McDowell

Shelton City Commissioner Kathy McDowell

SHELTON — City Commissioner Kathy McDowell apologized Monday night for illegal Facebook messages she exchanged with Shelton Mayor Gary Cronce.

The Washington Open Public Meetings Act forbids discussions of city business between two of three city commissioners.

McDowell, who said she had “health issues that have flared up recently” and could not attend Monday’s night’s city commission business meeting, read a statement by phone.

“I would like to make a statement of apology to the staff of the City of Shelton, to the citizens of Shelton and to my supporters,” McDowell said. “Please forgive me … I want to apologize for my careless, thoughtless actions these past two years while in office. I apologize for not being honest in my position as a commissioner. I would like to continue my duties as a public servant. I will do the best I can to make amends and to continue to serve the city government and the citizens of Shelton. I promise to work hard to gain your trust back.”

Shelton native and open government advocate Jason “Dangercup” Coots recently released Facebook Messenger conversations McDowell had with Cronce outside of a legal public meeting.

Coots acquired text of the conversations through a City of Shelton open records request.

Under the Open Public Meetings Act, a quorum or majority of commission members cannot discuss city business outside of a public meeting. Doing so constitutes an illegal meeting and violates the Open Public Meetings Act.

An Association of Washington Cities training lecture on the subject can be found at http://www.awcnet.org/TrainingEducation/eLearning/OPMAeLearning.aspx.

Elected officials are required by state law to be trained about open meetings and open records within the first 90 days of office.

The law applies to social media such as Facebook and Facebook Messenger, plus email correspondence, which cannot be used to collectively formulate public policy, Association of Washington Cities officials say.

Under the law, elected officials can only exchange digital information that clearly states: “Do not Reply.”

Discussing actions or how elected officials are going to vote constitutes an illegal meeting.

It is permissible for a city staff member to communicate information with commission members so long as city business is not discussed.

Commissioner Tracy Moore also made a statement, saying she saw McDowell and Cronce’s actions as “an illegal pattern of collusion.”

She urged the same public scrutiny for herself as well as her fellow commission members. She said she was forwarding her own records for public viewing, admitting she had conversations with another commissioner outside of a public meeting but they did not violate the Open Public Meetings Act.

For his actions, Coots was praised by some people at the larger-than-normal audience attending the commissioners meeting.

Coots and unsuccessful Shelton mayoral candidate Marilyn Vogler have filed complaints against Cronce with the state Public Disclosure Commission for using city facilities for campaigning purposes. Cronce solicited money for his 2015 campaign using his city computer. He also spoke out against Proposition 1 during a city commission meeting, saying the move to form a seven-member city council "was not a good idea."

The text of the messages between McDowell and Cronce can be found at www.dangercup.com.

(5) comments

Brandt Orme

There is absolutely NO excuse for these violations of the law. Resources and mandatory training were made available to both commissions so these kinds of violations did not occur!! Both commissioners should resign immediately or be recalled. McDowell's total incompetence and lack of knowledge will jot be missed by city government.

Darrell Barker

I've had the privilege of knowing City Commissioner Kathy McDowell, and though we are politically on opposite sides of the proverbial isle, I have found it a pleasure to talk with her as she is smart and personable and a good listener. We all make mistakes and she has bravely owned up to this one for which I give her all the credit she rightfully deserves. I say keep her in her position as she has learned a lesson.

Tom Davis

Darrell- I respectfully but strongly disagree. I think you may be confusing civility with integrity. I’ve stated on this site that I like Kathy McDowell, personally, though have reservations about her qualifications to serve as Commissioner of Finance. That said, had she fessed up prior to being confronted with indisputable evidence I might be inclined to agree you, but that clearly was not the case. Ms. McDowell’s illegal behavior spanned a period of three years and included dozens of infractions; and it would have continued had she not been caught. That’s not the actions of someone who suddenly had a pang of conscience. I’m all for forgiving, but actions have consequences and an apology just doesn’t make it.

Randy Lewis

Hi Tom - totally agree - a conscious decision to break a rule over a period of time is not a "mistake". With all the stuff coming out apparently lots of this was going on.

However ... not to pick nits, but wondering where your three year time frame came from. The Cronce/McDowell duo have been in power less that two years. I suppose if she was sworn in late 2015 you could argue the mischief occurred within three calendar years. Not a big deal - just curious ...

Tom Davis

If you work with recovering drug addicts you know you’re making progress when they break the rules and then self-report. That is confess to an infraction even when no when else knows about it. So why is it that some of our local elected officials are reluctant to fess up to their misdeeds until confronted with irrefutable evidence?
Is it unreasonable to expect the people we elect to public office possess at least the ethical integrity of a recovering addict? Never mind the tearful apologies or pleas for a second chance; like a recalcitrant teenager, the only thing these folks are really sorry about is that they got caught. The Mayor and Commissioner McDowell did not stumble and fall into a single misdeed; they got away with many over a two year period, and when they saw there were no consequences they continued their bad behavior.
Political misdeeds are like cockroaches: they avoid the light, but when you see one you can bet there’s a whole bunch more scurrying about in the darkness.

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