Monday evening the Lincoln City City Council threw Mayor Don Williams under the bus.
The council, coming out of a “closed-to-the-public” Executive Session voted unanimously to hire a special outside attorney to investigate and possibly prosecute Mayor Don Williams for violations of government ethics, the charter of Lincoln City and city ordinances. If prosecuted by the outside attorney, the hearing would be before the State Ethics Commission with possible fines or other legal sanctions.
The focus has been on what possible violations may have been committed by Mayor Williams and to whom. It’s been widely speculated that City Attorney Appicello is involved. Since Appicello won’t be doing any legal prosecution, many surmise he’ll likely be a witness/victim in the hearing.
The focus on Appicello as a victim of ethics and legal violation begs the question: What kind(s) of violation(s) was it? Earlier discussions by the council as a whole centered around an “exercise of undue pressure on city staff” over a particular issue. City Manager Ron Chandler was asked point blank during a recent council meeting whether he (Chandler) had ever experienced undue pressure or an inappropriate form of influence from any council member. Chandler answered, “None.” “I have not experienced any undue pressure on any subject by any council member.” That pretty much left Appicello as a primary, ‘high level’ victim.
Appicello has repeatedly declined to comment – in fact suggesting that outside legal counsel be brought in to ensure a fair and balanced investigation. Was the request for outside counsel because he, Appicello, was the victim of undue pressure by Mayor Williams? Mayor Williams has been forced to recuse himself several times from discussions about the issue and was banned from the city council’s discussions about the issue – even Monday during an executive session held by the rest of the city council on a way forward on the ethics and possible more serious violations of the city charter, ordinances and rules.
The still missing link is the subject matter of the alleged undue political pressure on Appicello. Since the last election, there have been heated exchanges between councilors over a number of matters – again – in a way not seen in years between councilors. And it’s left some wounds.
It’s been no secret that Mayor Williams has been frequently strident in his criticism of the city and how it’s done business in the past – especially on the way it was trying to strengthen regulations on vacation rentals, of which the Mayor owns a few of his own. Williams made no secret of his disdain for those regulations which were repealed by the voters in the same election that swept Williams and the three others into office. So, at that moment on, it was a four to three political split – a split that has been very busy evaporating as new councilors Sue Wahlke, Kip Ward and Jim Davis are showing increasing allegiance to the three incumbent council members – not to Mayor Williams. Former Williams ally Jim Davis just resigned because he moved out of his council ward – so now the political split is three to three.
So if it was Appicello who was unduly pressured to do something, could it have been over the fact that, in the eyes of some residents and political activists, that incumbent Councilor Chester Noreikis received favored treatment and getting off too easy on violating a city ordinance and that stiffer sanctions should have been applied, including his forced resignation, when it was learned he had no Lincoln City business license. Noreikis now has a business license and City Manager Ron Chandler and the council said Noreikis’ case was handled as any other. So, put two and two together and you might not have to drive to Salem to witness the Ethics Commission hearing to figure it out – IF that’s an accurate conclusion drawn from the evidence.
Mayor Williams characterized it as a waste of time and city funds and akin to “running down a rabbit trail.”
This is only going to get more interesting.
In other city council action, the council took the first steps to acquire Taft Park. It’s been long time coming. Looks like they’ve settled on a price for the property but there are other details to work out. A full report is expected sometime over the next month or so.