After the town of Woodside spent nearly $27,500 on an ethics-related investigation of one of its longtime volunteers, the Town Council at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 14, may drop the matter cold without issuing a ruling on whether the volunteer did in fact violate the town's ethics code, as alleged by a private citizen. Mayor Tom Livermore is recommending that the matter be formally closed and "no further action be taken on this complaint" -- which is ironic, given that closing the case now, with no resolution, may itself be a violation of the ethics code.
The complaint was lodged by a former council member, Dave Burow, who has been a critic of the town's Architectural and Site Review Board (ASRB), which volunteer Nancy Reyering served on until her term ended this month. Mr. Burow's complaint launched an investigation by a private law firm into various charges centered on an email Ms. Reyering sent last May addressing a project coming before the ASRB -- a project whose architect was Town Councilman Peter Mason.
In the complaint, Mr. Burow accused Ms. Reyering of a series of ethics code violations, some of which the private investigator recommended that the council sustain, others of which he rejected. Among the charges were that Ms. Reyering asserted that the ASRB should apply unequal treatment to council members when they are acting in their individual capacity, that she had reached a conclusion about the project before hearing testimony, and that she suggested that Councilman Mason was using his position to gain special consideration for his client.
Ms. Reyering hired an attorney to help her through the legal morass of the investigation, which she insisted was unmerited. The attorney who investigated the complaint issued a lengthy report recommending that five of the nine charges be sustained.
In launching the investigation, the town followed the protocol mandated by its code of ethics, but now the mayor is recommending that the council ignore an important final step of that mandated protocol, which states: "The report shall be presented to the Town Council at a public meeting of the Council. The Town Council will accept testimony on the matter and determine whether a violation of the Code has occurred."
In his recommendation and the draft resolution he proposes for the council's approval, Mayor Livermore notes that Ms. Reyering has failed to provide dates for a public hearing she could attend. He also points out that she has left her ASRB post, and asserts that holding a hearing "serves no constructive purpose."
We disagree. Conducting a hearing is required by the very code that Ms. Reyering is accused of violating. Equally important, seeing the process to the mandated conclusion would serve the public interest in that it would offer guidance to other town volunteers and the community at large by answering the question: Was Ms. Reyering's email a violation of the ethics code?
If the Town Council doesn't address that question, it will open itself up to charges that the goal of the complaint and investigation was to get rid of Ms. Reyering -- meaning the process was a publicly funded $27,500 charade.
It also would give town volunteers and the public a mixed message: Some will argue that because the outside attorney supported some of the charges, the email violated the code; others will assert that because the council didn't complete the required process by making a determination, no violation occurred.
The claim that the process should be halted now because Ms. Reyering might not participate in the hearing is a hollow one. This matter, at this point, is about more than Ms. Reyering. Some have called it a witch hunt that turned the question of ethical behavior by elected officials and volunteers on its head. These critics have a right to be heard if they choose to address the council. This matter needs a resolution.