When Don Williams ran for Mayor of Lincoln City in 2014, we supported his plan to sell the Villages at Cascade Head, create better jobs through an Economic Development team,1 and create more affordable housing by streamlining our Planning Department.2 Voters liked his message too, electing him with 48 percent more votes.3
But after Williams started asking smart questions, like why our City’s 2015 legal budget4 was 360 percent higher than Coos Bay’s,5 a city twice our size,6 our City Council’s response was swift and merciless.
Failing that, Council held nine secret executive session meetings,15 over ten months16, where their attorneys17 grilled Williams to coerce him to admit to something, anything, so Council could unseat him, or at least publicly humiliate him. Williams was never provided counsel, and was not even provided the alleged evidence against him, until nine months into the proceedings.18
And today, Council is againalleging Williams violated ethics laws.19 But the facts prove Williams, again,did nothing wrong.20 21
If he had, Council would have certainly filed ethics charges in a heartbeat.
Let’s hope Council has finally learned their lesson, and apologizes, but given their track record, it’s unlikely. Serial harassers need treatment, not given another chance to abuse.
The saddest part is how this discourages anyone from running for office, unless they are willing to toe the party line. Worse, it discourages us all from just speaking up at Council meetings, for fear of our Council’s wrath.
So what can you do? First, don’t give in to fear. And ignore news sources that engage in innuendo, and rumor mongering. Instead, seek out unbiased sources like the Newport News Times, and LincolnCityHomePage.com.
And most importantly, vote wisely next November. Our citizens need you now more than ever.
Ross Smith, Jerry Warner, Doug Wheldon
Editor’s Note: To register to vote, visit the DMVwebsite. To update, or verify your voting information, visit the Secretary of Statewebsite.
17 Meeting attendees included City Attorney Richard Appicello, attorney Russell Poppe, Speer Hoyt, and attorney Ross Williamson, Speer Hoyt. Jens Schmidt, of Harrang, Long, Gary, Rudnick was involved, as well.
On March 8, 2017 the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) releaseddocuments alleging that Lincoln City Police Chief Keith Killian, and City Attorney Richard Appicello, visited DOJ headquarters at least twice in late 2015 to instigate secret criminal investigations of Mayor Don Williams, and one of the mayor’s supporters, transparency advocate Ross Smith.
Smith claims the DOJ documents raise more questions than answers, so on March 13th, he asked the Lincoln City Police Department for copies of the police reports on the failed investigations.
In response to Smith’s request, Police Department Records Coordinator Tami Williams informed Smith on March 15th that since his request asked for “all police reports,” a large number of documents were involved, and there would be a “substantial amount of fees” to process his request.
Yet on March 21st, City Recorder Cathy Steere told Smith that “no criminal activity investigations from 2015 to present date were found” by Ms. Williams, and that the matter was closed.
Smith says he is considering asking the Lincoln County District Attorney, Michelle Branam, for assistance in locating the now missing documents.
On March 8, 2017, the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) released 48 pages of investigative reports containing numerous criminal charges leveled by Lincoln City City Attorney Richard Appicello against his own mayor, Don Williams, and alleged co-conspirator, transparency advocate Ross Smith.
The documents claim that Appicello and Chief of Police Keith Killian visited DOJ headquarters in Salem at least twice, and met with DOJ investigators, including then Special Agent David Kirby. Another DOJ investigator, James Williams, is also mentioned as being involved initially.
On October 26, 2016, the DOJ’s Director of Civil Rights, Erious Johnson filed suit against Kirby and Williams, among others. In his suit, Johnson alleges that Kirby and Williams violated state and federal law by engaging in “political profiling” of Johnson. Johnson also alleges their criminal investigation of him was illegal as it lacked the requisite “reasonable suspicion.”
On the same day, an Oregonian article on Johnson’s lawsuit stated:
[Oregon Attorney General Ellen] Rosenblum fired one [DOJ] employee this summer and demoted the former chief counsel [Darin Tweedt] earlier this year. Another investigator tied to the surveillance left the agency.
A secret 13-month Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal investigation, launched by Lincoln City City Attorney, Richard Appicello, against Mayor Don Williams, and one of his supporters, transparency advocate Ross Smith, has been dropped.
On September 28, 2016, DOJ Sr. Assistant Attorney General Matthew McCauley wrote Lincoln County District Attorney Michele Branam, stating “there is an insufficient factual basis to pursue criminal charges against either Don Williams or Ross Smith in this matter.”
The cases against Williams and Smith were dropped just one day after Smith wrote Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Branford, alleging Appicello made numerous false statements against him in a July 20th letter to Smith, which Appicello admitted authoring.
