Tempers flare between Enumclaw mayor and councilman

Sparks flew during the most recent gathering of the Enumclaw City Council, with accusations leveled by the mayor and city attorney against Councilman Darrell Dickson, who staunchly denied any wrongdoing.

The issue behind the contention public exchange is a pending agreement between the city and Puget Sound Energy that would allow natural gas to continue flowing through Enumclaw on its way to Buckley. PSE is in the process of purchasing Buckley’s gas system and will be paying Enumclaw for its part in the gas transmission, just as Buckley has always done. Specifically at issue are the dollars that will be paid.

Terms of an agreement between PSE and Enumclaw had tentatively been ironed out, but Dickson – as a member of the council’s Public Works Committee – wondered if the city would be adequately compensated. He began researching the matter and determined more time was needed to make a fully informed decision.

That’s where the fireworks began smoldering, only to blaze into full view during the Feb. 24 council session.

City Attorney Mike Reynolds and Mayor Liz Reynolds took turns accusing Dickson of misrepresenting himself as chairman of the Public Works Committee during his research. When it came Dickson’s turn to speak, he flatly denied the allegation, noting he is brand new to the committee and wouldn’t make such a statement. His only interest is in protecting the citizens of Enumclaw, Dickson maintained.

Adding to the verbal pyrotechnics was Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson, who reminded that the two Plateau communities maintain a happy and healthy working relationship. While not mentioning Dickson by name, Johnson said further efforts to get a better deal from PSE would cast Enumclaw in a money-grubbing light.

Attorney sets the stage

Mike Reynolds detailed how Dickson had approached PSE, wondering if Enumclaw had been underpaid as a result of the most recent contract with Buckley and if the proposed contract went far enough.

The trouble, Reynolds said, is with the perception created by Dickson’s stance.

“The perception…is that the city of Enumclaw has spoken…that the city of Enumclaw took a position on this,” he said.

While that’s not true, the attorney added, it likely delayed the eventual purchase of Buckley’s gas utility by PSE.

Reynolds emphasized part of his responsibility is risk management. Given that, he noted the city and individual council members could face “significant liability” if delays create troubles between Buckley and PSE and lead to legal action.

Buckley mayor clearly unhappy

Johnson then stepped to the microphone and made no attempt to hide her feelings.

“Perhaps through further negotiations and delay you may be able to squeeze a few more dollars out of PSE, but is it really worth it?” she asked, noting her concern that hesitancy on Enumclaw’s part could cause the agreement between Buckley and PSE to fall apart.

“We are at the 11th hour and, quite frankly, from my side of the river, this has the rotten smell of greed written all of it,” Johnson said. “Let’s keep this great working relationship we have between our two cities.”

Enumclaw mayor goes on offense

Liz Reynolds noted that, when in comes to politics, “perception is everything.”

That being said, she launched into a monologue highly critical of Dickson.

When elected officials are talking to those from other agencies, she said, “we have to remind ourselves that we do not represent the whole. We have to make clear that we represent our voice and our voice only.”

Turning to face Dickson, the mayor allowed that “I understand your compassion for the community.”

But she then again blasted him for giving the perception that he spoke on behalf of the city and added she was “deeply concerned” about his actions.

Councilman states his case

When it was his turn to speak, Dickson did three things: disputed any notion that he represented himself as chairman of the Public Works Committee; rattled off mathematical formulas that, in his view, show how Enumclaw has chronically been underpaid for its role in supporting natural gas delivery to Buckley; and, finally, painted himself firmly as an advocate for Enumclaw and its ratepayers.

“This is an opportunity for the city of Enumclaw’s gas company to make $2 million and if I have to take the fall for that, I’ll take the fall,” he said.

Dickson emphasized there is nothing personal in his tactics, it’s strictly about dollars and cents.

“We love Buckley, but this is a financial deal. And this is about strengthening our gas company,” he said. “This is about lowering our gas rates. This is about making our businesses more competitive.”

Council debates decision

There were only five council members to reach a decision, as one seat remains vacant and Councilman Jim Hogan – who chairs the Public Works Committee – did not participate because he is employed by Puget Sound Energy.

Councilman Mike Sando opened discussion by stating his support for the contract as it was presented. His motion to adopt the resolution died with no further support.

Dickson presented a motion that puts the agreement between Enumclaw and PSE on hold for 30 days. The time is needed, he said, to adequately examine all the numbers and arrive at fair compensation.

Councilman Hoke Overland seconded the motion, adding that he was disappointed with how Dickson had been treated throughout the meeting. Councilwoman Juanita Carstens added her support as well, noting that Buckley’s Mayor Johnson was operating on emotion while “Darrell is going on facts and numbers and business.”

Parting shots taken

Mayor Reynolds indicated her displeasure stemmed from Dickson’s actions that led to PSE’s perception that he was acting as a committee chairman.

She warned that “when we’re talking to outside agencies we’re not misrepresenting who we truly are.”

When Dickson countered again that he had not misrepresented himself, the mayor shot back, “that’s their perception, Darrell.”

“But reality matters, too,” was Dickson’s closing remark.

Councilman seeks answers

A day following the council meeting, Overland contacted Thomas Schooley of the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission. He asked direct questions relating to Dickson’s inquiries and how he represented himself. Schooley  confirmed Dickson had contacted him the morning of Feb. 20.

In his emailed replies, Schooley said Dickson:

• “did not state that he was officially representing the city council.”

• “never said he was a decision maker on this matter.”

• “repeated several times that his goal was to ensure a fair price for the citizens of Enumclaw. He did not address the process, but only that he needed more information to make an informed presentation.”

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