By Sally Gillie, Monitor
A dispute between Monroe city council members was resolved at the Nov. 6 meeting, as those on both sides of an ethics complaints showed a willingness to put the matter behind them and move forward with city business.
Council woman Patsy Cudaback issued a brief statement in response to the charge brought by fellow council members Kurt Goering and Kevin Hanford that she disclosed confidential executive session information through messaging on Facebook. Council executive sessions are closed to the public and considered confidential under state law.
Cudaback said, “I do want to sincerely apologize to the council if they feel I have come up to the line, or crossed the line, that was not my intent. It has always been and will continue to be my duty to engage and communicate with the citizens of Monroe while still protecting the city’s interest.”
In a motion by council member Jason Gamble, and seconded by Jim Kamp, it was unanimously approved to accept Cudaback’s statement as a final resolution to the complaint. Cudaback did not participate in the vote, and council member Tom Williams was absent.
In the original complaint, Goering and Hanford had called for council action that included a letter of censure and a fine of $500 issued against Cudaback; both of those conditions were dropped from the final action.
The Facebook communications that are central to the complaint were messages sent last April between Cudaback and Monroe resident Debra Kolrud. Kolrud had raised questions about council meeting minutes, and in one message Cudaback referred to an April 3 council executive session and wrote, “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 matter in person and with Gene Brazel present.” Brazel is the Monroe city administrator.
Cudaback told the council the above messages with Kolrud had been printed out and given to the city within days after they occurred and there can be no question there was a lack of transparency.
“I want to clarify that in this message I did tell the topic, but I clearly did not reveal any details of the executive session, any quotes, or strategy, or who said what, I simply told her the issue was discussed,” Cudaback said. She said city council agendas often state the topic of what’s to be discussed in executive sessions, including such as issues dealing with Galaxy Theater, or North Kelsey property.
“As a council,” she said, “we have been all over the map as about how we go into executive session.” She said there are 25 to 30 examples of council agendas that list the topic of the executive session, and other agendas that only list the state RCW, or Revised Code of Washington, that refers to executive sessions, and sometimes not even that is on the agenda.
“We as a council haven’t had a set procedure, so you can see over time where there might be confusion,” Cudaback said.
The Washington state revised code lists the topics that can be addressed in executive session, which include pricing of real estate transactions, negotiations regarding contracts for public bid, or potential litigation. This RCW is sometimes quoted by the council as part of the public minutes before a council goes into a closed session.
Because the ethics complaint brought against Cudaback dealt with previous executive session subject matter, she requested that the council go into executive session for further discussion of the complaint. That closed session lasted for about half an hour before the council reconvened and Cudaback made her statement in the open meeting.
After stating her apology, Cudaback continued, “In the future I feel I should keep a list of the executive sessions, the topics of exactly what we’ve discussed, or whether we simply state the RCW’s, and continue to clarify with the attorney if there are questions about the topics or the RCW’s,” said Cudaback.
Council member Hanford also addressed the council. “I want to make sure everyone knows I respect council member Cudaback. I am not out to get her. I appreciate her and what she does for our community.”
He said as members of city council, we have “all been reminded multiple times that what’s discussed in executive sessions is always confidential. When we become council members, we’re told that every discussion in executive session is always confidential and never meant to be shared.” He said, “irrelevancy is not something we as council members have the luxury of deciding for ourselves.”
After the meeting Cudaback said she wants to put the matter behind her and move on to other matters that are important to the community.
Goering said he is pleased to have the matter resolved. “I’m glad to be done with it,” he said, “the bottom line is that we take the matter of what’s discussed in executive session very seriously. The council feels she crossed a line, and she did apologize. Hopefully it won’t happen again.”