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September 19, 2019 | 7:37am
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UPDATED – New ethics complaints filed against Ferndale mayor could be costly

"What is our end goal to spending $10,000 of not our money? At the end of this ethics complaint, what is going to happen?"

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FERNDALE, Wash. — During the last Ferndale City Council’s regular meeting, a citizen and former Ferndale mayor stepped forward during the public comment portion of the agenda and alleged several ethics violations by Mayor Jon Mutchler. No action by city staff or council followed those comments with no process in place for acting on such citizen complaints.

In the meantime, Councilmember and former candidate for mayor Keith Olson reportedly filed 2 ethics complaints against Mutchler with the city.

While the specifics of Olson’s filing have yet to be made public, Olson’s complaints accuse Mutchler of

  1. violating RCW 42.17A.555 by displaying a campaign sign on his car while parked in the City Hall parking lot.
  2. violating the Ferndale City Council Rules of Procedure & Ethics Handbook section on “Undue Influence” by his conduct in a meeting between a family member accused of a crime, the accuser and the accuser’s pastor and by misleading Ferndale Police personnel into believing he had retained Ferndale City Municipal Court Judge Mark Kaiman to represent him.

The Finance & Administration Council Committee, which met Wednesday, August 28th, discussed how to investigate the allegations.

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City Attorney Dannon Traxler told the committee the process for handling such complaints is for the complaints to go to the city administrator for review and then to her for investigation. If she found a violation, it would then go to a 3-person ad hoc council committee to determine the punishment. But, in this case, there is a conflict of interest in having her investigate allegations against the mayor since he has the ability to hire and fire her.

Traxler said she contacted Washington Cities Insurance Authority who referred her to an outside attorney to conduct the investigation. She reported the cost estimate provided by that attorney was between $8,000 and $12,000.

Councilmember Gary Jensen asked, “What is our end goal to spending $10,000 of not our money? At the end of this ethics complaint, what is going to happen?” Councilmember Olson responded, “A letter of admonishment and that would be it.”

Traxler clarified, “We are confined to what we can do to punish an elected official. Admonishment, censor and removal from committee but that wouldn’t even apply to the mayor. Our hands are tied as to what we can do. But there is a process that we are required to follow when a complaint has been filed.”

Mutchler said, “I have not ever responded to allegations which are completely false, completely,” and he welcomed an investigation but was disappointed at the cost to the city. He suggested to the councilmembers they could vote to suspend their rules to avoid the cost.

Traxler pointed out the primary stumbling block is the step in the process that requires an investigation prior to creating the ad hoc council committee. Council could suspend the rule requiring the investigation and jump to creating the ad hoc council committee and assigning them the responsibility to investigate. But, she cautioned, “That would require council interviewing elected officials and staff and I would see that as problematic given the relationships between everyone here at the city.”

City Administrator Jori Burnett said the city would work to find lower cost options but even in the absence of finding any would still need to enter into an agreement with an outside investigator to preserve the process.

NOTE:
This story was updated at August 30th at 2:30pm with information about the ethics violation complaints filed by Councilmember Olson as provided by Olson.


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7 COMMENTS

    • Mayor Mutchler clearly stated he WELCOMES an investigation, and as mayor, he’s a steward of our tax dollars and should be concerned, as many are, about spending $10K on a lawyer for something as ridiculously frivolous as having a campaign sign on his car at City Hall and for trying to personally resolve a family problem with ALL parties involved. Are we going to spend all this money and time just to merely slap his hand and say “Bad Boy”? Let’s get real folks! There are far more serious things to fuss about!

      Mayor Mutchler has served this city sincerely, respectfully, ethically and faithfully for many years now and we’re all allowed to make mistakes on occasion without having a huge hissy fit and wasting our tax dollars on some lengthy bureaucratic legal process that does nothing in the end, when we need money to fix roads, etc.. To me, this seems like revenge politics from Mr. Olsen & Co. We need to solve this respectfully and quickly. Let’s not allow D.C. politics to smear our community by lingering in the well of personal animosity.

      Compared to the serious crimes of politicians around this country, it’s refreshing to know this is the only thing Mayor Mutchler has been accused of in ALL these years. As adults, knowing how imperfect we all are, we need to take a breath, relax, smile and be grateful that we’re more like the town of Mayberry that needs to find something silly to gripe about and make much ado about nothing.

      “Forgive, Love & Unite”

      Bless you all,
      Arnold Evanson – Ferndale Citizen

  1. The issue is, the Mayor lied to at least two Ferndale police officers when he told them he had hired the City’s Municipal Court judge, Mark Kaiman, to act as his family’s attorney due to an allegation of a crime against one of his children. As Mrs. Goldsmith explained to Council, she called the judge’s law firm and was told the Mayor had NOT in fact hired the judge or even spoken to their firm about representing him or his family. FYI, Judge Kaiman is the man Ferndale police must go before whenever there is a trial in the Ferndale court, so the Mayor was attempting to intimidate the police by saying the judge would be representing his child.

  2. What I find troubling here is the immediate shift of focus to money away from whatever behavior precipitated the allegation of ethics violations brought by Mr. Olson against Mayor Mutchler, hot on the heels of the allegations made by Ms. Goldsmith. Are these new and unrelated allegations? Is this the beginning of a lifting of the curtain to a long history of ethical issues for Mayor Mutchler? Mayor Mutchler’s standing as a pastor does not automatically elevate him above scandal as we’ve all seen over and over with other religious leaders. If there has been no wrong doing by Mayor Mutchler, he should welcome being cleared by an impartial and thorough inquiry into any allegations against him.

    Ethics trump expense for me any day. If I can’t trust the purported leader of our city government to uphold the highest standards of personal behavior then how am I to trust our city government at all. Having an objective investigation into the allegations against Mayor Mutchler would go a long way to helping me make an informed decision regarding his reelection bid. Let’s do the right thing and find out if our mayor lives up to his claims of innocence. Investigate!

  3. If “the worst” happens then I call for another Primary. Many people who voted for Mayor Mutchler would not necessarily choose the second or third place candidate. However, I hope that it does not come to this and the voters can decide in the upcoming election.

Comments are closed.