Concerns, complaints continue over Councilman Peltier’s ‘bullying behavior’

Facing multiple ethics complaints that accused him of bullying behavior, Bainbridge Councilman Ron Peltier unloaded on the city’s Ethics Board at its meeting just before two ethics complaints against him were due to land on the dais at the next city council meeting.

The outburst — where Peltier insulted the intelligence of the board members and questioned their competence and integrity — prompted Ethics Board Chairwoman Suzanne Keel-Eckmann to send a letter to the mayor.

Keel-Eckmann said she was “shocked” by Peltier’s behavior, adding he was “offensive and bullying.”

“I am not accustomed, nor should any member of our citizenry be accustomed, in a public forum or in private, to having our integrity and competence disputed, our intelligence defamed, or our motives called into question,” she wrote.

The incident, days before the council was to review two ethics complaints against Peltier, put an exclamation point on accusations of bad behavior by the first-term councilman.

Even so, Peltier was hoping a great show of public support would help him avoid sanctions by the city council.

String of complaints

Peltier has been the subject of four ethics complaints since late last year that 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.

Public records recently obtained by the Review show the councilman’s extensive efforts to escape possible sanctions from the council by rallying supporters to shape public comment at the meeting where the council was scheduled to review two of the ethics complaints against Peltier.

Records show Peltier spent the better part of nearly six hours sending out emails the day before the Feb. 22 council meeting, with most of them saying “I need your support” or “I need your help” in the email subject line.

Those emails, — many with personalized introductions — included a claim that the city’s ethics code was being politicized, the two complaints against him, portions of the Ethics Board opinions on the complaints, and an insinuation that his fellow council members were acting unethically themselves by considering a change to the city’s ethics program at the same meeting where two ethics complaints against him would be addressed.

Said one personal message: “Being an outspoken environmentalist can get a person into trouble.”

The main body of the email stretched for more than 3,260 words.

At the end of the mass email, Peltier wrote: “If want me to continue working on the city council for the future of our Island I need you and others to step up on Tuesday night and let the city council know how you feel about all of this. Just being there will be helpful, whether you speak or not. I can’t stand up to this alone.”

‘Bully’ on the council

The first public allegations of bullying behavior by Peltier came early last August, after a newspaper article featured former city manager Doug Schulze — who had announced his departure from Bainbridge for a job as city manager in Banning, California — and interviewed him about his time at the helm of Bainbridge city hall.

That article in the Kitsap Sun proved to be controversial, as Schulze accused Peltier of being a bully and said the second-guessing councilman was one of the reasons he was leaving.

At a following council meeting on Aug. 14, Bonnie McBryan, the owner of the Eagle Harbor Inn, asked the council to look into Peltier’s behavior in light of comments made by former city manager Doug Schulze.

“Like many others though I’m pretty concerned that Doug’s resignation came at least in part because of a council member behaving as a bully,” McBryan told the council at the meeting. “I don’t want to be mean-spirited here, but it seems that somebody from the public needs to stand up and address this issue.

There are a lot of adjectives, a lot of different adjectives that have been applied to Ron’s comments and behavior here, in city council, in his written responses to members of the community at public hearings, etc. But now the call has been made about bullying tactics. It’s up to you as our elected officials to really dig into this allegation. You need to look at public opinion. You need to look at social media and the stories, the anecdotes that people are posting there.”

Peltier reacted angrily to the comments, and said Schulze’s comments in the newspaper gave McBryan permission to attack him and say things that were untrue.

Seven times during the televised council meeting, Peltier called McBryan’s comments “lies” or accused her of “lying.”

“I’m not going to tolerate being attacked,” he said near the end of the council meeting. “I’m kind of pissed off and I’m not going to just take it and let people lie about me.”

Peltier wasn’t done, though.

Days after the council meeting, Peltier sent an email to more than 120 islanders that called McBryan untruthful, mean-spirited and vindictive. Peltier blamed Mayor Kol Medina because he didn’t “maintain a respectful environment” at the meeting. Peltier also claimed McBryan had an “intense dislike” for him because of the city’s building moratorium — an issue McBryan never brought up during her comments at the August council meeting.

Ethics Board enters

McBryan soon filed an ethics complaint with the city’s Ethics Board; the third compliant against Peltier in the span of a month.

She recalled that Peltier had called her a liar seven times during the televised meeting, and besides the email to 125 residents, he also sent a letter about her to 25 other people, including current and former members of the city council.

