When we, the citizens and voters, loan our trust to elected and appointed officials, those whom we trust must take great care to not violate that trust.
It should not be hard to follow: public officials should strive to love mercy, do justly and walk humbly.
In Montesano, the public sees that we are in a deepening leadership crisis. What the community needs is a group of leaders who are collectively focused on taking specific steps toward the three-fold success strategy.
Based on observation or of recent actions and reports in Montesano, and 30 years in the public policy arena, I offer the following 10 suggestions to the mayor and council in Montesano.
Adoption of these policies will help restore trust, protect the city finances and avoid repeating the disastrous decisions that have have caused the tailspin into our current leadership crisis.
1) Avoid conflicts of interest by not allowing direct relatives of employees to serve in city office. The public does not trust or respect the current scenarios where the the city administrator’s husband is on the council and in closed-door meetings where her actions are discussed.
2) Adopt a truly progressive discipline policy, where employee discipline is proportionate to known actions. It is troublesome and, frankly, bewildering, when a trusted 27-year employee is fired over an allegation of missing paint, especially when an expert witness says that paint is NOT missing and the prosecutor says there should be no charges.
3) Take sexual harassment charges seriously. Never say an administrator is too valuable to place on leave. That simply tells employees that their charges against the favored administrator will not be taken with the utmost seriousness and hints to the administrator that he or she is less at risk for loathsome behavior.
4) Do not hire incumbent council members as employees. Last year, the mayor hired then-councilman Rocky Howard as public works director, creating a council vacancy, adding an additional employee not covered in the budget and creating the appearance of a “good ol’ boy network” at City Hall.
5) Limit liability through a simple rule: Verify the facts BEFORE termination. See Suggestion 2. When an expert testifies that the paint is not missing, the prosecutor recommends no charges, and the mayor tells a TV reporter that he is sure of guilt but cannot prove it, you have a problem — and a major exposure to a wrongful termination lawsuit.
6) Do not use shredders to silence whistleblowers. In response to the release of pubic records that the mayor wanted to keep out of the light, he says he will order more shredders and make sure employees shred more documents. This is wrong, likely illegal, and betrays the public trust.
7) Don’t put political propaganda in city newsletters and handouts. The mayor and administrator are currently using taxpayer equipment and other resources to mass distribute their message that they are acting appropriately, if only they could tell you more. If they want to send political messages, they should pay for it out of their own pockets — or submit a column to The Vidette like I did.
8) Don’t change the hiring process, especially when considering a familiar person. See Suggestion 4. The mayor held private interviews before hiring Rocky Howard as a new administrator. He acknowledged the change in process, and correctly predicted that it would be controversial. In the past, applicants have been interviewed in public meetings.
9) The council must provide more oversight. When the mayor and administrator are accused of conflict, favoritism, political messaging and payback and more, the council needs to step up and act. Hold hearings, withhold budget authorization, refuse mayoral requests for more administrators and change policies to get this mess straightened out.
10) Welcome public input. Provide a sound system so the public can hear the council and mayor and they can hear the public. Stop telling people they can’t talk because they are holding up four words on a piece of poster paper. Stop interrupting the public with demands that they not look at the audience. Don’t have your political friends from Hoquiam sit in the front row and demand an end to public comments.
Dan Wood is a fourth-generation resident of Montesano. He’s a former Hoquiam School Board member, a former Grays Harbor County commissioner and recently moved back within the city limits of Montesano.