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.