• Sat. May 21st, 2022

Kalama City Council Votes to Remove Merz from Planning Commission Liaison Mission | Government and politics

ByChad J. Johnson

Apr 9, 2022

KALAMA – In a split vote, Kalama City Council on Thursday removed Councilman Matthew Merz from his planning commission liaison role after his statements about city committees, staff and other council members created a “bad working environment”.

At the March 17 meeting, Planning Commission Chair Lynn Hughes asked the council to remove Merz as a liaison because of “her lack of knowledge, interest and support” and because her accusations that the members were part of a shadow committee create a “hostile environment”. Councilor Wendy Conradi requested that it be added to the next agenda.

Merz made several posts in a private 3,000-member Facebook group claiming the police department’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee was illegally created without council approval. The city released a statement in mid-March calling Merz’s statements false and misleading.

KALAMA — City officials are defending an advisory committee created last year to get citizens’ input on the police department’s five-year strategy…

Police Chief Ralph Herrera and Advisor Jon Stanfill created the committee, which met in the spring of 2021, to advise the department on its first five-year strategic plan.

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Hughes and at least one other member of the current planning commission also served on the 10-member Police Advisory Board.

On Thursday, Conradi said she hoped Merz would “do the right thing” and step down from the mission.

Merz said he had “diligently reported” the activities of the planning commission and refused to resign.

“Although my creative talents do not lend themselves to the planning commission, the mayor chose to limit me to the planning commission,” he said. “This is retaliation against a whistleblower and an example of officials targeting others who don’t want to think about what they are waiting for.”

Councilman Steve Kallio offered to trade his assignment on the board of the Cowlitz Wahkiakum Council of Governments and Merz accepted. But the mayor ordered the council to move forward with the motion to remove Merz from his mission, which passed by a 3-2 vote, with Moon and Merz opposed.

During public comments earlier in the meeting, Coni McMaster, city clerk/treasurer, read a statement asking council to take formal action because Merz’s statements jeopardize council-staff relations.

“It’s time to take a stand against irrational, immature and derogatory behavior,” she said.

McMaster said that in her 27 years with the city, she has never felt less support from board members for each other and for the leadership team.

Communication is important because the government process can be difficult to understand, McMaster said. If council and staff cannot communicate with each other, it is difficult for citizens to trust the government, she said.

Kalama Councilman Matthew Merz was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly accessing another council member’s computer

Resident Jim Bain read a letter written by former councilor Sandra Macias Hughes, who was unable to attend the meeting, that Merz is distributing misinformation.

Macias Hughes wrote that she trusted city staff in part because of the state audit of the city conducted during her time on council. The audit, which takes place every two years, included an “extensive review of records,” and the city made no findings, its letter said.

At the March 17 meeting, McMaster said she contacted the state auditor’s office about the committee and was told there were no violations to report.

In Facebook posts, Merz said he called the auditor’s office and was told they hadn’t heard from the city.

McMaster said Thursday she spoke to the city liaison at the auditor’s office, Lindsay Osborne, who said the office has multiple divisions that don’t always get messages to her.

In a March 29 email to McMaster, Osborne said she would take notes of the concerns shared with her for assessment during the city’s next audit in the fall. Not all concerns fall within the auditor’s authority or rise to the level of investigation, Osborne wrote.

In other matters, the board gave staff approval to establish a budget amendment for costs carried over from last year or increased and several requests for new services, including:

  • $20,500 for police body cameras approved last year but delivered in March.
  • $30,000 to $35,000 to repair the Matson Road water main that broke in early January.
  • $8,500 for primary election costs, which were higher than expected due to three positions on the ballot.
  • $10,000 to increase the IT budget to consolidate services to a single provider and make improvements.
  • $36,500 to upgrade the water treatment plant’s computer systems and software.
  • $14,600 to Lexipol to update outdated city policies and keep pace with changing requirements.
  • $21,500 to upgrade the city’s employee scheduling and time tracking system.
  • $5,300 for the TextMyGov service to enable text-based communication with residents.
  • $120,000 to replace the Vincent Road water main a year ahead of schedule to align with planned paving work by Cowlitz County Public Works.

Kalama City Council Gives Preliminary Approval for Lofts Development

The board also approved the preliminary plan for the Lofts at Kalama LLC multifamily development, accepted an $18,425 donation from Woodland-Kalama Kiwanis for new playground equipment at Toteff Park, and declared April of housing fair.