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Black Diamond Mayor Dave Gordon and City Council collide
The honeymoon between Black Diamond Mayor Dave Gordon and the City Council officially came crashing down amid a flurry of public allegations, accusation and acrimony.
The dispute soared past the boiling point after the mayor alleged two council members came to his office and demanded his resignation and threatened his job, marriage and reputation if he did not step down.
One of the council members present denied a threat was leveled, stating the council members were offering advice on the possible repercussions to his job, family and reputation if he did not resign.
Gordon, who had no previous experience as an elected official, took office Jan. 1 after a 68 percent landslide victory over former Mayor Rebecca Olness in the November general election.
Among Gordon’s main campaign issues was his opposition to the two YarrowBay master planned developments in the city.
Minor disagreements on policy and procedures were apparent between the mayor and City Council early in his term, but the backroom hostilities broke into public view at an April 3 council meeting.
The council approved a resolution at the meeting authorizing Councilwoman Carol Benson, who is the mayor pro tem, to “obtain an investigatory report” of a public official concerning a hostile work environment allegation from a staff member. Specific names were not disclosed on the document, but according to multiple sources involved in the issue, the staff member is City Administrator Christy Todd and the elected official is Gordon.
The sources reported Todd’s attorney filed a demand letter against the city and Gordon. The sources reported the demand letter was filed after the city’s insurance company, Cities Insurance Association of Washington, returned a finding of no wrongdoing by the mayor in a sexual harassment complaint by Todd against Gordon.
Though the resolution was not on the meeting agenda, text for the measure was provided at the beginning of the meeting following an executive session.
Gordon wrote in a statement following the April 3 council resolution that he takes Todd’s allegations “very seriously” and that he supports her role as city administrator.
“Her complaint is being investigated,” Gordon wrote. “Ms. Todd never told me there was an issue or problem. Nor did anyone else. I welcome this investigation and have been cooperating fully. I know that I have done nothing wrong or illegal and I believe that the investigation will prove this.”
Todd has been out of the office since March 24. A message was sent to her city email account by The Reporter seeking comment. An automatic reply said she would be out of the office and unavailable until April 8, which was after press deadline.
Investigation or Witch Hunt?
Councilman Ron Taylor, who was not present at the April 3 meeting, sent a statement to The Reporter expressing his personal views the afternoon of April 4.
He stated Gordon has been implicated in sexual harassment and hostile work environment allegations and he and the council take the allegations “very seriously” and intend to see they are “aggressively investigated.”
“The unfortunate thing, in my view, is that this is only the tip of a bigger iceberg,” Taylor wrote. “The very troubling matters surrounding the mayor are much broader and deeper.”
Taylor issued a frank disapproval of Gordon’s leadership abilities, writing the mayor’s actions have caused “the fabric of the city government to unravel.”
“If Mayor Gordon truly cares about the well-being of the city, as he says he does, then I call for him to resign now and let the city pick up the pieces,” he wrote.
In a response to Taylor’s statement, Gordon said the councilman leveled a number of “unwarranted” personal attacks that seem more like a “witch hunt.”
“Mr. Taylor’s letter is extremely unfair,” Gordon wrote. “He would ‘try and convict me’ in the eyes of the public by issuing his letter first – before the city has even had an opportunity to complete its investigation.”
Gordon added in his response the city’s personnel policy protocols should be followed. He alleged Taylor’s letter is attempting to “bypass” the protocols and, “Given Mr. Taylor’s public statement before the investigation has been completed and the parties have responded, it raises serious questions regarding whether Mr. Taylor can objectively and fairly assess the results of that investigation.”
Job, marriage and reputation
One of the most incendiary developments between the mayor and the council concerns a meeting that took place between Gordon, Taylor and Councilwoman Janie Edelman in late March.
According to Gordon, Taylor and Edelman came to his office to demand his resignation despite being aware the city’s insurance company had cleared him of the sexual harassment claim by Todd.
