After two public hearings on two controversial proposals in Bellevue, the battle lines appear to be set.
Half of the Bellevue City Council, along with Mayor Rusty Hike, has said the ordinances are necessary to stop one unnamed councilman from making sexual and derogatory comments toward city employees and other council members.
The city’s three other council members have said they won’t vote for proposals that would give the city the power to punish elected officials who engage in misconduct or who publicly share information from private city meetings.
Those three councilmen say they’re uncomfortable with the city having the ability to remove people from office — one possible consequence for engaging in such behavior.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, during a second public hearing that lasted more than an hour, many Bellevue residents expressed a similar belief: They don’t condone those types of comments, but they, too, think that an elected official’s removal from office should be done by the people through a regular election or a recall.
The proposals will go before the council for a vote Dec. 3.
Council President Paul Cook, who appears set to support the measures, read aloud a letter he wrote detailing inappropriate comments that either have been reported to the city or city leaders have overheard.
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The remarks included commenting on someone’s weight and making a sexual innuendo to a woman blowing out candles on a birthday cake.
Those inappropriate comments, Cook said, have been made by a council member to city employees and other council members.
The city has said it currently has no recourse to punish elected officials for such behavior.
“It is our responsibility to represent our constituents in a respectful and professional manner,” Cook said.
Council members Don Preister and Kathy Welch also have indicated that they support the ordinances.
If the final vote next month comes to a 3-3 tie, Hike would step in to break it.
Councilmen Thomas Burns, Pat Shannon and Bob Stinson said they plan to vote against it.
“Removing any elected official from the office she or he holds shows a lack of faith in my constituents and the rest of the citizens within Bellevue,” Burns said.
City leaders, including Hike and Jim Ristow, the city administrator, have said fears of the council abusing the ability to remove someone from office are misplaced.
The ordinances set out a series of progressive steps that would start with a written reprimand.
Since the first public meeting on the proposals, the city has tweaked the ordinances to reflect residents’ concerns.
For example, the city administrator will not have the power to issue a reprimand; that will reside with the council.
One of the more heated exchanges of the evening came between Hike and Sarah Centineo, the president of the Bellevue school board.
Centineo, an attorney, expressed concern about the process by which an elected official’s conduct would be scrutinized.
Under the proposal, the elected official in question would go before the council for a hearing. The city attorney would act as prosecuting attorney, with the ability to call and question witnesses.
Centineo pointed to what she called flaws in that setup.
“It’s not a judicial body, so there’s no penalty for perjury,” Centineo said. “There’s no way to enforce witnesses to appear. ... There’s just so many flaws in this system because you don’t have any ways to enforce it.”
Hike: “Well, hopefully we’ll never find out.”
Centineo: “Why implement an ordinance you never want to use?”
Hike then told her that her five minutes to comment were over.