Two Canby councilors agree to mediation
It took the better part of an hour to get there, but the Canby City Council, hopefully, has come up with a way to resolve an issue that's plagued the first three meetings of the new year.
Well, maybe they have.
In the case of Councilor Sarah Spoon and Councilor Shawn Varwig's dispute over accusations and counteraccusations at the last two meetings, the council ended discussion on the topic by deciding to look into possible mediation.
The trip to this point was bumpy and one that the City Council, along with Mayor Brian Hodson, hoped they could quickly put behind them.
"This is a big deal. I'm not pleased that we are in this situation," Hodson said. "I've had a lot of comments and questions about this event. And I, by no means, want this to continue any longer than it needs to."
At issue is a statement Spoon made during the Jan. 6 meeting regarding Varwig's suitability for serving as president of the City Council. She related some poor decision-making issues she thought Varwig had demonstrated during a League of Oregon Cities conference in Bend in 2019, saying Varwig asked Spoon if she wanted to go to a strip club with him, and when she declined, he went in the city van.
Varwig denied the accusations of improper conduct and two weeks later asked for an apology from Spoon and that she resign from the City Council immediately. All of that led the council Feb. 4 to a possible reprimand or censure for Spoon, Varwig or both.
"This is all very new territory for me as a mayor. I am not pleased that this is how I'm cutting my teeth on something like this," Hodson told the council. "I don't revel in this, I do not like this added stress on staff, on me and on the city."
Throughout the night, councilors asked questions, made observations and offered suggestions to help ease the strain. But both Spoon and Varwig remained steadfast that what they had said at the previous two meetings was the truth.
At one point, Councilor Chris Bangs said, "I propose we censure or reprimand nobody and move into the regular agenda of our meeting."
He later said, "I think it's been a strange first three weeks for Councilor (Jordan) Tibbals and I to have walked into this mess. And I'd like it to disappear."
But Varwig thought that there were issues that needed to be addressed.
"It's easy to have those opinions when your name is not the one being drug through the news. I'll just say that," Varwig said. "I'm not sure what I said last week in my statement that would require a censure. I've asked for the censure, I did. I think that it was incredibly inappropriate (for Spoon) to make those accusations. It was a year and half after the fact of when you're saying this happened. I'm OK with any investigation because I'm on the right side of this."
For now, there will be no investigation, something several councilors were keen to keep that way.
"Frankly, I see this as something that should be handled off the dais," Councilor Greg Parker said.
Hodson floated the idea of mutual apologies from the two councilors, saying: "Would some sort of apology from both councilors to the council, to each other and general public of this back and forth, would that suffice?"
Varwig said he felt he didn't have any cause to apologize for something he didn't do and would certainly not apologize for defending himself.
Spoon said she thought it was a fair conversation to talk about what conduct is appropriate and not appropriate within the council.
"I would remind people though, that Councilor Varwig also made serious accusations in his statement (at the last meeting), and if I'm going to be reprimanded, it would seem that his conduct in the most recent meeting was not really all that different than mine, and it would require a reprimand or censure of both of us in order to actually uphold the procedures and policies," she said.
In the end, the idea of mediation seemed to satisfy everyone's desire to move this situation to a conclusion quickly, as well as their desire to move on to other city business.
Both Varwig and Spoon said they'd happily take part in mediation if that course were set.
"This was fun for no one involved, I can assure you," Spoon concluded. "What I can commit to doing, and I what I think Councilor Varwig has demonstrated he is able and willing to do as well, is that we can still work on city issues and have discourse about those topics and do good for the city. That, to me, is what closure looks like. And I'm comfortable with that. We disagree on what happened, and my name has also been tarnished in public."
She is confident they can still work together positively.
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