The director of White Salmon's Public Works Department, stung by accusations of misdeeds leveled at him by council member Richard Marx, publicly took Marx to task during the "town hall" segment of the Aug. 2 meeting of the White Salmon City Council.
Public Works Director Wil Keyser said it was important for city officials and staff to work together as a team to serve the public's interests.
"The only reason we're here is to serve the public," Keyser pointed out. "It is only when the body of legislators, mayor, department heads, and service employees function collectively as a team -- always showing respect for one another -- that the public is really being served."
Keyser blasted the "us and them mindset" between legislators and the administration that has been displayed at recent council meetings.
"Micro-management has taken on a new meaning to the point where the administration of the city has literally been hijacked," Keyser said. "Isn't it time we set aside cynicism, contempt, suspicion, assumption, negativism, bitterness, anger, vengeance, distrust -- all of which have led to a dysfunctional government and community."
Keyser said he believes the White Salmon community is in "rapid decline," and the picture could hinder the city's economic growth.
"There is a growing awareness throughout the mid-Columbia region that White Salmon is in political and governmental disarray, to the extent that developers are now questioning whether they want to invest in our community's future," Keyser explained. "Consultants are expressing a reluctance to associate their companies with the city of White Salmon for fear it may have an adverse impact to their company's name. It is increasingly difficult to recruit qualified new applicants to fill either administrative or service-level positions -- all due to the image of a cynical, negative politic and dysfunction of this municipal government."
Keyser noted that over the past 18 months, the city has lost three "highly qualified and productive" finance directors, which he blamed on the negative politics of city government.
"We're experiencing an exodus of promising, highly qualified police officers, City Hall staff, and public works employees in this city," he said. "You have to live on another planet if you don't realize that this is largely due to the depressive, regressive, cynical, power-hungry, headhunting, power seeking, lack of team concept, and a mindset of go-it-alone political atmosphere in this community. And the picture being fostered and represented to the community and region is adverse to progressive community growth and development."
Keyser said he believed council member Richard Marx deserved the brunt of the blame for what was taking place.
"On Feb. 15, Mayor Holen publicly revealed that councilor Marx had contacted the State Auditor's Office, contacted legal counsel, and contacted the city insurance carrier, falsely alleging malfeasance and/or misappropriation of city funds to the extent of $474,000, inferring that it was due to the mayor and Wil Keyser, and he requested an investigation of his claim," Keyser pointed out. "This allegation is false, egregious, defaming, slanderous and smacks of legislative McCarthyism, to say the least. Additionally, councilor Marx falsely informed the city's insurance carrier that the city's water well-field and pumping stations were being controlled from the home of Wil Keyser. Again, this represents an out of control legislator who has a personal agenda forested out of bitterness, hate, vengeance, paranoia, and is without basis of fact."
Keyser also pointed to letters Marx has published in The Enterprise "letters to the editor" section.
"In the July 27 issue of The Enterprise, councilor Marx declared a conspiracy on the part of Mayor Holen and the director of public works to declare a water conservation emergency, alleging there was no failure of the water system infrastructure, rather only a concocted conspiracy to benefit the mayor in the pending recall election. This is a very serious, publicly made allegation, and again, it is blatantly false. This is a shoot from the hip, juvenile mentality, to say the least. Councilor Marx has appointed himself as the chief investigator, judge and jury for the city of White Salmon."
According to Keyser, someone was paid to look into Keyser's background and work history.
"I have been informed that a special private investigator was hired to investigate Wil Keyser's background," Keyser said. "These investigations were apparently paid for by a small consortium of local citizens, bitter at Wil and the mayor for leading the effort to develop a new water system while discontinuing the Buck Creek source of water. My 49 years of public service are impeccable, and the investigative fishing expedition came up with yet another empty bucket."
Keyser added that Marx also tried to glean information from city employees.
"Councilor Marx has been so intent and so desperate to find a smoking gun, that he went to the extent of badgering Public Works employees for information he could use to perpetrate his objectives," Keyser recounted. "Councilor Marx has repeatedly used the forum of the City Council and The Enterprise newspaper to present his false allegations, with the hope I will resign under the pressure of it all. But I am a thick-skinned German."
Keyser warned that legal action against Marx may be forthcoming.
"I hereby inform you that at the appropriate time, I fully intend to hold the City Council member accountable in a court of law for his conduct, which has led to defamation and slander of my person. I will no longer allow councilor Marx the unchallenged opportunity to further defame or slander me while serving in his position on the City Council," Keyser stated.
The city of White Salmon could also be legally liable for Marx's actions, Keyser warned.
"You need to realize that the City Council has the responsibility to publicly declare that inappropriate actions, allegations, or conduct by one of its members does not represent the city, and, if deemed necessary, take action to censure that individual," he told the council members.
After the meeting, Marx rejected Keyser's message.
"I'd like to say Wil Keyser has got me shaking in my boots," Marx said. "He's done a great job of transferring heat from the real issues. Like I said before, the allegations are completely preposterous. It's old news. I was accused of all this stuff by Mayor Holen in February or March."
Marx pointed out that he did not feel he had done anything inappropriate, and that he believes the city needs stringent oversight.
"As an elected official, I believe it is my duty to be the eyes and ears. I was elected to do what the community can't do. I have an obligation to seek out the truth," Marx explained. "Checks and balances are put in place for a reason."
Marx added that he was not worried about being censured by the White Salmon City Council as a whole.
"They can't. I was elected," Marx said. "I have a right to say what I want."
On Monday, City Council member Timi Keene said she did not care to comment on the matter.
"Council members have not discussed censure. That's all I have to say," Keene said.