still, the commissioners’ conduct was met with more criticism at Tuesday’s council meeting. Resident Merv Swanson said the council should take a hard look at members of the commission and their involvement in the private meeting.
“I think that meeting was uncalled for and we need to have them removed from the Planning Commission,” he said.
One resident defended the commissioners’ actions. David Couch said council meetings shouldn’t be a place to air out political dirty laundry, and that the discussion was reminiscent of politically charged meetings of the past.
“We are hearing this from candidates who have sour grapes,” he said. “This is not a place for politics. This is a place to do business.”
The topic sparked a long-winded debate between council members about the ethics of all city officials.
Palmer and Boyle both said they wanted the council to address the conduct to avoid having a similar debate dropped in the council’s lap in the future.
“We have a responsibility as members of this community to do the right thing,” Boyle said. “You have enough ethics to turn around and walk out. You don’t do this kind of stuff.”
Councilman Steve Vermillion said there was no conflict with Hastings and McNutt and the controversy that has resulted is misplaced.
“Other council members that opt not to go to these things they miss out on a lot of dialogue and good deal of information,” he said.
Additionally, Vermillion accused Palmer of recruiting his supporters to attend last week’s public hearing to stir up negative public comment against Hastings and McNutt related to the private meeting. Palmer denied the accusation, and said he was unapologetic for encouraging people to speak out about such an important issue.
In an attempt to direct the council away from political bickering, Councilman Tom Swanson suggested the debate revealed a need for a procedural solution. The city needs to come up with a way for officials to know who has open applications for rezones and other city business, he said.
“How am I supposed to know to turn around and leave” if I don’t know who is conducting city business, he asked.
Kari Plog: 253-597-8682
Follow Kari on Twitter: @KariPlog