Auburn subcommittee moves to censure Council's Haugen

Auburn City Councilmember Virginia Haugen considers a subcommittee
Auburn City Councilmember Virginia Haugen considers a subcommittee's move to censure her 'a waste of time.'
— image credit: Reporter photo

In a move unprecedented in Auburn history, a subcommittee of the Auburn City Council has decided to forward to the full City Council a resolution to censure one of its own.

The Committee on Council Operations, made up of Councilmembers Rich Wagner, Sue Singer and Nancy Backus, decided unanimously Monday to take the action with respect to Virginia Haugen.

A yes vote from the full Council would not remove Haugen from office. She was elected in 2007 and is up for reelection in November.

Haugen appeared at the meeting to offer her rebuttal to the charges, called the action a waste of time, declared that the Council has more important things to tend to, and left midway through the meeting, clearly angered and frustrated.

"What I probably need to do is get the hell out of here," Haugen said. "This is a waste of my time. You guys are going to do what you want to do. Help yourself. The good part is that you can put it in the paper."

According to the draft, most of the charges center on Haugen's alleged belief that she should be allowed to make personal statements and contacts without others connecting those statements and contacts to her role as a Councilmember.

"However, in order for her to effectively do her job as a Councilmember," the draft states, "that is, to act in the best interests of the citizens of Auburn, she should not make personal statements and contacts that damage those interests by increasing the risk of higher litigation exposure and potential costs to the City."

Among the accusations are the following:

Haugen testified without City authorization at a March 3 City of Kent Hearing Examiner hearing on the Verdana development on Lea Hill, at a time when the City of Auburn was involved in a lawsuit with its developers. The Kent Reporter newspaper quoted her as saying: "This development will have a significant impact environmentally," potentially weakening the City's position in the lawsuit, the draft resolution states.

Council members had discussed the issue at several closed-door executive sessions prior to that hearing, and committee members said she should have been aware of the sensitive legal nature of the Verdana project.

"While she did not purport to be stating the position of the City Council but rather her own personal opinion, her statement might be viewed by others as reflecting her role as a Council member," the draft states.

In her rebuttal, Haugen asked for recordings and transcripts of her testimony. She claimed the Verdana lawsuit had nothing to do with anything she talked about at the hearing, and any information used for her testimony she said he had gleaned from handouts supplied by the City of Kent. She denied that she had shared information from executive sessions.

"When you are not on the Council, it's not a problem," Backus said of Haugen's testimony. "Once you are a member of the Council, your actions have to be considered more carefully so as not to give the impression to anyone that you are speaking on behalf of the City."

"They understood that we were a group of citizens speaking to an issue," Haugen responded.

Haugen said residents in one instance had approached her with concerns about a street project, and she shared her concerns.

"Now I am being trained and I am being told right now to simply keep my mouth shut, listen to what they say and do not give any opinion ever, unless it is the opinion of the full Council," Haugen said. "Sometimes I do not have the full opinion of the Council on a specific issue."

According to the draft:

• City Development Services Manager Jeff Tate said he had received a call from a businessman in 2010 who had applied for permits to build a hotel in south Auburn. The man claimed that he had received calls from several hotel operators who told him that Haugen had called one local hotel operator to encourage her to oppose the project.

"I spoke with one motel operator about a permit for a new hotel in Auburn because I suspected other motel owners in Auburn did not know a new motel might be built at the exit off Highway 18," Haugen responded. "I was correct. The woman I talked to did not know it. I have no idea what she did with the information I gave her."

• Failed to undergo training or acquire certification for emergency management, as all other Council members have done.

"These are federal requirements," Singer reminded Haugen. "If we don't have all of our Council members trained, it puts our citizens at risk."

• Haugen communicated with a citizen in 2010 who had complained to the City that the 8th and R Street Northeast Street traffic light installation would reduce the safety of her travel, implying, according to the draft, that "this citizen might file a lawsuit, and Haugen was encouraging of the suit."

• Discussed with a property owner the city's plans for acquisition of his property for street improvement at the corner of 8th Street North and Harvey Road, undermining the City's real estate purchase negotiations, according to the draft.

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