The Woodside Town Council on Tuesday (Nov. 14) voted unanimously, with one council member absent and two recused, to approve a settlement with resident and town volunteer Nancy Reyering in a town ethics code case.
The council agreed to pay her $35,000 for legal fees she incurred in defending herself in 2016 against allegations that she had violated the town's ethics code.
As part of the settlement, the town agreed to a restart a process to "evaluate and make recommendations to improve the town's ethics guidelines and procedures."
The payment of Ms. Reyering's legal fees, when added to the estimated $33,384 cost to the town of investigating her over the ethics code allegations, brings the town's total cost for this matter to at least $68,384.
Mayor Tom Livermore and council members Anne Kasten, Dave Tanner and Daniel Yost voted for the agreement, the mayor said in reporting on the decision, which was made in closed session. Councilmen Peter Mason and Chris Shaw recused themselves and Councilwoman Deborah Gordon was absent, Mr. Livermore said.
A federal lawsuit
Ms. Reyering's attorneys had prepared a federal lawsuit that named the town, Mayor Livermore and his predecessor as mayor, Ms. Gordon, as defendants, claiming violations of her constitutional rights to free speech.
At issue were comments Ms. Reyering made as a member of the town's architectural review board to the planning director and other board members concerning a residential design project that was coming before the board.
Ms. Reyering noted in a May 2016 email that the project's architect was Mr. Mason, a member of the Town Council, and said the applicant should refrain from the common practice of asking for exceptions to regulations and design guidelines in light of Mr. Mason's role on the council in forming those regulations and guidelines.
Ms. Reyering's email led former mayor Dave Burow to, eventually, file an ethics complaint against her, leading to a months-long investigation by an outside attorney at a cost to the town of at least $33,384, according to one of Ms. Reyering's attorneys.
The investigation by the outside attorney included a recommendation that five of nine allegations against Ms. Reyering be sustained: unequal treatment of Mr. Mason, personally attacking Mr. Mason, reaching a conclusion about a project before hearing testimony and before a public meeting had been held, and failing to maintain "a positive and constructive working environment," as the code requires.
Facing a hearing before the council, which the current ethics code requires to determine whether violations had occurred, Ms. Reyering allowed her term on the board to expire in early February 2017 and informed the mayor that she would not apply for reappointment.
The council, rather than determining whether violations had occurred, voted 4-0 to follow a recommendation by Mayor Livermore to take "no further action." In that decision, Council members Mason, Dave Tanner and Anne Kasten were absent.
Councilman Shaw, who recused himself from the settlement decision, was not a party to the ethics code matter but had run a write-in campaign in the fall of 2015 contesting Ms. Reyering's otherwise uncontested bid for a seat on the Town Council. Mr. Shaw won the seat with 53.1 percent of the vote.
Mr. Burow, at the time a council member, contributed about $960 toward a mass mailing in support of Mr. Shaw's campaign.