Opinion: Kennewick Councilman John Trumbo crossed the line trying to prove a damaging rumor

Kennewick leaders censure councilman for misusing position

Kennewick Councilman John Trumbo has been censured for investigating an unfounded drug rumor about another councilman.
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Kennewick Councilman John Trumbo has been censured for investigating an unfounded drug rumor about another councilman.

Kennewick City Councilman John Trumbo went too far when he decided to chase after a damaging rumor about fellow Councilman Steve Lee.

It’s one thing to hear about possible criminal activity and pass the information on to law enforcement officials. It’s quite another to take on the investigation yourself and perpetuate the gossip chain in the process — which is what Trumbo did.

He reportedly heard fourth-hand an old story involving illegal drug use at Lee’s business — an allegation deemed unfounded by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office — and decided to find out more.

He went to great lengths to track down the person he thought was the source of the rumor, and then tried to contact her at home.

When no one answered the door, Trumbo told The Herald he left his city council business card in the door jamb with the words: “Call me. Important.”

She never did call Trumbo, but ended up being interviewed by a Benton County deputy and refuted the rumor.

Trumbo denies that he used his position as a council member to obtain information, but leaving a city council business card implies it was official city business. That suggests credibility he wouldn’t otherwise have had.

He said he passes out city council business cards all the time, and that people are “making a mountain out of a molehill” over the situation.

Others don’t see it that way.

This week the Kennewick City Council voted 5-2 to censure Trumbo for misusing his council position as he conducted the unauthorized investigation regarding Lee, the mayor pro tem.

Trumbo and Councilman Bill McKay voted against the motion, and Trumbo insists he will not “surrender his rights as a citizen to report what he believes to be criminal activity.”

Kennewick Councilman John Trumbo was censured for investigating an unfounded drug rumor about another councilman.

But that isn’t all he did. He went after the rumor on Lee the way he would go after a tip when he was a reporter for the Tri-City Herald.

Trumbo retired from the Herald in October 2012, and was elected the following year to the Kennewick council. He ran unopposed last November for another four-year term.

Councilman Paul Parish said he has encouraged Trumbo to leave the reporter in him behind.

“I like John, but he needs to become a city councilman and quit being an investigative reporter,” Parish said.

Trumbo should know that accusations alone can harm a person’s reputation, even those proven false.

Lee, who owns a state-licensed cannabis shop in Finley and another in Adams County, was rightly offended by the way Trumbo pursued the claim, and demanded he apologize and resign.

Trumbo refused.

With the censure, city council members publicly have admonished Trumbo and have distanced themselves from his actions. In addition, they have removed him from representing the city on boards and commissions for the rest of 2019.

Trumbo, though, still will be able to vote on city council issues. He said he does not plan to fight the censure, although he did protest the decision after the vote was taken.

So now what?

Trumbo has said he is not going to pursue the rumors any further. While Lee said the rumors could be grounds for a slander lawsuit, he is not pursuing legal action.

That’s good news for the city. This kind of dissension isn’t healthy for the council or the community.

Trumbo crossed a line and he’s been publicly rebuked for it. We hope that’s the end of this ugly episode, and that he and Lee can keep it in the past where it belongs.