Camas and Washougal may not be big cities, but their elected leaders are never at a loss for supplying controversy.
As in the video excerpt from the 1939 Jimmy Stewart movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Washougal city council member Michael Delavar seems to be standing alone right now as he alleges ethics violations against the hiring of Camas’ soon to be ex-mayor, Paul Dennis to head the proposed Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association.
The Columbian’s account at the link above, leaves one wondering what the fuss is about, given they quote only Delavar alleging any impropriety while unnamed council members “wanted to learn more about the Port of Camas-Washougal’s hiring process before signing off on Dennis’ hire.”
They go on to quote a couple state agencies such as Pat Mason, a senior legal consultant with the Municipal Research and Services Center of Seattle and Mindy Chambers, a spokeswoman with the Washington State Auditor’s Office, agreeing that the hiring of Dennis does not appear to violate any laws.
Chambers is said to add that any allegations of ethics violation would “be up to the court of public opinion.”
I have not spoken directly with either Michael Delavar or Paul Dennis concerning this issue, but have spoken with some who would represent part of that “court of public opinion.”
At the very least, there is an appearance of an ethics violation. At worst, and as was expressed to me, the hiring of Dennis was pre-determined even before he recused himself from the process that put this Economic Development deal together. Exactly where it rests will probably never be known unless a whistleblower, if any exists, were to come forward.
As I understand it, nearly everyone agrees that Dennis is well suited & qualified for the position, no problems there. The problem seems to lie in that he was the mayor of Camas and at one time voted to fund the setting up the economic development association that he was ultimately hired to lead. As expected, he has announced he would step-down as Mayor once hired.
Delavar doesn’t question his qualifications, but questions if the hiring violates RCW 42.23.030 that states in part,
“No municipal officer shall be beneficially interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract which may be made by, through or under the supervision of such officer, in whole or in part, or which may be made for the benefit of his or her office, or accept, directly or indirectly, any compensation, gratuity or reward in connection with such contract from any other person beneficially interested therein.”
Again, state and city officials have already stated they see no violation of state law. Does that leave Delavar, like the character played by Jimmy Stewart in the movie clip above fighting one of those “lost causes?”
In my opinion, not necessarily.
That “Court of Public Opinion” brought down the Camas-Washougal Riverwalk project a couple years ago. Likewise, this entire Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association, already coming under fire from several citizens including Michael Delavar could never gain more public support and lose what public support it has now.
I am also of the opinion that any appearance of impropriety on anyone’s part merits the involvement of the State Attorney General’s office. Let them look over the deal and make a determination. Regardless of what would be decided, the matter would be on solid footing.
I would also like to caution Michael. His raising this issue while running for re-election also carries with it the appearance of a campaign tactic, not that different than what we saw in 2009 when Jon Russell went after Washougal Mayor Stacee Sellers, alleging improprieties that to this day cannot be confirmed.
Russell is well known for underhanded tactics and it is known that he and Michael tend to hang together on most matters.
Russell, as far as can be seen, is staying out of this other than to state that he feels Dennis is “the best candidate, but wants to know more about the hiring process before signing off.”
From where I sit, since I don’t ordinarily involve myself that deeply in Camas/Washougal matters, I remain pretty much neutral.
My main recommendation to Michael Delavar would be, if you truly see a potential violation here, get the State Attorney General involved and let their office settle it.
Be like Jimmy Stewart and fight for the “Lost Causes” if you see one before you.