Post updated Jan. 9, 2012
An angry email exchange last week between Vancouver City Council member Jeanne Stewart and Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt has revealed simmering tensions on the council heading into key discussions about committee assignments.
This is the time of year that the City Council decides which of its members will serve on city and regional committees, including the C-Tran board of directors and the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council (RTC).
A year ago, the council removed Stewart from her appointment to the C-Tran board of directors – where she had served for six years – for breaking ranks with her Vancouver colleagues when she voted with the majority of the board to divide a proposed ballot measure to support bus service and high capacity transit into two separate sales tax votes.
The C-Tran bylaws grant the three Vancouver city representatives, as well as the County Commissioners, the ability to veto a decision as a bloc. The Vancouver City Council wanted one measure, not two, and expected its three representatives on the C-Tran Board – Leavitt, council member Jeanne Harris, and Stewart – to vote to table the decision.
Leavitt and Harris did, but Stewart didn’t, and she got yanked. City council member Bart Hansen replaced her on the board.
Stewart hopes for C-Tran or RTC assignments
Now, Stewart wants to be considered for the C-Tran Board again, as well as the RTC, based on her seniority on the council (10 years) and experience. In the email, she refers to an alleged conversation she had with Leavitt in which he told her other council members would resist her appointment. (The emails are a matter of public record.)
“I indicated to you I was interested in serving on the C Tran B\noard and also the Regional Transportation Council,” Stewart wrote. “You indicated, that based on conversation you had with other Council members about my participation, you expected Council members would block my appointment to either of these Boards due to their lack of trust regarding whether I would follow the directives from Council. No Council member has discussed any of this with me.”
Stewart points out that the Vancouver City Council eventually reversed itself on the high capacity transit ballot measure in 2011. In her mind, that vindicated her.
“Clearly, my judgment in this decision was proven to be correct,” Stewart writes. “The action to remove me was punitive. Frankly, in all appearances, my skepticism regarding costs, effectiveness and implementation of light rail seem to be at the source of the resistance to allowing me to participate on behalf of the citizens in a meaningful and productive way on these two boards. To continue the punitive action for something that ‘might be done’ is, in fact, a permanent sanction.”
Leavitt charges Stewart with trying to manipulate public perception
For his part, Leavitt took umbrage with Stewart bringing up the subject in an email and copying the media.
“Frankly, I wish you had simply picked up the phone to inquire as to progress on my recommendations, before firing of (sic) this email,” Leavitt writes.
Leavitt clarifies that he has submitted his committee recommendations to the city manager and that the council will take up the discussion at its Jan. 27 retreat.
Leavitt goes on to dispute ever saying that committee members would block Stewart’s appointment. Rather, he reminds Stewart that he encouraged her to mend fences with other councilors and demonstrate that she would follow the policies of the City Council when serving as an “ambassador” of the council on other boards or commissions.
“Clearly, you’ve chosen not to engage in personal conversations with council members to move past this matter, and that’s your prerogative,” he writes. “I’m most certain the Council is not interested in appointing a representative to any board or commission that is going to act as a ‘rogue’. Our policies apply to all council members; you do not rise above their applicability. You will be held accountable, just as each other councilmember is….regardless of how you attempt to manipulate public perception on this matter.”
In response, Stewart took the term “rogue” as an insult.
“I am not, nor have I ever been a ‘rogue’, as you put it,” Stewart writes. “Rogue is a term used to attempt to discredit a person.”
Leavitt attacks Stewart for lack of vote on light rail
Leavitt went on to say that seniority is no guarantee for consideration for an appointment and that Stewart should not think she is entitled to any appointment to a board of commission. He referenced last year’s mayor pro tem vote and her lack of support for senior member Jeanne Harris as mayor pro tem.
“Tradition has been that senior council members receive consideration from the corporate body, but there are several other factors to consider, including continuity, knowledge, interest and a fair distribution of the workload,” he writes.
On the matter of the City Council changing its position on the high capacity transit vote, Leavitt said it was simply a matter of not causing further delay in the process.
He added that by violating council policy with her vote, Stewart was responsible for delaying a vote on light rail. Leavitt also dismisses Stewart’s reasoning that she was right in voting the way she did because the City Council eventually came around to the same position.
“Your justification for violation of our policies, because later action of the Council to support the language and placement of a ballot measure before the voters on busses, is irrational,” he writes.
Ironically, he targeted the City Council member who has been pushing for a vote a public light rail as its obstacle. Had she voted with fellow councilmembers, Leavitt writes, “There very likely would have been a public vote on light rail already.”
Leavitt also referred to alleged threats that Stewart made to him about political repercussions that would befall him if he squelched her voice. He took the gloves off in his own defense.
“I have and will continue to do what I believe is correct and right for our Community, and acceptable within the policies of our Council, the authority of the Mayor position, the Charter of the City and the law of the land,” he wrotes. “Taking votes and landing on decisions due to the fear of ‘political repercussions’, or even worse, to pander to a certain constituency, is not the type of leadership our community needs or desires.”
Stewart says threats not her style
Stewart concludes the exchange by denying that she made any threats toward him or anyone else. Her point was that she hadn’t seen any list of appointments, and it appeared that he might make decisions without input from the council.
“I simply observed that if you are the one proposing the list of new assignments as the Mayor’s perogative (sic), without discussion and public input from Council members, then the outcome of the action appears to be solely your action and your responsibility. I pointed out, it is the responsibility of the whole Council.”
Read the unedited emails here: Stewart-Leavitt_01-06-12_emails.
The original article, posted Jan. 8, indicated that neither Leavitt nor Stewart responded to requests for follow-up prior to deadline. However, it was discovered today that an email from Mayor sent Saturday afternoon accidentally had been overlooked.
In it, Leavitt reiterated his stance that Stewart acted in a premeditated manner and betrayed the trust of the Council with her vote on the C-Tran Board. In his opinion, she is the one keeping this issue alive.
“This matter drags on for her because she is mistakenly indignant about her selfish act, and won’t accept responsibility for her violation,” he wrote.
In a further conversation Monday, Leavitt said he has recommended that Stewart serve on the RTC and the Columbia River Economic Development Commission. The City Council will formally receive his recommendations at tonight’s city council meeting.
This latest update also clarifies the fact that Stewart’s vote on the C-Tran Board denied the Vancouver City Council a bloc veto on the motion to have two separate tax votes on buses and high capacity transit. COUV.COM regrets the oversight.
See our continuing coverage of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project.
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