Nearly half of the July 2 city council meeting in Bainbridge Island, Wash. was spent on chastising one of its own after the city’s ethics board determined that he had used his city e-mail to exchange messages of personal note regarding Banning city manager (and former Bainbridge Island city manager) Doug Schulze and his wife Lisa to Banning city councilman Don Peterson.
According to what Bainbridge Island Mayor Kol Medina told his council, the city’s ethics board received a complaint last fall alleging that one of its councilmembers had violated the city’s code of conduct, and requested an “advisory opinion.”
The item was the last in a series of ethics review board entries up for discussion by the council for review, and was “in regards to a complaint filed by Lisa Schulze against Ron Peltier” after the Schulzes had left for Banning, and Medina explained that the ethics board had found “a number” of violations related to Peltier and his interactions with Peterson.
The actions last week follow an ethics board opinion released last April and reported on by the Bainbridge Island Review, in which that newspaper outlined a “campaign of harassment” against Doug Schulze.
At that time the ethics board cited several instances of “unethical behavior by the first-term councilman, including using his official position as a city councilman for personal and private interests, using city property for personal use, and the unauthorized release of confidential information.”
According the Bainbridge Island Review, “In her complaint, Lisa Schulze said Peltier contacted Banning City Councilman Don Peterson after her husband took over as Banning’s city manager, and that Peltier shared information with Peterson that has since been used to attack Doug Schulze on Facebook.”
The ethics board condemned Peltier’s behavior as “unprofessional,” “unacceptable” and “bullying, pure and simple,” according to Bainbridge Island Review.
“Bullying behavior” by an unspecified city councilman in Banning was also referenced in a grand jury report released to Banning’s city council on June 18.
Bainbridge Island councilmember Ron Peltier defended his actions, stating that his correspondences with Peterson were translatable as conducting business on behalf of the city of Bainbridge Island, since they had to do with a former city manager.
“The ethics board depicts my free association with council member Peterson” — and his sharing of public records as “collusion,” and blamed the board as being “inflammatory” and “derogatory” in its findings against Peltier.
Further, Peltier pointed out that his messages to Peterson had not been addressed to the Schulzes, and not intended for public distribution.
Peltier had previously filed a complaint to the International City/County Management Association regarding the fact that while Schulze, acting in his capacity as Banning’s city manager, was trying to recruit Bainbridge Island’s police chief to work in Banning, while the chief was still employed in Washington.
While mayor Medina admitted that he, too, felt that recruiting an employed chief may have been distasteful, he reported that the ICMA had not found Schulze committed any ethical violations in doing so.
Bainbridge Island Review reported that the April ethics review report released a list of violations it believed Peltier had enacted, including “Initiating contact with a council member in Banning to engage in discrediting Schulze”; “Harrassment of a former employee by Councilman Peltier vis-à-vis following Schulze to a new position in another city”; “Possible collusion with a Banning City Council member to create a hostile work environment for a Banning city employee”; “An extended campaign … to discredit Schulze”; and claimed that “Peltier colluded with a Banning councilman to create his second complaint to the ICMA and shared information that should have been kept confidential.”
At last week’s Bainbridge Island city council meeting, City Attorney Joe Levan told council members that they still had their First Amendment rights to freedom of association and speech — those privileges are not dispensed upon being elected.
Councilman Joe Deets took issue with Peltier’s involvement with Banning, noting that, according to e-mail messages between Peltier and Peterson by the Bainbridge Island’s council, referred to Banning as “hilarious,” and depicted Peltier as enjoying “the satire” being stirred up by his interactions with Peterson and those who follow Peterson’s antics in Banning.
“I see that as no place for a city council member of Bainbridge Island to be saying things about events in Banning,” Deets said. “I feel you’ve crossed the line,” and advised that he was “prepared to reprimand you for that.”
Councilwoman Sarah Blossom agreed that Peltier had a right to free speech, with a caveat that “There are consequences for your speech.”
She started to rifle off messages between Peltier and Peterson that had been expressed via city e-mail: “Don, way to go! A lone voice in the wilderness,” and “Thanks. Too bad we’re not on the same city council,” or “Don, I think you should ask Doug how he’s feeling about his job right about now,” to which Peterson replies, “LOL., we’re just getting started.”
The e-mails supplied to the Record Gazette show that Peterson was using a personal e-mail address to correspond with Peltier, though they often concluded with a signature, “Don M. Peterson, Councilman, City of Banning, CA.”
“Those are not about city business,” Blossom declared.
Councilwoman Leslie Schneider was “mortified” about the interactions between Peltier and Peterson.
“I’m embarrassed that one of my council members would take pleasure in the pain of others. It is unforgivable behavior. We have to make sure it never happens again,” Schneider said.
Further, Councilman Matthew Tirman admonished Peltier by saying “You used city e-mail. You embarrassed yourself, embarrassed the city council. You brought a great degree of some pain to the complainant,” and “take no ownership of your actions. I’m not sure why you felt the need to follow the Schulzes down to Banning and continue this behavior. I would support some kind of reprimand.”
Lisa Schulze told the Record Gazette that Peltier’s “followers” have been assisting him in spreading rumors and agitating harassment efforts in Banning, including spreading lies about their son, a recovered addict; and posted messages declaring that they knew about her new job at a dental firm before she had told a lot of people about it, chiding her with, “We’re watching you,” and insinuating that someone was following her around.
“Online attacks have claimed that I’m his ‘current’ wife; they’ve claimed that I’m anorexic and posted pictures that are not me” to pretend to back up their claim, she said.
The Bainbridge Island city council voted 5-1 with Peltier recused to officially have the mayor sign a letter of admonition to be given to Peltier for his unethical behavior as a councilman.
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.