An off-duty deputy, who complained during a public comment period of a Montesano City Council meeting last month about two city department heads not obeying traffic laws, has been chastised by those very same city officials in a letter to the deputy’s boss.
City Administrator Kristy Powell and Public Works Director Rocky Howard wrote a letter to Sheriff Rick Scott complaining that the deputy spoke out against them in the public meeting. It was at least the second time Brian Rydman had attended a council meeting and said he believed Howard, in particular, was not wearing his seat belt in a city-owned truck.
“I’ve seen him and he’s getting a little bit better but he’s not at 100 percent compliance yet,” Rydman said, adding that a city truck has also been consistently parking in a two-hour time zone and not receiving a ticket.
As he spoke during the May 27 council meeting, Rydman didn’t wear his uniform and never identified himself as a deputy or having any law enforcement knowledge. It wasn’t until much later in the evening, when Councilman Ken Walkington quizzed Rydman on his background, that he admitted to working in law enforcement.
Walkington, for his sake, told Rydman that if he saw Howard without a seatbelt again, to issue him a ticket.
“No excuses and no tolerance,” Walkington said.
Howard said at the time that the issue is nonsense.
The issue appeared to have simmered down until Howard and Powell decided to write Rydman’s boss to complain about the issue. Sheriff Scott said he was particularly confused because the letter was addressed to him in his capacity as a sheriff, but was sent to his home. The letter was not sent on city stationery, but it was carbon copied to Mayor Ken Estes as well as Rydman. The sheriff said he had no idea how the city officials got his address. It’s not listed in the phone book or in election filings.
The letter accuses Rydman of being “very confrontational and acrimonious,” adding, “We believe that if he saw these infractions and did nothing, then it begs the question, why? Should he not have cited us? Where is the evidence? This type of behavior should not exist in our professional organizations.”
The letter specifically says that Howard and Powell “are writing as citizens and not in our professional positions,” but the nature of the letter is about something that happened at a city council meeting about the behavior of “our” city employees on public time about another public employee, during his off-duty time.
The Prosecutor’s Office ruled it as a public record and released the letter to The Vidette following a public records request.
“I’m really not sure why this was even sent to me,” Scott said. “As far as I’m concerned, the deputy was on his own time expressing his First Amendment rights. … I’m not sure why this rose to a personnel matter and I’m really confused as to why this was sent to my house and not the office.”
Howard and Powell tell the Sheriff, “If this has become personal for Mr. Rydman, we wish that he would discontinue this public accusation as it makes the city look bad and the sheriff’s department as if we are not doing our jobs properly. It serves no useful purpose other than to try to embarass us, our public works crew and police departments.”
Asked by The Vidette if Howard was trying to get the sheriff to discipline Rydman, Howard explained: “Not at all. The whole point is if he saw someone breaking the law, he should have issued a ticket instead of just making accusations. Write me a ticket and prove I did what he says I did.”
Howard said on Friday that he had an appointment and couldn’t answer any further questions. Powell was not in the office Friday or Monday and didn’t return a message on Tuesday.
Mayor Estes said he knew about the letter, but not until after it was sent. He said as far as he’s concerned, his employees have their own rights to comment on situations on their own time, just like Rydman did.
As it happens, this is the second time the city has gone to Sheriff Scott over a personal issue with Rydman. Last year, the city had an issue with Rydman’s water bill and Mayor Estes mentioned it in a conversation with Scott. No formal letters were ever exchanged. Estes said the comment was just mentioned off-hand as part of another conversation.
Darren L. O’Neil, Secretary-Treasurer for the Teamsters Local Union No. 252, represents Rydman and other deputies in the Sheriff’s Office.
“I have known Brian Rydman for many years and he has always acted in a professional manner, as a member of this union and as a law enforcement officer,” O’Neil told The Vidette. “While this is not a union issue per se, it is troubling that a complaint was sent to Brian’s employer based upon the fact that he has exercised his right to free speech in an open public meeting. I know from my own history that law enforcement officers often observe many transgressions while off duty in their own neighborhoods when enforcement action is really not possible. I think that ‘thanks for the reminder, we will buckle up’ is a more appropriate response.”