The Dalles City Council didn’t even blink on Monday when Mayor Steve Lawrence admitted in public that he had tricked one of their peers into a closed-door meeting at city hall so that he could criticize her behavior.
“He told me he wanted a meeting on homelessness and tourism,” Councilor Darcy Long-Curtiss told the council at the Feb. 26 open hearing to consider her censure or reprimand.
Once she was in the office, she said the mayor “got up and closed the door and said, ‘We have some things we need to work out.’”
Long-Curtiss then said: “I asked him why he brought me there on false pretenses. He said because he thought I wouldn’t come if he told me the reason. He said he didn’t like my attitude and the things I was saying in public.”
She said the mayor then referred to a string of internal emails, her Facebook postings and newspaper comments she had made as evidence of wrongdoing.
“He said I was violating council rules because I was negative,” said Long-Curtiss. “He proceeded to tell me what I could or couldn’t say. During the meeting, I felt the mayor was trying to threaten or intimidate me.”
Lawrence did not deny lying to Long-Curtiss to get her to the Feb. 13 meeting at city hall. Instead, he justified the mistruth as the only way to get her attention.
“The explanation I gave for not telling her all the reasons I wanted to see her was because I had emailed her twice before and asked for her to return a call to me and talk to me and she had refused,” he said.
“I didn’t refuse, I was sick,” Long-Curtiss replied.
She said the mayor didn’t even get into the subject matter he had lured her to the meeting with until she challenged him after his chastisement of her.
The mayor said Monday that he had asked Daniel Hunter, the city’s human resource director, to be present for the meeting. Why? Long-Curtiss is not a city employee. She is an independent councilor elected by the people to represent their interests.
The entirety of Lawrence’s conversation is alarming. This is exactly what bullying looks like.
When he couldn’t control the actions of Long-Curtiss, who does not work for him, Lawrence manipulated her to gain control of the situation. Isn’t the “I had to do this for your own good” justification a common tactic in the abuse of power? Lawrence gave the appearance of an alliance by having Hunter present. Not only did the mayor stack the deck to make sure Long-Curtiss felt intimidated by facing off with two men, he trapped her.
With things firmly in his control, Lawrence proceeded to treat Long-Curtiss like she was a defiant child. She was “guilty” of openly disagreeing with the way he and three of his appointed representatives to the Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency conduct themselves.
The mayor told Long-Curtiss that she was “putting the council in a bad light.” When she disagreed and said that she had a right to exercise her opinion, Lawrence told her it was a violation of city code.
He used the provision “It is unacceptable to make derogatory comments about other council members, their opinion and their actions” as the basis for his complaint.
Long-Curtiss told the audience at Monday’s hearing that, after Lawrence was unable to get her to concede to his demands, Councilor Taner Elliott initiated a formal complaint against her based upon the exact same arguments, and “evidence” as the mayor had presented.
This situation is full of irony. Lawrence insisted at the Feb. 26 hearing that Long-Curtiss was wrong in her accusation that decisions were being made behind closed doors. Yet, how did the baton for the complaints he initiated get transferred to Elliott? Telepathically?
Also, wasn’t it a literal closed-door meeting to trick Long-Curtiss into, well, a closed-door meeting?
How does any of this line up with the mayor’s campaign statement in 2012 that he wanted an “open, transparent and collaborative government?”
Equally troubling about Monday’s meeting is the fact that there was absolutely no reaction from any of the other council members to the mayor’s appalling admissions.
Instead, Councilors Russ Brown and Linda Miller used the forum to air their own grievances against Long-Curtiss for exercising her First Amendment rights.
Brown levelled “constructive criticism” for “harsh” statements she made when a business owner came to the city to ask for marketing funds.
Miller said Long-Curtiss’ comments implied she had voted the wrong way on a development issue.
Councilor Tim McGlothlin took a dodge on rendering an opinion about the legitimacy of the proceedings. Instead, he suggested an arbitrator be brought in to resolve differences before disputes got to the council level. Sounds good. Still didn’t deal with the mayor’s conduct.
So, what we are led to believe is that it is okay by the council for Lawrence to lie to get his way.
This is the most troubling report the Chronicle has written about the council’s behavior yet, and there have been many during Lawrence’s reign.
Once again we point out, this is not the way to do good governance. The mayor’s actions are continually creating division at a time when the community needs to unite to deal with big issues, such as homelessness.
In truth, the city council is looking a little like Congress right now. Problematic. It’s beyond time for change.
— The Dalles Chronicle