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Lind council rescinds vote to vacate Mayor’s position

by GABRIEL DAVIS
Staff Writer | May 16, 2024 2:00 AM

LIND — The Lind Town Council voted 4-0 on Tuesday to approve motions by council member Robert Dew to rescind the council’s April 23 votes to vacate Mayor Paula Bell’s position and appoint council member Jamie Schmunk as temporary mayor. Council member Mike Wold was absent.

Dew said that he had previously believed the votes to be legal, but has since heard conflicting opinions on the subject. 

“Because (the council doesn’t have) legal representation from anywhere, we’re in the dark … I've talked to specialists who help towns and councils, and they said, ‘The field you're getting into is unheard of,’” Dew said. “So there was no RCW to make Jamie Schmunk the mayor. That was a matter of judgment, I guess, in wanting to remove Paula Bell. The town is desperate.”

The council also approved new motions to find legal representation paid for by the town’s insurance for the five council members in their legal case against Bell, who, according to Dew, filed a lawsuit against the five council members for mental anguish.

Dew said the case’s original judge excused himself from the case, and they are waiting for a new judge. Bell declined to comment on the lawsuit. 

In an email to the Columbia Basin Herald and in a letter to all five Lind Council members, the attorney employed by the Town of Lind, Mitchell Heaps of Larson Fowles, PLLC, said the firm does not represent the town nor the town council, but exclusively represents Paula Bell as mayor. Dew said Heaps will only respond to questions from Bell. 

Council member Jim Weidemann motioned for the town to employ an attorney to represent the town council separately from their legal case with Bell. 

“I propose that we, as a town council, hire our own attorney for any advice that we need, who we can go to,” Weidemann said. “And maybe (Heaps) should take off his (title of) Town Attorney, because he's not serving as the town attorney, he's serving as the mayor's attorney.”

Dew said he plans to continue to look for legal representation for the council and continue with town council meetings as they were run prior to the council’s vote to vacate the Mayor’s position.

“When it goes to court, we'll see what happens, I guess. But we've got to have legal representation,” he said. “It's just such a minefield, you can't fight it unless you know the law … Once we have legal advice, we can see what's right and what's wrong.”

Dew said having access to the town’s legal counsel may have entirely prevented the vote to vacate the mayor’s position. He said the motion for the council to have its own attorney for city business is also not ideal, since both attorneys are paid for by the town.

“Technically, the town should pay for one attorney that serves the whole (town),” Schmunk said.

Council member Laura Dew also expressed frustration with the situation.

“We just paid $800 to (Heaps) on this warrant, and we have no idea what for and we should know, right?” she said. “We’re the council members. We're paying for him and we have no idea what that charge was for.”

The council also approved a motion from Schmunk for town officials to participate in a training session on liability and roles and responsibilities.

“I think that it will be a wonderful way for people to be sure what is stated in the laws and what people think the laws have in them,” she said. “It would also teach how to work together better. I think that that is something we dearly need. We need (to) function as a whole town. That means the mayor in the office and the council, we need to work together as a team. We need to be informed, we need to know our roles specifically and we need to try to learn about each other so that we can find a common avenue to get along and do the good work for this town.”

The meeting ended with a public comment period. Lind resident Denise Snead spoke about Bell.

“You have abused your power in many ways. The most recent was that you were told by council not to cut down the trees in the park, to just take out the diseased limbs, and you cut down three trees in the park,” Snead said. “How is our town supposed to recover from the things that you do? … You're not following any of the rules and I wish you would resign, and many other people wish you would resign.”

Lind Chamber of Commerce Vice President Heather Reed also commented.

“It has been made very clear that there's a divide between your positions as council and the position of mayor,” Reed said. “One thing that many people in our community have expressed is the overwhelming feeling of divide already in this town. When you were elected, myself and many others were hoping … to have that bridge amended in order to come to some resolution on our issues.”

Reed elaborated on the council and mayors’ relationship. 

“From what the community, as well as the rest of the Eastern side of the state, has seen, you put more effort into controlling who stands in this position versus solving more important infrastructure issues,” Reed said. “I will say, being here at this meeting, I am very proud of how you guys have conducted this. It shows a lot of growth and I'm very happy to have come to this and see some resolution to a lot of these issues.”

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com.

    Lind Town Council member Robert Dew looks over documents during Tuesday evening’s regular council meeting, during which the council approved Dew’s motions to rescind the council’s April 23 vote to vacate Mayor Paula Bell’s position.
 
 


    Lind Chamber of Commerce Vice President Heather Reed shares her thoughts during Tuesday’s council meeting’s public comment period.