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.