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Consider recommendation on Violation of Ethics Code against Cherie Kidd



PORT ANGELES — Ethics board members have decided that Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd violated the city ethics code — but they still have work to do.

The panel must mull over whether Kidd should be punished for mishandling a Feb. 2 council meeting that she abruptly adjourned after cutting off an anti-fluoridation speaker, board members Grant Meiner and Frank Prince Jr. said Friday.

Kidd's actions “reflected discredit on the City Council and Ms. Kidd herself as a public official,” said Meiner, a retired judge.

After the decision, Kidd, a former Port Angeles mayor who is in her third term on the City Council, thanked the board for its service during a brief interview.

“I did my very best under the most difficult circumstances,” she said while sitting down the hall from the council chambers. “That's all you can do.”

The complaint by Marolee Smith was the first ethics complaint handled under an ethical code of conduct the City Council passed in 2012.

Smith, at a meeting out of town Friday, was not present for the board's verdict.

“I'm glad they came back with at least one count,” she said in a telephone interview. “I will have to wait and see what comes of this.”

She said Kidd should apologize.

“I think that would be the best step forward,” Smith said.

Kidd would not comment on making an apology.

Consider recommendation

At an upcoming, as-yet-unscheduled meeting, Meiner, Prince and board member Danetta Rutten will consider recommending a course of action they would forward to the City Council.

Options include taking away Kidd's title of deputy mayor, issuing a cease-and-desist order against her that she can challenge in Clallam County Superior Court, issuing a verbal admonition, writing a letter of reprimand or publicly censuring her.

The council also could do nothing, City Attorney Bill Bloor said Friday.

Bloor said Kidd cannot take part in the council deliberations but that Mayor Patrick Downie, the target of a separate ethics complaint, can if he chooses.

Downie said he has not decided whether to participate.

The board members' assessment of their next step came a few hours after Meiner, Prince and Rutten unanimously decided Kidd violated the following section of the code, as alleged in Smith's complaint:

“Public officials shall not engage in any conduct or activities that reflect discredit on the public officials, tend to bring the city into disrepute or impair its efficient and effective operation.”

Dismissed 3 allegations

Board members also unanimously decided Kidd did not violate three other sections of the code as alleged by Smith, determining Kidd was not uncivil or unprofessional toward the public; did not engage in abusive conduct toward public officials, staff or the public; and did not “demean, harass or intimidate another person.”

The ethics board does not have to meet again but should, Meiner said in an interview after the decision.

“I would think it would be important to the council,” he said.

Feb. 2 meeting

Kidd had adjourned the Feb. 2 meeting during comments by speaker Robert Flood, with seven speakers unheard but awaiting their turn during a public comment session.

Flood had compared pro-fluoridation council members Downie, Kidd, Dan Gase and Brad Collins to “The Four Horsemen,” describing them as famine, pestilence, death and destruction.

“Personal insults are inappropriate,” Kidd said after cutting him short before his allotted three minutes were up.

Meiner said that once the public is allowed to speak at a council meeting, a constitutional right to free speech kicks in that makes the City Council chambers a protected “limited public forum.”

That right includes the freedom “to speak foolishly and without moderation,” Meiner said, alluding to an opinion by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.

“When criticizing public officials, the public has a broad and almost unlimited means of expressing that criticism, and that speech cannot be unduly interrupted or curtailed by the officials,” Meiner continued.

“I'm not accusing any speaker of speaking foolishly, but if one were to do that, that's something that we have to sit here and listen to.”

Kidd said she adjourned the meeting because of safety concerns and uncivil behavior.

Until Kidd gaveled Flood out of order, the video recording of the meeting “does not reveal any noise or disruption in the audience, but at that point, the audience erupted with boos and other noise,” Meiner said.

After Flood exited the podium, Kidd issued a warning to the audience. Then, former county Commissioner Ron Richards stepped to the podium to speak, and Kidd adjourned the meeting and departed the council chambers.

Meiner said Kidd did not have to cut the meeting short.

She could have taken action spelled out in the state Open Public Meetings Act such as having disruptive residents removed or adjourning and reconvening elsewhere, he said.

Rutten, a Peninsula College ethics instructor, during the meeting encouraged a broader focus.

She referred to the roiling community controversy that has ensued in the wake of the council's 4-3 decision in December to continue fluoridating the city's water supply.

“We've got more to look at than just fluoride, and we can do better,” Rutten said.

Signs

Prince said the committee struck down several of Smith's other contentions.

The board would not consider objections Smith made to rules banning signs in the council chambers.

“This committee is sick about hearing about signs,” Prince said. “Ask your mayor to put this to rest.”

He also rejected Smith's argument that Kidd was rude to Councilman Lee Whetham by not allowing him to speak during the commotion that broke out Feb. 2.

“That council member can speak for himself,” Prince said. “The big boys and girls can clean up their own yard.”

And the committee rejected Smith's claim in her supporting documents that Kidd ignored Robert's Rules of Order, saying the council had the option, not duty, to employ those rules.

Other complaints

A similar complaint filed by Our Water, Our Choice! against Councilman Gase was dismissed Thursday by a second ethics panel composed of Ken Williams, Jerry Dean and William Yucha.

That complaint also contained allegations against Kidd, which the panel will consider at 2 p.m. Thursday in council chambers in light of the other committee's decision Friday.

Prince told about two dozen audience members at Friday's meeting that Rutten would not comment following the meeting because she is serving on a third ethics board.

Rutten, Ken Williams and Diana Tschimperle make up that panel, which will consider another complaint by Smith against Downie for his behavior toward those protesting fluoridation at Jan. 5 and Jan. 19 council meetings. That meeting has not been scheduled.