The closing of the investigation marks the end to three failed attempts by Appicello to prosecute and discredit Mayor Williams, who was elected in a landslide in Nov. 2014, on a platform of providing affordable housing and job growth.
A previously undisclosed letter Appicello wrote alleging both Williams and Smith had committed crimes was released last week by the Oregon DOJ, in response to a Nov. 2015 records request made by Smith. Appicello sent the 5-page letter in Sep. 2015 to Ronald Bersin, Executive Director of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission (OGEC), charging Williams with criminal misconduct.
“Whether or not Mr. Williams will be criminally prosecuted (for official misconduct under ORS 162.415 for unauthorized release of confidential information) will be left to a special prosecutor” wrote Appicello. Violating ORS 162.415 is a Class A misdemeanor, carrying a 1-year prison term, and a $6,250 fine.
The document Appicello alleged was confidential was a 315-page ethics complaint Appicello had drafted against Williams, which was submitted to OGEC in Aug. 2015. Williams said he released the complaint to the press shortly after receiving it from OGEC, because he wanted to clear his name, and because an OGEC representative had twice told him he didn’t need to keep the complaint under wraps.
But Appicello claimed the ethics complaint should not have been disclosed arguing it contained “confidential executive session excerpts” of private city council meetings. Smith, a staunch supporter of Williams, then sent a 9-page letter to OGEC’s lawyers, and convinced them to release the complaint to the public.
Williams was cleared of the ethics charges by OGEC in Oct. 2015, in a unanimous 5-0 decision, with their lead investigator, Diane Gould, referring to Appicello as an “instigator” in the messy affair.
In Aug, 2015, the Lincoln City Council authorized a separate investigation of Williams, and hired an outside attorney, Russell Poppe, to interview dozens of citizens, including several of the mayor’s supporters. The 13-month investigation, costing taxpayers an estimated $50,000 or more, concluded last month on the condition that Williams offer an apology for “possibly” violating city council rules.
Afterwards, the city council voted 4-1 to keep all details of Poppe’s investigation secret, claiming attorney/client privilege. Williams questioned that claim since Poppe told the city council on Aug. 15th that he didn’t represent the City in any legal capacity, but was hired simply to investigate and present a report.
Later in Appicello’s letter, he turns his attention to Smith, who he charges with violating ORS 163.275, when Smith “attempted to coerce” City Recorder Cathy Steere by sending her a public records request for the ethics complaint in Sep. 2015. ORS 163.275 (Coercion) is a Class C felony, carrying a 5-year prison term, and a $125,000 fine.
According to Assistant Attorney General McCauley’s letter, Appicello had charged Smith with numerous crimes, including “criminal impersonation, stalking, coercion, solicitation, and the unauthorized practice of law.” Criminal impersonation (ORS 162.365), Stalking (ORS 163.732), and Solicitation (ORS 161.435) are Class A misdemeanors (1-year prison/$6,250 fine). The unauthorized practice of law (ORS 9.160) is a 6 month jail term and a $500 fine (ORS 9.990).
The charges against Smith came just one month after Smith had filed suit against Lincoln City in circuit court in Aug. 2015. In his suit, Smith claims the city council frequently violated Oregon’s Public Meetings Law over the last 6 years, including holding 59 secret meetings, and discussing and deciding on forbidden topics.
Smith said he filed the suit “not only to protect our mayor, but to protect the rights of the 1,700 citizens who elected him, because I show the city council did not follow the law in filing the ethics charges, or authorizing the Poppe investigation.’’
Smith questions if the charges against him were due to his filing the suit. “Claiming my respectful records request was criminal coercion is beyond the pale. Appicello just cooked that up to try to silence me, since I was challenging his attempts to unseat our mayor.” Smith said.
This July, Smith filed a second suit against the City, claiming the city council has been violating not only Oregon’s Public Meetings Law, but the City’s own municipal code, for several years, by holding private interviews of applicants, and holding secret votes to appoint city councilors, planning commissioners, and others.
While the Court is expected to rule on the first suit soon, Smith submitted a binding offer last week to the city council to drop both lawsuits, if council “apologizes to Mayor Don Williams, the staff and the citizens of Lincoln City”, for having “possibly violated Oregon Public Meetings laws.” The city council rejected his offer, without discussion.
“I guess our city council would rather waste our money on attorneys, than admit they might have acted improperly” Smith said. “I just hope our voters will elect leaders that will work openly, and with each other, and our mayor, because that’s certainly what our citizens deserve after all this.”