“They both acknowledged I was perfectly innocent, but still demanded my resignation,” Gordon said. “They both threatened my job (at Boeing), my marriage and my reputation in the community, after they both acknowledged I was innocent.”
When Edelman was contacted concerning the conversation by phone on Monday, she said, “That (allegation) is an outright lie. I have asked for the mayor’s resignation, but I have never said I am out to destroy his marriage or get him fired from his job. That is a lie.”
Edelman called back on Tuesday with a different statement concerning the events. She said that there was a meeting between her, the mayor and one other individual, whom she declined to name, that lasted almost an hour. She said she made a point to the mayor that he should resign, otherwise there would be repercussions with his family and job if the story made the newspapers.
“I never threatened to go to his job or ruin his marriage; that was never our intent,” Edelman said. “Our intent was to do this quietly so to save the embarrassment for everybody.”
Edelman said she initially called the allegations “an outright lie” because the phrasing of the question was being twisted.
“I was in the meeting; I know what was said,” Edelman said. “We did not say we were going to ruin his marriage or ruin his job. What we were trying to tell him is that there were repercussions for his actions and there would be consequences affecting his wife and his job. Not that we were going to do anything. That was never said.”
When asked if the discussion could have been interpreted as threatening, Edelman responded, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
When contacted Sunday evening concerning the meeting Taylor said he could not comment.
Gordon called the meeting, “just a power grab. It’s a political coup. What this is about is a conspiracy effort to change the form of government to council-manager after the people voted that down. This is a conspiracy and has nothing to do with the investigation.”
The residents voted down a ballot measure by 59 percent to change the form of government to council-manager in November 2012.
Rival defends Gordon
Numerous allegations have surfaced about some council members attempting a “cabal” to force Gordon out of office in an effort to stop the YarrowBay developments.
The allegations included statements of conspiracy and “vigilante justice” concerning YarrowBay.
Edelman called the accusation “a bunch of baloney.”
“That is crazy,” she said. “We don’t even talk about the master planned development, other than we notice there are trees cut down…. We as a council are not in the business to stop YarrowBay…. I have never said that I was going to stop YarrowBay. The mayor has said that when he was campaigning. I have never said that. I have said I want it responsibly done.”
Olness, who was embroiled in a bitter campaign against Gordon, provided a statement to The Reporter that defended her rival and asked that the city move forward in spite of the City Council.
“No matter how you say it, the mayor has been bamboozled, hoodwinked or tricked by Save Black Diamond and most of the City Council,” Olness wrote. “They thought he would be their puppet and when he stood up to them they are trying to get rid of him.”
Olness said despite the unsettling campaign “with many lies told about me” she “admires” Gordon for trying to get help and fight the allegations.
“Gordon is being, ‘depicted as the bad guy’ when in fact he is being a ‘good guy’ by trying to get out of the mess he is in,” Olness wrote. “The City Council is trying to run both the legislative and executive branches of the city.”
The former mayor added the Black Diamond citizens should see Gordon through his term.
“There are many former adversaries (of Gordon) who are coming to the mayor’s defense and are willing to help him,” she wrote. “I have also spoken to many city staff members in the past few days and they are behind the mayor 100 percent.”
The Right Thing
Taylor said during the phone interview Sunday, “We (the council) are simply trying to do the right thing. It is not about YarrowBay. I’m not against the development. Those words have been put in my mouth, but it’s not true.”
Edelman said Tuesday, “I don’t regret anything I’ve said to that man (Gordon). Whatever I’ve said to that man I was thinking of the best interest for city of Black Diamond…. Now it’s all coming out in the newspapers. We were trying to protect him in a way, but he chose to do something different.”
Gordon has told The Reporter repeatedly he is innocent of any wrongdoing concerning the allegations brought against him.
“If Dave Gordon can’t make it as a mayor, then an honest man can’t do it,” he said.