His comments, she said, were “obviously meant to damage my reputation in our island community.”

She also said Peltier had misquoted her in his comments, adding, “the council member put words in my mouth and tried to pass them off as coming from me.”

“Were it not for this letter I would have ignored Mr. Peltier’s late-night rant at the end of a council meeting. If he had written his letter to a couple of close friends I might have dismissed it,” she said in her ethics complaint.

“Do these actions demonstrate the ethical integrity, honesty, civility and respect that our community should expect of our elected officials? Are these actions that we would honor if exhibited by any employee, committee member, or elected official associated with our city?

“My complaint asks: When is a public official allowed to undertake a multi-media effort to demean and demonize a citizen? If our city’s values, ethics program, and Governance Manual are not applicable then why do we have them?” McBryan added.

Shortly after McBryan filed her complaint, Peltier told the Review he was not only upset at what he then viewed as lies told about him, he again slammed Medina.

“Part of my angst came after seeing our mayor, whose job it is to maintain civility, allow a malicious attack, directed at me, and then tell the person engaging in the attack that he appreciated her comments,” Peltier said at the time.

Medina, however, actually interrupted McBryan at that Aug. 14 meeting and told her that the council had rules about courtesy, and Medina also told her to refrain from making personal attacks on council members.

In its advisory opinion on the complaint, the Ethics Board said Peltier was wrong to react the way he did, even if he felt he was attacked by public comments.

“Responding in anger is not appropriate in any circumstance, particularly using highly derogatory terms,” the board wrote.

“The role of serving the public calls for a more mature response, which in this case is no response at all, or to offer a constructive response and establish a culture of open discourse. Otherwise such action degrades trust in government and unchecked, can lead to rapid erosion of all trust built over time, especially in highly public forums,” the board added.

The Ethics Board also said Peltier had been “retaliatory and harassing.”

“Using a city email account to broadcast a council member’s dislike of public comments clearly fails any test of respectful communication. This is unacceptable,” the board said.

Outrage continues

The council was schedule to review two ethics complaints on Tuesday, Feb. 26, one of them McBryan’s.

At the Ethics Board meeting on the Friday prior, Peltier was in the audience and began asking about a separate ethics complaint against him that had been filed.

It did not go well.

Peltier started with a few questions during the public comment session.

Later in the meeting, when the board started to talk about the complaint against Peltier, his behavior turned shocking, said Suzanne Keel-Eckmann, chairwoman of the Ethics Board.

Keel-Eckmann sent a letter to the mayor that recounted bullying behavior by Peltier at the meeting.

“Mr. Peltier’s tone, manner, and choice of words shifted from respectful and civil, as were his public comments, to offensive and bullying, Keel-Eckmann recalled in the letter.

“Specifically: He held up a paper and said, ‘If you had bothered to read the Ethics Code…” suggesting a lack of due diligence or intelligence. At which point Mr. [Scott] Wilder [Ethics Board member] interrupted him and said, ‘Sir, don’t presume to know what I have and have not read.’ Mr. Peltier continued by stating he had ‘no confidence in the Ethics Board’s decisions’ suggesting the Ethics Board’s incompetence. He further noted that he was ‘appalled’ that an Ethics Board decision could make ‘front page news’ about him, suggesting the Ethics Board in some way contributed to that story.”

“I am disturbed that Mr. Peltier’s conduct seems to be becoming his norm,” she said, adding that the Ethics Board or any other citizen advisory committee would have trouble doing its job if a “disgruntled city council member … is allowed to malign its work and bully its members.”

Councilman Joe Deets, liaison to the Ethics Board, called Keel-Eckmann’s account of the meeting “wholly accurate.”

A call for support

As the council meeting with two ethics complaints against Peltier coming within days, Peltier began to try to rally supporters to show up at the meeting to defend him.

Emails obtained under a public records act show that Peltier began recruiting people to show up at the meeting just after 8 a.m. and continued sending emails into the afternoon.

More than a hundred messages were sent; to supporters, former city council members, volunteers on other city advisory boards, and others.

Peltier — who had earlier said he could abide somewhat with the Ethics Board’s advice, take their comments to heart and also choose his words more carefully — again took aim at McBryan and others.

He again called her untruthful, for “blatant and deliberate misrepresentations of the truth that should never have been allowed by Mayor Medina under our rules of respect and decorum.”

“I personally would never publicly criticize a citizen for expressing an opinion on an issue, no matter how much we disagree,” he added.

