Gladstone cancels training session for city councilors
Gladstone City Council's training intended to help councilors "improve communication and work together more productively" was canceled due to concerns about the legality of a meeting that might not have met several requirements of Oregon public-meetings law.
City Administrator Jacque Betz called off the May 1 meeting after hearing from concerned citizens and the local newspaper editor asking about the legality of the planned meeting. She said that she and the head of Gladstone's consulting company, L.B. Day, would never want to put the city in a position of appearing to violate state law.
"So in an effort to improve transparency in government there will be no council training," Betz said. "Instead I will discuss the next steps in open session with the council at their May 8 meeting in an attempt to define a different way to accomplish the city's goals."
Mayor Tammy Stempel hadn't decided whether she would have attended the May 1 meeting, but she was planning to express her "extreme discomfort" with the fact that the city had been planning to exclude members of the public and news media from the training. Stempel was relieved when the planned meeting was canceled.
"If we do some type of a training session, it has to be open to the public and not behind closed doors," Stempel said.
City Councilor Neal Reisner had planned to boycott the training session, due to the city's attempts to schedule the meeting behind closed doors.
"They're not wanting to air dirty laundry in public, but my thought is: Sorry, we're a public agency, so we have no choice," Reisner said.
As of 4 p.m. the day before, the planned 4 p.m. May 1 training session hadn't been publicly noticed, despite state law saying "no special meeting shall be held without at least 24 hours' notice to the members of the governing body, the news media which have requested notice and the general public."
City Attorney David Doughman had said that the May 1 training could have been held behind closed doors if Gladstone officials had claimed that they discussed no "city business" and stuck to general topics like communication skills.
"However, we realize it may be difficult for the public to understand that no city business will be discussed," Betz concluded May 1.
Politics as usual?
Reisner and Bill Osburn, who were both recall petitioners last year, recently received certified letters from recalled City Councilor Kim Sieckmann's attorney claiming that they had knowingly spread false information about Sieckmann during the recall effort. Sieckmann asked each of them for $10,000 by May 12 to avoid a threatened lawsuit that Sieckmann's attorney claimed would result in a judgment of more than $50,000 for the alleged libel.
In separate interviews, Osburn and Reisner both said that their activities were protected under the First Amendment and the Oregon Constitution's additional protections for allowing citizens the right to recall elected officials.
Osburn, who was the chief petitioner for the 2017 recall effort, said that the planned training session and threatened lawsuit were two attempts by the City Council majority to intimidate citizens and prevent another recall effort.
"I'm not afraid of any lawsuit," Osburn said. "The claims of the recall are easily defendable and provable."
Sieckmann supporter Libby Wentz, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Reisner in 2016, has sent in a formal request to the city to investigate the business-license status of Stempel, Jennifer Stephens (Osburn's former business partner) and Sharon Alexander (a Stempel supporter). Wentz wanted Gladstone to apply the law to these individuals in a manner similar to how "the city recently applied it to City Councilor Linda Neace."
Stempel owned the Simply Sweet Food Company and listed her home address in Gladstone as the principle place of business, while Osburn was a member of Gladstone-based Stonewall Banks' limited liability corporation in 2016. Both of these businesses were dissolved in 2016, according to state records. Wentz sees this as evidence that they should have obtained business licenses at the beginning of that year.
"The fact that there was a business in 2016 indicates business licenses should have been purchased in January," Wentz said.
Osburn said that his business operated through the Portland Farmers Market and was covered by its umbrella business license. Meanwhile, the mayor said she will await the results of any city investigation into her now-defunct business and comply with any demands from the city.
"If they want me to pay a business license for a business that wasn't operating in the city, I will," Stempel said.
As for why Stempel listed herself as Simply Sweet's owner on her Voters' Pamphlet statement in 2016, she pointed out that she took over the business on Sept. 27, 2016, according to state records. Stempel didn't officially dissolve the business until Oct. 20, 2016, after the Voters' Pamphlet already had been sent out. Stempel said the family company grew out of a passion for making sugar-free treats for her father.
"We did have a company, but in order to do business, we would have needed to have a commercial kitchen, but we couldn't find one that would have worked in the city of Gladstone," Stempel said.
Stempel said that she took over the company from her relatives and then found that she didn't have time for it in addition to her day job and civic volunteering. Wentz predicted that the city's investigation will clear Stempel and Osburn of any wrongdoing.
"The city's bias to condone a witch hunt for Linda Neace and a mulligan for Stemple, Osburn and Alexander is actually more of a 'man bites dog' story than either of the business license issues," Wentz said.
"It's just politics," Stempel said. "In the unfortunate political climate we're in right now, we have to be more transparent and more accountable."
Stempel predicted that the mudslinging will get worse during this year's election season, although she had hoped that the city would soon get to focus on moving in a more positive direction.
"It's a very uncomfortable place to be, and it makes you wonder why anyone would want to do this volunteer, unpaid job," Stempel said.
Stempel said that the thought of advocating for worthwhile projects in Gladstone continues to motivate her in her mayoral position.
"I learned from my father that it absolutely takes a village, and you can't sit back and complain unless you're willing to roll up your sleeves and be part of the solution," she said. "I want to make Gladstone the best city that I can help make it be."