Union Gap

FILE — City Council chambers at Union Gap City Hall, 107 W. Ahtanum Road in Union Gap, on Friday, Sept. 26, 2018. 

The Union Gap City Council formally censured member Julie Schilling on Oct. 11, citing code of conduct violations.

The council found that Schilling violated the council’s code of conduct in her interactions with staff after considering letters submitted by City Manager Arlene Fisher and other city employees.

Mayor John Hodkinson, Deputy Mayor Roger Wentz, and council members James Murr and Jack Galloway voted to censure Schilling, who voted against the resolution. Council members David Hansen and Sandy Dailey abstained.

The resolution removes Schilling from all boards and committees she has been appointed to by the council. She can participate in council meetings.

Schilling’s attorney, Bill Pickett, said it was unclear if Schilling will be barred from attending committee meetings or if she can attend but not participate. She still has authority as a council member, he said.

“It’s really difficult to become informed and influential at the policymaking stage at the committee level if you’re absent,” Pickett said.

Schilling directed all questions to her attorney.

City Attorney Bronson Brown said Schilling has been removed from boards and committees as a representative of the city. She can still attend and participate in any meetings that are open to the public, he said. 

Fisher and Hodkinson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Violations

The Union Gap City Council’s code of conduct requires council members to direct questions about city operations to the city manager. Communications with city staff must be kept short, the code says, and council members should avoid making requests of staff who are busy performing their job functions.

Comments submitted by city employees said Schilling contacted city staff instead of the city manager on multiple occasions, sometimes while they were busy performing their job functions.

Pickett said a person can’t be expected to know what someone else is doing when they make a call. He also said state laws allow the members to go straight to staff with questions or inquiries.

Fisher and Police Chief Gregory Cobb said Schilling contacted Cobb directly to ask questions about an active homicide investigation at Valley Mall. He was in the process of responding to the incident at the time of the call, he said.

Pickett said Schilling called Fisher first, and when she didn’t respond, Schilling called Cobb.

City Clerk Karen Clifton said Schilling contacted her directly instead of the city manager. Several times, the calls came when the office was short staffed or when the city manager was out of the office, the resolution said.

Comments submitted by city employees also detailed confrontations with Schilling. The code of conduct says council members must treat staff as professionals.

Schilling raised her voice at Fisher after the Valley Mall homicide, the resolution said. Schilling pointed her finger and yelled at Fisher about her communication after the homicide, the resolution said.

Schilling also pointed her finger and yelled at Fisher after a 2019 council meeting, the resolution said. Fisher said Schilling touched her chest while she was attempting to back away during the confrontation, it said.

Schilling denies any physical confrontation occurred, Pickett said.

As for Schilling’s raised voice, Pickett said she wasn’t trying to offend anyone. He said the incidents were conversations.

Schilling apologized to staff members at the Oct. 11 meeting.

“When it comes to our staff, I apologize if there was something that was said. I was in a hurry a couple of times, I was trying to get things done,” Schilling said in the meeting.

Public discussion

The council first discussed Schilling’s violations at its Sept. 13 meeting. The agenda said the council would discuss the complaints in an executive session closed to the public. The council discussed the complaints in a public meeting at the decision of city staff and the mayor, city attorney Brown said.

While the council discussed the issue in an open session, it didn’t have a public hearing on the issue, which Pickett requested. Pickett said Schilling had a right to a public hearing, where community members could comment.

“You can’t skirt fundamental due process by trying to move something out of executive session at the 11th hour, at the last minute, and then run this up the flagpole in public,” Pickett said.

Complaints against city employees and council members aren't required to be reviewed in an executive session, Brown said. The city decided to discuss the complaints in an open session because Schilling was an elected council member, he said. The complaints against Schilling were related to internal interactions with city staff, so the city didn't feel public testimony was needed, he said. 

The council members did review letters and emails sent in support of Schilling before taking a vote, Brown said. 

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include comments from City Attorney Bronson Brown. 

Contact Kate Smith at katesmith@yakimaherald.com.

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