Bainbridge City Councilman Ron Peltier has been waging an extended and ongoing “campaign of harassment” against former city manager Doug Schulze, the city’s Ethics Board said in an opinion released earlier this week.
The Ethics Board found multiple violations of Bainbridge’s Code of Ethics by Peltier, and officials cited multiple instances of unethical behavior by the first-term councilman, including using his official position as a city councilman for personal and private interests, using city property for personal use, and the unauthorized release of confidential information.
In a stinging seven-page report, the board also said it hoped the city council would consider sanctions against Peltier.
The advisory opinion from the Ethics Board was prompted by a Feb. 24 complaint against Peltier by Lisa Schulze, the wife of former Bainbridge Island city manager Doug Schulze.
Schulze resigned from his Bainbridge job last year to take a new position as city manager in Banning, California.
In her complaint, Lisa Schulze said Peltier contacted Banning City Councilman Don Peterson after her husband took over as Banning’s city manager, and that Peltier shared information with Peterson that has since been used to attack Doug Schulze on Facebook.
In its opinion, the Ethics Board said that Peltier has been engaged in activities that appear to violate the city of Bainbridge Island Code of Ethics that started soon after Schulze submitted his letter of resignation to the council and said in a newspaper story that conflicts with Peltier were one of the reasons he was leaving Bainbridge.
Ethics officials called Peltier’s behavior “unprofessional,” “unacceptable” and “bullying, pure and simple.”
“In the simplest terms possible, the Ethics Board’s opinion is: stop this harassing behavior,” the board said in its report.
Peltier did not respond to a request for comment from the Review. But in his response to the Ethics Board and the Lisa Schulze complaint, Peltier said he thought Doug Schulze had violated his employment contract with the city of Bainbridge by recruiting former Bainbridge police chief Matthew Hamner to take a job in Banning, California.
Peltier said his emails to a Banning councilman about Schulze “were not addressed to the Schulzes and were not intended for general distribution.”
Peltier also said he believed Schulze had violated the Code of Ethics adopted by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).
In its report on the complaint, the Bainbridge Ethics Board noted that Peltier said he felt “blindsided” by Schulze’s interest in hiring Bainbridge’s police chief, but added: “Given that the City Manager has the responsibility to hire and develop his/her own staff, this sort of action is not unexpected, even though it may not be appreciated.”
The Ethics Board also noted the ICMA had dismissed Peltier’s complaint and said no ethical violation by Schulze had occurred.
Ethics officials laid out a laundry list of concerns about Peltier’s behavior.
A broad overview listed eight areas of violations:
• Violation of core values of the Bainbridge Island Code of Ethics, specifically integrity, mutual respect, obligations to others and fairness;
• Initiating contact with a council member in Banning to engage in discrediting Schulze;
• Harassment of a former employee by Councilman Peltier vis-à-vis following Schulze to a new position in another city;
• Possible collusion with a Banning City Council member to create a hostile work environment for a Banning city employee;
• An extended campaign, on-going since July 2018, to discredit Schulze;
• The use of city resources to conduct a campaign against the former City Manager Schulze;
• Con-fidentiality violations in documents offered to Banning Council member and in the process used to file complaints with the International City Manager’s Association (ICMA); and
• Possible conflict of interest through actions taken in an official capacity to pursue a matter of private interest.
The Ethics Board also said Peltier colluded with a Banning councilman to create his second complaint to the ICMA and shared information that should have been kept confidential.
Peltier also took “direct official action as a member of city council on a matter of private interest,” the board said.
“The Ethics Board finds no evidence that the Bainbridge Island City Council directed Council member Peltier to file ethics complaints with the ICMA or to communicate with another city’s council member to discredit their city manager,” the board said in its report.
Such an action was a conflict of interest, ethics officials said, and put the city at risk of a lawsuit.
“Either Council member Peltier was acting in an official capacity in his actions, exposing the city of Bainbridge and its entire city council to risk of litigation by either/both Mr. Schulze and the City of Banning or Council member Peltier took direct official action on a matter of private interest. The Ethics Board finds no evidence that Council member Peltier’s actions were agreed to or authorized by the Bainbridge Island City Council. The Ethics Board finds that Council member Peltier used his ‘official’ position to pursue a private interest.”
While Peltier said in his response to the complaint that he had not provided personal information about the Schulzes to anyone in Banning or elsewhere, the Ethics Board bluntly disagreed.
“Through dozens of emails beginning as early as Aug. 10, 2018 and continuing through Feb. 24, 2019, Council member Peltier provides personal information about the Schulzes to Bainbridge Island citizens, to former Bainbridge city council members, and to a city of Banning Council member. In his emails, Council member Peltier forwards Facebook and YouTube links, as well as links to Banning’s scandal paper, The Tattler. While Council member Peltier may not have created the content of these disparaging social media pages, he certainly promulgated the attacks on Mr. Schulze by his distribution of them,” the board noted.
Ethics officials also faulted Peltier for using his city email account “to pursue an on-going, apparently personal, campaign to discredit Doug Schulze in his position as city manager of Banning. This use of a Bainbridge Island city resource was not at the request of, or with the approval of, City Council,” ethics officials said.
The board also noted that Peltier exchanged more than 45 emails between July 2018 and February 2019 with citizens and elected officials, “all related to discrediting Mr. Schulze.”
The Ethics Board concluded its report by saying the likely violations by Peltier “rise to the level of possible intervention by the city council” and noted that the city’s Code of Ethics includes options on possible sanctions. Those sanctions include a private admonition by the mayor, reprimand by the council and a censure publicly delivered by the mayor.
Still, the Ethics Board noted that others may ultimately be responsible for getting Peltier to change his behavior.
“The Ethics Board also hopes that Council member Peltier will reflect seriously and thoughtfully on how he might better demonstrate the city’s Core Values,” the board said. “The degree to which his behavior continues to be troubling to this community will be determined, ultimately, by the voice of the people through the election process.”
Peltier has been hit by a string of ethics complaints since late last year that have raised concerns about the councilman’s behavior and interaction with citizens.
In late February, two of those complaints — centering largely on his “bullying behavior” — advanced to the city council for their review.
In emails to supporters, Peltier claimed the city’s ethics code was being politicized and he was being targeted for “being an outspoken environmentalist.”