City attorney bails on Ilwaco

Heather Reynolds

ILWACO — The city attorney is hotfooting it away from City Hall after she was rebuked in a vehement email by a longtime Ilwaco councilman.

Heather Reynolds decided not to continue her contract in 2018 after serving as the city’s lawyer for eight years. Former Mayor Mike Cassinelli said a Nov. 28 email from Councilman Fred Marshall was among her reasons for leaving.

“She said, ‘I don’t have to put up with this,’” Cassinelli told the Observer.

Reynolds, an Astoria lawyer, declined to comment on the email but said she enjoyed working with the mayor and staff at City Hall.

Marshall, 78, dismissed the incident as nothing more than a “tempest in a teapot.”

“I really think this is a nit, a tiny thing that doesn’t deserve much,” the fourth-term councilman and computer consultant said.

Although Marshall insists he was simply being candid about his concerns with the city attorney, when pressed, he acknowledged that some past frustrations might have affected the tone of his email. He said he doesn’t appreciate the “secretive correspondence” among the mayor and city staff about policies he’s proposed because it gives “the appearance of a cabal.”

Reynolds isn’t the first city staffer who’s had trouble with Marshall and she probably won’t be the last, Cassinelli said.

“It’s not the first email he’s sent in that same tone,” the 75-year-old said.

The city has a problem getting help to stick around. Marshall isn’t helping, Cassinelli said.

“He’s had Holly almost in tears,” the recently retired mayor said, referring to City Treasurer Holly Beller. “I’ve been kind of mad at myself because I never jumped in.”

The other city leaders haven’t spoken up for her either. At a council meeting this fall, Marshall barked directions at her as she looked down, taking notes and clarifying the particulars of the councilman’s requests.

Two council members turned away from Marshall, pressing their lips tightly until he was finished.

Beller told the Observer a few council meetings had her in tears when she first started as city clerk but now, she’s “used to it.”

Reynolds commended Ilwaco staff for the way they handle business at City Hall, despite problems in their workplace.

“Their dedication, professionalism and patience with challenging individuals is outstanding,” she wrote her Dec. 12 resignation letter.

Before Cassinelli stepped down as mayor at the end of his term last month, he brought up the “harassing, intimidating or bullying nature” of Marshall’s email to Reynolds. It wasn’t the first time he’d warned the city leaders about appropriate workplace behavior.

Marshall, a councilman since 2005, said he doesn’t see anything offensive about the “direct” way in which he addressed his concerns with the city attorney. His email rebuked Reynolds for sharing her opinion about his proposed policy for managing and budgeting for Ilwaco’s short-lived assets, such as pumps and generators.

“I was quite taken aback,” Marshall wrote to Reynolds. “That’s partly because you had the context of the enclosure all wrong — and used that misinterpretation as basis for a rather unfortunate interpretation. I took pains to make sure the context of the attachment would be clear, but clearly failed with you. Does it EVER occur to you that the telephone is a good way to make sure you have the context right?”

Marshall goes on to criticize Reynolds for pointing out that public policy should never direct fictitious dates to be entered into a spreadsheet. If she’d “bothered to read the material a bit more carefully,” he wrote, she would have understood the difference between the policy and the supporting documents.

Marshall wrote a resolution that suggests putting a “nominal” installation year for an asset into the budget spreadsheet as a way of adjusting the timing of related expenses.

The how-to document he included with the proposed policy suggests using a “fictitious” installation year to achieve the same purpose.

Marshall goes on to tell the city attorney a “proper response” to the mayor’s question about the proposed policy “would have been a simple: Yes — it is legal.”

Cassinelli said he asked Reynolds and experts with the nonprofit Municipal Research and Services Center for opinions on the legality of “restrictions” included in the policy. Cassinelli was told the council is allowed to make “recommendations.”

“It’s Gary Forner’s problem now — not mine,” Cassinelli joked.

Marshall is reworking the asset-management policy to include parts of a resolution the council approved several years ago but never started using. Until recently, the only copy of the 2009 policy had been lost inside a book at City Hall, he said.

The city is considering a candidate to replace Reynolds as city attorney.

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