Council members quiet on Williams agreement

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MOSES LAKE — In mid-June, council members for the City of Moses Lake voted 6-0 to approve a separation agreement with former City Manager John Williams, who resigned amid an investigation into misconduct complaints from current and former city employees.

Now that the details of the agreement have been made public, however, council members are declining to comment on the appropriateness of approving the agreement before review of complaints against Williams is concluded.

The agreement included $141,000 in salary and benefits, a press release, and a clause barring council members from “disparaging” Williams, and another barring city officials from openly discussing the complaints with prospective employers of Williams’ looking for references.

All council members voted in favor of the agreement, except for Mayor Karen Liebrecht, who was absent. Council members Don Myers, Dean Hankins and Mayor Karen Liebrecht did not respond to requests for comment, and all other council members declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation and corresponding exemptions to disclosure laws.

Since the complaints were first made public in early May, council members have directed all questions regarding the complaints to City Attorney Katherine Kenison, in keeping with her legal advice.

“The media is not the appropriate venue for the council to be discussing the decisions they’ve made or the rationale for those decisions given that there are claims filed against the city involving those individuals,” Kenison said.

Council member Daryl Jackson, in declining to comment, agreed with this sentiment, stating that council members in 2015 had been too eager to comment to the media about former City Manager Joe Gavinski when he was suddenly removed from office over disputes regarding the fire department.

When asked about the appropriateness of voting for the separation agreement while the city’s review of complaints against Williams was ongoing, Deputy Mayor David Curnel said the city attorney had advised the council to take that action.

“That’s something the attorney has worked out, and I don’t have any comment on it,” Curnel said.

In declining to comment, Curnel cited a public disclosure exemption he said barred him or other council members from revealing the council’s reasoning.

“We’re not allowed to discuss what goes on in an executive session,” Curnel said. “All of this stuff was discussed in an executive session, and, of course, we’re not allowed to discuss that.”

In addition to the executive session exemption, the separation agreement with Williams now bars the council from “disparaging” Williams. City Attorney Katherine Kenison defined “disparaging” as discussing “negative things that are not supported by facts.”

But the city has suggested that if damaging facts are gleaned from the ongoing internal investigation, they may also not be made public. This is because the review is being considered a work product and will be exempt from disclosure similarly to an executive session, said Kenison.

“Some documents are protected during certain periods of time, and when that time expires those may be made public,” Kenison said. “Some of those documents, when they’re not involved in active litigation, may, at the choice of public officials, be made available, but they’re not necessarily mandated to.”

Though the public isn’t currently able to see the details behind the council’s reasoning, and may never be given the full picture, Kenison stated that the council was acting in the city’s interests.

“This council is operating in their most professional capacity, and they have nothing but the best interests of the city in mind, and they’re taking actions coming from that perspective,” Kenison said.

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