He also took a swipe at Maradel Gale, a member of the Ethics Board, in an added note on the top of one email.

Peltier recalled how Gale was critical last year about the idea to give Bainbridge residents the power of initiative (and included a 500-word-plus transcript of what she said); a proposal Peltier has twice tried to get approved by the council without success.

“This is significant because Maradel is a member of the ethics board and wrote the opinions that will be used on Tuesday night to justify imposing sanctions on me,” he said, referencing the McBryan complaint.

In the mass email, Peltier also admitted he had made ethics violations but noted they weren’t criminal in nature.

Also in his email to supporters, Peltier touched on a theme used by some of his supporters; that the way he speaks to others is OK, because of his passion on certain issues.

Peltier wrote: “Political correctness tells us that polite misrepresentations of the truth are preferable to honesty expressed in anger, in part because misrepresentations of the truth hidden behind a veneer of civility easily go unnoticed, while raised voices and anger make people uncomfortable. Sometimes speaking the truth in a calm voice, though, just doesn’t seem to convey the appropriate sense of urgency.

“In some cases we have to choose what’s most important: being honest and transparent or being civil. It’s a fine line to tread and easy to step over if you care passionately about issues, ethics, and principles.”

Some of those who received Peltier’s mass email said they’d pass it along to others. A few said they were changing their plans to attend the council meeting.

Of the upcoming council discussion, one said: “Sounds like a true witch hunt!”

Sorry now

In one of the last emails sent the day before the council meeting, just before midnight Monday, Feb. 25, Peltier emailed the chairwoman of the Ethics Board, and CC’d Medina and Deets, that he wanted to apologize to the board for his behavior at their last meeting.

In that email, Peltier continued to claim there “was a lack of due diligence on the part of the Ethics Board” when it reviewed one of the complaints against him.

“Having said that, I also know that I could have expressed my concerns in a more positive and civil manner. I was wrong to say what I did in the way that I said it.

“With that in mind, I’d like to attend the Ethics Board’s next meeting so I can apologize to the entire Board in person and to also explain why I was upset and do it in a more constructive manner that we can all benefit from. Is that agreeable to you?” Peltier asked.

Council agrees

It was a packed house at the Feb. 26 council meeting, but truth be told, more than half the audience was there for a decision on buoy placement in Eagle Harbor that would make both rowers and liveaboards happy.

It became clear early on, during public comments, that many were there to support Peltier.

According to city minutes of the meeting, everyone who offered public comment on ethics that night, or Peltier personally, had gotten an email from him the day before.

The councilman’s behavior was widely , with a number of reasons.

His supporters said rude behavior wasn’t an ethics violation, that Peltier’s blunt comments at times were a sign of his passion on the issues — echoing what Peltier had said in his mass email.

The meeting took on the tone of a political rally at times; one of the speakers wore a hat plastered with a bumper sticker that read, “Ron works for us.”

McBryan, one of the last to speak, said the meeting had turned into a public show of support for Peltier. She said she didn’t know she needed “to recruit 50 people to come in and speak on my behalf.”

“I think this is a sham,” she said.

McBryan told the council her reputation in the community had suffered greatly, and she was being vilified on social media.

In the end, on a 5-1 vote with Peltier abstaining, the Bainbridge council agreed with the Ethics Board opinion that Peltier had violated the city’s Code of Ethics — but stopped short of sanctions.

A new discovery

Peltier did not respond to a request for comment earlier this week from the Reviw.

In an interview with the Review Tuesday, McBryan said she found out last week about Peltier’s emails to rally supporters.

In a letter to the council March 9, she said Peltier had again “defamed” her by sending out his email before the council meeting, using his city email account, to more than a hundred people.

“Please understand that I am actively exploring alternatives, including legal alternatives, to stop what Mr. Peltier is doing to me,” she said in the letter.

“How long will this go on, councilmembers?” she asked. “How long will Mr. Peltier defame me by calling me a liar? How long will he broadcast his hateful language? How long will he damage my reputation in our community? How long will the Council allow this outrage to continue?”

McBryan said she’s no stranger to the higher standards that are expected of those who serve.

“I worked in the public sector for 30 years,” McBryan told the Review.

“I feel like Mr. Peltier is manipulating the entire ethics process

The values of the city; he’s manipulating the ethics board and the city council and in particular, I think he’s made me part of his manipulation,” McBryan said.

“I’m keeping all my options open,” she added. “If this continues I have to take action.

“I don’t make idle threats,” she said.

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