Letter of censure brought to Town Council

 

March 28, 2024



Tensions between Cathlamet leaders bubbled up again last week as a majority of town councilors expressed frustration with Mayor David Olson through a signed “censure” letter.

The letter, written by Councilor Robert Stowe and provided to the mayor at the March 18 council meeting, does not carry legal weight or entail direct consequences for the mayor. But it does spell out dissatisfaction with Olson’s actions and behavior. The letter followed several months of marked tension between Olson and several councilors.

The letter accuses Olson of creating a toxic work environment for council members and at council meetings, “sabotaging the effectiveness of the council and therefore the town and citizens.”

The letter says Olson has interfered with the council’s work and duties — in particular, meetings held by outside organizations that councilors attend as liaisons.

Olson says some town councilors have overstepped their bounds in these liaison roles or, in his opinion, done an inadequate job of representing the town’s interests. But some councilors, including Stowe, say the mayor has interfered in their ability to be advocates for Cathlamet. There have also been disagreements over how best to use money from a new cell tower lease.

At a previous meeting, Olson had suggested hiring a mediator. Then, near the start of the March 18 meeting, he announced he would not be seeking reelection after his term ends in 2025, but that he would step down immediately if the council unanimously asked him to resign.

Olson said it was clear he did not have a working relationship with the town council and that the majority of the council, in his opinion, “is reflexively opposed to anything I bring in.”

Later, in the same meeting, Stowe presented the censure letter and asked fellow councilors to sign it.

“The mayor’s intolerable behavior and his many refusals to listen to or accept council’s feedback, opinions or decisions has increased to the point that working with the mayor has become an unpleasant chore as opposed to the working relationship required to benefit the town,” the letter states.

The letter demands that Olson “cease and desist these behaviors and allow the members to function as designed, without interference and with the respect due to their role in the governance of the town.”

Cathlamet operates under a mayor-council form of government and does not have a town manager. The mayor functions in this administrative role, overseeing town staff and town contracts among other duties. During council meetings, the mayor only has a vote if there is a tie to be broken.

Stowe’s letter was presented as an untitled resolution at the start of the March 18 meeting. Stowe asked for it to be included on the agenda. Olson, town staff and other councilors say they did not know about the contents of the resolution or its subject until Stowe read the letter later in the meeting.

Stowe and Councilors Jeanne Hendrickson and Laurel Waller signed the censure letter. Councilor Joe Baker declined to sign it because he felt there were better ways to address issues with the mayor. Councilor Kermit Chamberlin was absent for that part of the meeting.

“I’m looking for a resolution,” Stowe told KMUN explaining why he wrote the letter. “I want to be able to work with the mayor, not against him. But he’s got to want to work with us and as far as I can tell, he doesn’t. He doesn’t want to work with us — he wants us to work for him.”

He says every town councilor has their own voice and perspective.

“This council has the potential to do a lot of good for the town, if we’re allowed to do our jobs,” Stowe said.

Olson has called the accusations in Stowe’s letter a “collection of miscellaneous grudges and grievances.” He told KMUN he believes these issues should be worked out in partnership between the mayor and the councilors.

He said the portrait painted of him by the letter is “a cartoon of a monstrous mayor who is interfering and hostile and driven and controlling and insulting. None of it’s true.”

In a statement sent to KMUN and The Wahkiakum County Eagle and addressed to the citizens of Cathlamet, Olson wrote that, “There is no perfect mayor, certainly not me. I have made mistakes but try to learn from them. Among other things, I am outspoken about the welfare of the town, and this has led to misunderstandings.”

“But I prize civility,” he added, “and when I lose patience, I apologize and try to do better. Despite missteps, I am proud of what the mayor and council have accomplished together in the last two years.”

He concluded that, “If the mayor and council resume working together, I know we can do even better. Let us not join the ranks of local governments in our area where squabbling and incivility is creating instability and wasting time and scarce tax dollars. Clinging to grudges and grievances (inevitable in our democratic process) is not good governance.”

Hendrickson says she only ran for a spot on the town council in 2022 because of Olson, who was running for mayor. She walked in a parade in front of Olson and his wife in support of his candidacy. He had, she said, nearly every vote in the town.

“He couldn’t have gotten more support from this council,” Hendrickson said. “The respect has just been whittled away by his behavior. We’re here for the town.”

Baker believes one of the central issues is that council members and the mayor have been taking differences of opinion and perspective personally — and that Olson struggles when it is clear the council disagrees with him on an issue.

But Baker didn’t see an upside to the symbolic action of the censure letter.

The censure, as he saw it, “just creates hard feelings.” He also saw the letter as an expression of lack of confidence in the mayor. Baker says he does have confidence in the work Olson is doing for Cathlamet.

Baker acknowledges there have been issues in working with Olson. He has seen “anger issues that didn’t need to be there.” Still, he believes it comes, primarily, from a place of passion.

“I hope that what happens is we all grow up a little bit through this process,” Baker said. “That’s what I hope. If we all grow up a bit and learn how to lose and learn how to win, everything’s going to be fine.”

After all, he noted, after the censure letter was read and signed by a majority of the councilors, the town council and Olson still went on to have a long and productive meeting.

 

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