By Sally Gillie, Monitor
A complaint has been filed against Monroe City Council Member Patsy Cudaback, claiming that posts on her Facebook page contain information talked about during executive sessions, and therefore should not have been made public.
The nature of the complaint was revealed at the end of the city council’s Oct. 9 meeting, when Cudaback confronted Gene Brazel, Monroe city administrator. Brazel had just finished reading aloud those items that would be on the Oct. 16 council agenda, including an item about a complaint against a public official. Brazel did not read the complaint or state who was named in the complaint.
Council member Cudaback responded, “I’ve been told about the complaints against a public officer are about me, could you please be specific about what the complaint or charge is?”
Brazel said it regarded “communications on Facebook that potentially talked about executive session matters.” Cudaback then asked if it was regarding communications on Facebook, or revealing confidential matter, to which Brazel replied, “both.”
Cudaback asked if there were two complaints, and Brazel replied, no, there was only one.
There was no further discussion on the matter at the city council meeting. Cudaback said today she doesn’t want to comment on the complaint, but will “wait until next Tuesday’s meeting to see what’s brought forward.”
Cudaback has a widely read Facebook page, on which she identifies herself as a politician and states that her page is not a city record, not does she use city-computers to access her page. Its stated purpose is to communicate with community members and anyone is welcome to access it.
Cudaback said she began to think about using social media after she became a council member and was “thinking about how to reach out to people.” She said anyone can access her public page, and her posts can reach from more than 100 to more than 300 people. “This is a huge tool that has come out in the last three years,” she said.
As a public official with a limited budget, Cudaback said Facebook is an effective and economical way to reach out to people. “My mission is not just to serve, but to reach out and engage the public,” she said. She pointed out at least two Seattle City Council members have Facebook pages.
Recent posts by Cudaback have concerned a wide variety of matters, including the new cable park at Lake Tye, the East Monroe rezone, and she urged citizens to get involved in the upcoming council discussions which include the possibility of a property tax hike.
“I really want to hear people’s views,” Cudaback said, “I like to remind them what’s coming on the agendas.”
Cudaback said she has never taken anything off her Facebook page. “I don’t remove or delete any posts,” she said. She denied she has ever posted information on her page that shouldn’t have been made public.
Shortly after the complaint against Cudaback was made public, postings began to appear on her Facebook page in a show of support. Diane Elliott, a resident and member of the Friends of North Kelsey, posted she was “toally flabbergasted” at the complaint. “You are the only one who takes your job representing the public seriously.”
Community members who are familiar with Cudaback’s Facebook page were quick to come to her defense, saying Cudaback is a responsible elected official who is doing her best to keep Monroe residents informed about important matters taking place in their community.
Meredith Mechling, a longtime Monroe resident who has been a regular follower of Cudaback’s on Facebook, said Cudaback “seems to be the only council member who wants to engage the public in open discussions to learn about issues affecting them.” She said, “there’s nothing in there that would be a problem.”
Debra Kolrud, a former member of the Monroe school board of directors, is another regular follower of Cudaback’s page. Kolrud said she also had a Facebook page during her years serving on the school board, and found it was a valuable resource to keep the community informed and share important information.
Kolrud said she “applauds Cudaback for her Facebook page,” noting that she is now the only public official in the city to have one. “It’s a wonderful tool because it allows open and free communication with the public.”
Monroe mayor Robert Zimmerman, who was not at the council meeting Tuesday night, said he would withhold comment until next Tuesday’s meeting, but confirmed that the matter was raised by two council members, Kevin Hanford and Kurt Goering. He said he himself doesn’t know what the complaint, which has not yet been filed, entails.
“We will find out on Tuesday,” he said.
Kolrud said an exchange she shared with Cudaback last spring regarding the turn around time for releasing city council meeting minutes could be at the heart of the matter, because this issue surprisingly became a topic in executive session.
Matters discussed in city council executive session are, by state law, limited to specific topics, such as the selection of site or acquisition of real estate, negotiations regarding a public bid contract, and discussion with legal counsel on matters relating to litigation or potential litigation. The governing body is required to let the public know about what issues are being addressed in executive sessions.
“At no time did I threaten any kind of litigation regarding this,” said Kolrud. She said that the topic of meeting minutes is public information and would be expected to only be addressed in an open meeting.
In Kolrud’s communications with Cudaback regarding the city’s slow turn around time in releasing the council minutes, Cudaback did respond that the council did address the matter in executive session but did not say anything about what those discussions involved.
City attorney Zach Lell, who was not at the Oct. 9 council meeting because he doesn’t usually attend study sessions, said it was his understanding that the complaint brought about Cudaback is from another public official or council member. He said he has not seen a written complaint, but if he had, he couldn’t divulge information about it.
The matter of the complaint against Cudaback will be on the Oct. 16 city council agenda, and a large turnout is expected to speak on the council member’s behalf. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at city hall in the council chambers.
Editor’s Note: Sally Gillie and the editor have both have reached out to other people at the city who might be able to comment on the nature of the complaint, and when and if we receive additional information we will update the story.