Asked to comment on the DOJ investigation, Williams replied “I had no idea when the investigation began, who was accusing me, or what was being alleged. Frankly, I’m disgusted this was all done at taxpayer expense, because it was a complete waste of time for everyone involved.”
But in the end, Williams remains surprisingly optimistic. “I’m just thankful we can put this all behind us, and focus on addressing real issues, like my 6-point plan to build more affordable housing, which I campaigned on, and have been trying to implement since I was elected.”
It’s time we, the voters, take back our City from the people who want to run it with secret meetings, behind the scenes political appointments, and intimidation, while ignoring the serious problems facing our City. This is what we’d hoped to accomplish when we elected Mayor Williams, but he needs our help. He needs more City Councilors that can think and act for the betterment of our citizens rather than their own personal agendas.
We need affordable housing in Lincoln City. Everyone talks about it but not enough are doing anything. Joe Barnes, who built the last affordable housing project in the City, behind Bi-Mart, says he won’t build here anymore, until he has more support from our Planning Department, and the City Manager. He’s building in Warrington now, where permitting/connection costs are less than a quarter of what they are here. And that’s after our City Council recently lowered our connection fees!
According to Barnes, there are no developers willing to take the huge risks to invest in our town, as they’ve either experienced, or heard about, the difficulties of working with our Planning Department.
Speaking of Planning, by March, 2015, five citizens had applied to be Planning Commissioners:
1. builder Jim Hoover (35 years experience),
2. developer/designer Avette Gaiser (38 years experience),,
3. entrepreneur Kent Seida (60 years experience),
4. retired Portland civil servant, Diana Hinton, and
5. bilingual tutor, Riley Hoagland.
While Hoover, Gaiser, and Seida were clearly more qualified, the March 9, 2015 City Council meeting agenda included only Hinton and Hoagland’s applications, and listed their appointments as a “done deal.” ,
Since our 1984 law (LCMC 2.08.030.B) require all Planning Commission applicants to be publicly interviewed at a City Council meeting, our City Council not only broke our laws, but our trust. Let’s not reward their shenanigans by rubber-stamping their chosen successors to “their” City Council.
Instead, let’s support our Mayor’s efforts to stop these secret interviews, and putting an end to the 50+ illegal secret meetings our City Council held between 2011 and 2015.,,
Furthermore, we allege that Nikki Hayes libeled us in the September 7th News Guard, by falsely claiming we:
1. “sent a letter asking out-of-town owners to change their voting address.” We never asked anyone to do this!
2. “brought lawsuits against the City because we didn’t like VRD regulations.” The lawsuits have nothing to do with VRD regulations.
The lawsuits were filed to protect our citizens from our City Council:
1. holding illegal secret meetings. 2. holding illegal secret votes to appoint City Councilors, Planning Commissioners and others. 3. wasting time, and taxpayer money, on secret investigations of our Mayor. 4. discussing illegal topics in their private meetings. 5. taking 7+ months to produce their meeting’s minutes.
And against our Mayor’s strong objections, our City Council just voted to keep secret any details of the two failed secret investigations of our Mayor. Doesn’t Council have an obligation to tell us why they spent over $30,000.00 of OUR money on three different attorneys on these ridiculous witch-hunts?
In regards Hayes’s chosen candidates:
When citizens respectfully voiced their opinions in a recent Council meeting, Ward 1 candidate Diana Hinton labelled the citizens as “vicious” and chided our Mayor for not bringing the “gavel … down [on them] many times, and loudly.” How can Hinton represent us, if she demands we be silenced, when she disagrees with us?
Ward 2 candidate Riley Hoagland admitted he got his prior governmental experience wrong in our voter pamphlet. Erring on your governmental experience in the pamphlet is a Class C felony, which carries a 5-year prison term and a $125,000 fine.
Ward 3 candidate Judy Casper claims “workforce housing should be integrated into the community.” Yet, she proudly claimed she “stopped [a] low income housing development” near her, when she ran her neighborhood association in Nelscott.
And Commissioners Hinton and Hoagland just approved a sweetheart deal for a City Hall employee to convert her property zoned for 20+ units of affordable housing, to be a bar., And the property is just steps from both a school and a church.
In sealing the deal, it appears Hinton and Hoagland violated our Public Meetings Laws, by meeting in private during the April 5th, 2016 Planning Commission meeting (watchbit.ly/2eaod5o @ 01:03:30).
Are these the people we want representing us?
It’s time we take back our city by supporting our Mayor’s fight to bring transparency, honesty, and accountability to our government.