Pasco City Council members reprimanded fellow Councilman Tom Larsen for claiming city employees were lying during a public meeting.
Larsen would not apologize and continued to insist Tuesday that staff had hidden information about the terms of an agreement to sell some of Pasco's excess sewer capacity to the Port of Walla Walla for the Burbank Business Park.
Larsen was the only dissenting vote Tuesday when the council approved the interlocal agreement with the Port of Walla Walla.
Larsen claimed there had not been previous information about how the port would be able to buy three sets each of 100,000-gallons-per-day sewer capacity and that the sewer could be used for more than just the Burbank Business Park during last week's meeting.
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The terms Larsen challenged were in the resolution the council passed in August directing city staff to negotiate an interlocal agreement with the port. That agreement was included in the packet provided to each council member for the Feb. 13 meeting.
The Herald also reported in June that Burbank residents might be able to negotiate with the port to connect to the port's extension for sewer service.
In a memo to the city council, Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield expressed dismay over Larsen's comments.
"To even suggest (let alone state) that 'someone is not being truthful' with the council is reprehensible," he wrote. "His statement could only be directed at me, as the agenda report and agreement were prepared at my direction and I was the principal liaison between the port and the council.
"I am completely offended by his statement/innuendo and, because it was made in a public meeting, I believe he owes me and staff a meaningful public apology," Crutchfield wrote.
Crutchfield told the Herald he chose to bite his tongue during the last council meeting and to provide comments to the council in writing.
Larsen has made similar comments and innuendoes before, Crutchfield said. It's inappropriate to make false accusations against anyone in a public setting, he said.
Larsen said staff need to keep council members up to date on information critical to decisions. He insisted that information about including Burbank Heights in the possible area served by Pasco's sewer capacity was hidden by staff.
"We should have got the information brought to our attention instead of just hiding it from us," he said during Tuesday's meeting.
Larsen, who left council chambers as soon as the meeting ended, said the council was told Burbank Heights would not be included.
However, Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins said the record shows differently.
Watkins apologized on behalf of council, but while Crutchfield said he appreciated that, "candidly, it's really due from Mr. Larsen."
Crutchfield said he "was abhorred by" Larsen continuing to claim that information was not made available to him. "It's a bald-faced lie," he said.
And Crutchfield said he is tired of Larsen doing it.
"He stands and continues to lie to the public, and I don't like it," he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Francik said while council members have the right to disagree, they do not have the right to abuse staff.
To make untruthful accusations about city staff hired by the council when talking in a public meeting on camera is an abuse of power, she said.
In any other business, making those false accusations could get someone accused of harassment, she said.
It's in the city's best interest to hire and support talented people, not undermine their credibility, she said.
Watkins told Larsen that being degrading and accusatory when asking questions of staff undermines them.
"I ask that you treat staff with dignity and respect in the future," he said.
Watkins said he will stop the meeting if Larsen makes similar comments and make sure the comments are dealt with then.
Council members need to represent Pasco residents in a civil and constructive manner, Watkins said.
Councilman Al Yenney said the council can take a vote if Watkins stops a meeting. Yenney said he doesn't always agree with Watkins' opinions, but that Watkins does run a good meeting.
Yenney said this is a workable council and one of the best he's seen since he started attending council meetings as a citizen and filming them.
"The accusations are a problem," he said.
Watkins said after the meeting that he was disappointed that Larsen would not apologize.
Watkins said he could turn off Larsen's microphone if necessary. And the council could go through a censure process.
"Calling staff liars is not acceptable," he said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org