As Nisqually Valley News (NVN) reporter Megan Hansen said about me in her published front-page story May 21st, I am a “frequent critic of the city” and rightly so. Yet, I was joined by her boss on an issue about which I have reported here several times covered by NVN Editor/Publisher Keven Graves’ in today’s Op-Ed titled, “Should the mayor be serving two masters?” where Graves vigorously examines an appearance of conflict of interest on Mayor Harding’s part.
Mayor Harding is the current Treasurer & president-elect of the Yelm Chamber of Commerce and “brought a proposal to the chamber board to purchase an electronic sign,” according to Hansen’s report in today’s paper. The sign would be rented to advertisers and placed on a city-owned easement at the corner of Killion Rd. & Yelm Ave. Graves points out “As mayor, Harding has the potential to knowingly or unknowingly ‘grease the skids’ for the chamber in this process.”
Graves continues, “…I believe the ‘perception’ of a conflict of interest can be every bit as damaging as a genuine conflict of interest.
The people of Yelm and the city’s interest must be Harding’s sole overriding, unequivocal focus as mayor, for as long as he is mayor.
As an elected public servant, Harding should not be serving two masters: The City of Yelm and the chamber [Yelm Chamber of Commerce].”
Graves admits that the chamber’s selling advertising space on an electronic billboard is “opting again to compete with one of its members, the newspaper.”
That it took something that affects his newspaper to get his attention does not matter, rather the fact Mr. Graves now sees & is reporting this ‘perception’ of the mayor’s conflict of interest, which cannot be overstated – THIS IS HUGE!
[Mr. Graves is a former Chamber Board member, as well, so he knows the picture from both sides.]
And I have an issue with a Chamber of Commerce Board & members for their malaise in not speaking up about this and other important issues affecting them in presentations Mayor Harding made at Chamber Forum meetings this year (water rate increases, B & O tax increases, water irrigation cutbacks on businesses, etc.).
I wrote this letter on May 15, 2010 to the Executive Director & Chamber Board:
To the Executive Director & Board of the Yelm Chamber of Commerce:
Last year, Ms. Cauhill [former Chamber President] sent me a letter in response to my question about the Yelm Chamber of Commerce Board voting for and giving a Citizen of the Year Award to fellow Board member [and mayor of this city] Ron Harding, an action I stated is an apparent conflict of interest for voting one of your own Board members as the recipient for this award.
Bottom line: the Chamber Board was OK with that & felt there was no conflict of interest.
OK, I understood that as your Board’s stand.
However, I was sitting in a recent Yelm City Council meeting (Feb 9th),
where the Council was asked/directed by Mayor Harding
to vote on public money to be allocated by the Council in 2010 for the Yelm Chamber of Commerce.
I sat there and did not put two & two together until that very moment.
I have been a Yelm Chamber member for almost 6 years now and as such, have a question:
Why is the mayor of a town whose City Council he directs the vote on public monies to be allocated for the local chamber,
and on whose Board he sits, is also that Chamber’s Treasurer?
Let’s see: so Mayor Harding directs the Council vote, takes the city’s check (the amount is irrelevant, $1 or $10,000) or gives to the Executive Director for deposit, and then reconciles the city’s deposit on the Chamber’s books, as Treasurer?
Since I know your stance is that all is well & none of you have any issue on this matter, this seems to me to be a major conflict of interest, so much so that I have reported this to the U. S. Chambers of Commerce in Washington, DC & to the Association of Washington Cities (AWC).
Of course, I received no answer as of yet.
BRAVO MR. GRAVES!
WHILE I MAY ALSO BE A CRITIC OF YOUR NEWSPAPER AT TIMES, I STAND WITH YOU WHEN WE AGREE THE PUBLIC’S INTEREST HAS BEEN USURPED!
IS THIS ANOTHER REASON THE CITY’S FINANCE DIRECTOR ‘RESIGNED’?
FOR WHAT MAYOR HARDING CALLED “A DIFFERENCE IN MANAGEMENT STYLES BETWEEN HIMSELF AND HER.”
IN THE LAST YEAR, WE HAVE SEEN MAYOR HARDING LEAD THE COUNCIL TO SEIZE A CITIZEN’S PROPERTY TO GET WATER RIGHTS, THREATEN TO CONDEMN A FORMER TAHOMA TERRA PARCEL FOR WATER IF NEEDED AND TELL THE PUBLIC HE WILL SHRINK THE LIBRARY TO SERVE ONLY CITY OF YELM RESIDENTS, EVEN THOUGH COUNTY TAXPAYERS FUND THE FACILITY, TOO.
HAS THE MAYOR BECOME CONSUMED BY POWER AND LOST SIGHT OF HIS MANDATE?
AS MR. GRAVES STATES,
“The people of Yelm and the city’s interest must be Harding’s sole overriding, unequivocal focus as mayor, for as long as he is mayor.”