Shelton Mayor Gary Cronce on Tuesday night reads a statement opposing Prop. 1, which if voters approve would change the three-member city commission to a seven-member city council with an appointed mayor. 

SHELTON — Mayor Gary Cronce may have violated state law when he read a statement at a city commissioners’ meeting in opposition of Proposition 1.

The ballot proposal, if voters approve it in the Nov. 7 election, would form a seven-member Shelton city council-city manager form of government.

Following the closed meeting, Cronce said: “I’ve been advised by our legal staff that we should not talk about this proposition in this meeting.”

A state Public Disclosure Commission spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that it was a possible violation and could be subject to PDC review.

During commissioners’ comments at their meeting Tuesday night, Cronce read into the record what he called an “open letter to the citizens of Shelton.”

His statement read:

“Over the next few few weeks you will be asked to vote on Proposition 1. This proposition would replace our existing three-person commission with a seven member council. This is not a good idea and I would highly recommend that you vote no on Proposition 1. I am concerned that a seven-member council will cost the city more money, be less effective and undermine the success the city is currently experiencing. Two years ago Shelton was on the edge of bankruptcy, but today we have reduced our $50 million debt to $44 million.  And we went from building two homes per year to 20 homes per year. We used to borrow millions of dollars to build infrastructure, which you are now paying through your high sewer rates. But now we are building our sewer basins with almost 100 percent grant funding money. If this seven-person council passes, my position as your elected mayor will be eliminated and I will be gone. Your right to choose a new mayor will be taken from you because this new seven-person council will pick one for you.”

The law states that no public official can use a public facility to voice support or opposition to a ballot measure.

Shelton is the last city in the state to have a three-member panel of elected city commissioners.

Commissioner Tracy Moore, who is up for re-election Nov. 7, said she was “somewhat taken aback” by Cronce’s letter that he read into the record. She said it was “inappropriate” to air his opinion on the proposal during the public meeting.

“I would like to point out that there are a number of inaccuracies in his letter and don’t believe that it was appropriate in this meeting … and I am astounded by the unprofessional statements,” Moore said.

Moore asked City Manager Ryan Wheaton if he was aware that Cronce was going to read the statement. Wheaton responded: “I never know what’s going to happen with this commission.”

Cronce quipped: “It’s an exciting group we have.”

Moore asked Wheaton if the commissioners could get factual clarification about Proposition 1.

“I am very disappointed in the mayor,” she said

She asked Wheaton to find out if Cronce’s statement was allowed.

Before Cronce could respond to Moore’s remarks, Wheaton asked that the commissioners go into executive session.

City Attorney Kristen French, who took office in August, looked up the open meetings law exemption that allowed the commissioners to go into a closed meeting under the state Open Meetings Act. She said the commissioners could meet behind closed doors under “potential litigation” in the city or “a member acting in official capacity is likely to become a party.”

After Moore read the motion to adjourn into executive session, the room was cleared of people attending the business meeting.

After a 10-minute secret meeting the commissioners reconvened and Cronce said he could not talk about Proposition 1.

Washington State Public Disclosure Commission spokeswoman Kim Bradford said the mayor’s comments could be a violation of state law unless the commissioners give public notice and allow a public hearing that allows the public to air all sides of the issue.

She said it would require a PDC review to confirm a violation was committed.

“Our enforcement team would make a determination if we were to receive a complaint or if staff finds a clear violation,” Bradford said. “In the past we have advised … to not use the public comments period to state their opinions (about a ballot proposition) because that is considered a public facility” under the law, Bradford said.

See the Public Disclosure Commission’s “Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns.”

(10) comments

Darrell Barker

Tom. Who was it who said: "The problem with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are filled with uncertainty" ?

Darrell Barker

Tom. Who was it who said: "The problem with the world is that the stupid and cocksure and the intelligent are filled with uncertainty" ?

Tom Davis

Randy: Heeding your suggestion, I have traveled to the top of a mountain and reread both the article and your reaction to it. After much soul-cleansing and a brief out-of-body experience, it finally came to me that the message you were attempting to convey was, ‘No matter how deep the ocean is you can always break a window with a hammer”. How could I have missed it? Thank you for that existential perspective. And now back to our original program …

Randy Lewis

Hi Tom - Thanks - Not sure I get your metaphor, but then again, I'm just a hick from Shelton. BTW another inaccuracy in the text is that it is not correct that the City no longer takes out loans. Recently the City government has received a kickback in the form of what was in effect a million dollar loan from Mason county Garbage. However, this loan will not be funded by the City government, it will be funded by the City charging a 26% garbage utility tax to the ratepayers. Further, this tax is being hidden from the ratepayers on their invoices. This 26% tax is buried in what is being falsely labeled a "service" charge on the invoice. This charge in reality includes both the hidden 26% utility tax and the Mason County Garbage base charge (6% utility tax is standard - An additional 5% tax is levied against the false service charge that includes the 26% hidden utility tax. They are taxing their own tax!) If the City government wants to engage in empire building, fine, but do it the old fashioned way - earn it - don't build your empire by gouging garbage ratepayers, when the City does little or no work to provide the garbage service.

Tom Davis

Randy, you are using a story about whether the Mayor violated the public disclosure law as a platform to discuss issues irrelevant to that allegation. The writer of the story may have chosen to include the entire body of the Mayor’s comments as evidence- I have no idea- but it is the fact that the Mayor stated his position on a proposition that is currently on the ballot that is the topic of this story. Everything else is just noise.

Randy Lewis

Hi Tom - Your point is well taken, and to some extent I plead guilty. My point is that the Mayor not only used an inappropriate, perhaps illegal, platform to make his point, he also made misstatements while making his point. Is this irrelevant to the article? I think so, but I guess everyone will have to decide for themselves. As far as my comments being "noise" perhaps I would concede that point within in the context of your argument, but many of us feel that misstatements, deliberate or not, and deliberate lack of transparency by a government entity, is anything but "noise".

Randy Lewis

I meant "relevant to the article"

Randy Lewis

Not an attorney so have no comment on if a public disclosure law was violated or not. I can comment on the Mayor's argument that the current majority commission reduced the City's debt from $50 million to $44 million. Although true the debt has been reduced, the numbers are not correct. As the Mayor himself, and the current Director of Finance stated during their election campaigns a couple years ago, the debt was in fact closer to $60 million ($58 million) as has been documented, not $50 million. The $50 million and $44 million numbers refers to bond debt only. The City bares additional non bond debt just as real, just as much if not more a legal obligation, as bond debt. We will get a better look at how much higher the true actual current debt is once the 2016 financial statement is published. If the City wants to continue to use the numbers the Mayor presented, it needs to qualify the statement by saying something like "the BOND debt has been reduced from $50 million to $44 million".

Tom Davis

Randy: What in the name of blue-blazes does your comment have to do with the article?

Randy Lewis

Hi Tom - You may want to look at the text in the article above that include the numbers my comments refer to. These numbers were used to support a point of view, so I believe I can claim my comments are relevant to the article. Thanks - Randy

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