The Goldendale City Council meeting Monday night covered a number of topics and was dominated by a tense interaction between a councilor and Justin Leigh.
Tony Gilmer of the Emergency Medical Services District introduced their new chief Will Harryman who answered questions about ambulance service. He noted the district had just purchased a new vehicle to replace one that was failing and acknowledged that the city has a problem not shared with other parts of the county.
“In White Salmon, we have mutual aid with Hood River Fire Department.” he said. “They have an ambulance and they will come over and run a call in that area if we’re out. If we’re covering Goldendale, we’ll call them over. Same with Dallesport. We call The Dalles over to help cover those calls. Goldendale is isolated. There’s no mutual aid ambulance service that’s close enough to really be of assistance.”
Under department reports, Police Chief Jay Hunsaker reported one of his officers had been instrumental in getting evidence for a case that started with child pornography in Goldendale and ended in molestation in Tennessee, and he passed on this good news:
“The suspect that was in custody [in Tennessee] had pled guilty to Washington State charges this morning. Officer Leo Lucatero did an outstanding job. You’re talking a case that was at least three years and five months long. It was not a pleasant case to be investigating, so he did absolutely great. The prosecutor was very pleased and wanted me to pass that along.”
Councilors also approved adding a replacement service truck for the water and wastewater department and acted on some of the requests made by Councilor Filiberto Ontiveros at the last meeting. That included transferring $5,000 allocated to the fire department in the 2021 budget to the EMS service toward the purchase of a new Life Pack device and adding much more detail to a monthly report of city expenditures.
But an unsettling part of the meeting took place when Leigh, a former council member who has been awarded a contract to work for the city part-time as a city planner, addressed the meeting. He had applied earlier for a volunteer position on the board of the Central Klickitat Conservation District.
At the previous meeting Councilor Loren Meagher, who is employed at the District, said he considered that a conflict of interest and abstained from voting on the contract for Leigh. Leigh said that he would withdraw his request if there was any legal opinion indicating a conflict of interest. He said that he had checked himself, consulted the city attorney and the head of the conservation district’s board, and Leigh said they all saw no signs of a conflict of interest. He said he then decided not to withdraw his application.
“Since then,” he added, “Loren Meagher, the district manager and area engineer of the Central Klickitat Conservation District Board, has persisted in taking a retaliatory assault on me, both personally and professionally, with the intent to have me withdraw my application to sit on this board.”
At that point, Mayor Mike Canon interrupted. “Justin, we need to meet in my office tomorrow,” he said. “Loren can come if he needs to, but I think this is something we don’t want to carry on any further. I think everybody knows which details.”
When Leigh tried to get more of his message across, his microphone was muted. He tried twice more in the meeting to expand on the theme and was twice more not permitted to speak.
The public may be left with the impression that Leigh did not withdraw, but he was cut off before he read the rest of a letter he sent Jan. 26 to the board, formally withdrawing. In that letter he cited a pattern of what he called harassment, including assertions that Meagher had presented the mayor, City Administrator Larry Bellamy, and other council members with complains, which Leigh called “entirely unsubstantiated.” He also said Meagher had attempted to have the city’s attorney legally invalidate his contract by reclassifying Leigh as a city employee rather than an independent contractor and antagonized Leigh in emails regarding his work for the city.
“I am deeply concerned how this ongoing aggression toward me will continue to take shape in the event I am appointed to your Board,” he wrote, and formally withdrew his application.
Later Meagher stated “I want to assure everyone that I did not intentionally harass anybody. I may have been too assertive about performance requirements and responsiveness and was just very excited to work on the ordinance committee and represent my community. That became nearly impossible to do, and so I was maybe a little frustrated in that process.”
Canon added this at the meeting’s end.
“We’ve had quite a night. I apologize it went the way that it did, but it was something that had to be stopped. But I’m counting on our council to work as closely as possible together. We have an incredibly strong and qualified professional city staff. There are some difficulties showing right now, but the thing is that if we don’t work together, council and city, we won’t get anywhere. This town will slowly slip into a gridlock we don’t do anything but argue. We need to do our very best to work together. I will do anything I can to help this process go forward. I am incredibly proud of the professionals on our police department, our public works, staff, as well as our fire department volunteers. People who work for the city work hard, and they should be praised rather than some of the criticism they’ve received lately. It’s just not right.”