The City of Winslow is looking to hire a private investigator to determine how a memo from the city attorney to Council members found its way into a private citizen’s hands since no one admitted to being the source at the Jan. 11 council meeting.
The leaked memo became serious enough to city officials that five council members, the City Administrator and City Clerk were asked under oath if they were responsible for passing on what City Attorney Dale Patton called a confidential letter.
Mayor Jim Boles told the Winslow Mail a day after the meeting that the incident has given the city a black eye.
“We elected to go that way… because at this point in time, quite frankly, I think we all ought to be embarrassed about the whole thing — to know that one of our number has done something, either purposely or unintentionally, that has put a cloud over the workings of the city,” he said. “If we have hole, we need to plug it and then get back to serving the people.”
Boles first brought up the issue under non-action discussion at the Dec. 28 Council meeting. Last Tuesday, the issue was discussed formally.
“The memo was confidential,” Patton told the Council. “I have not talked to the attorney but I assume someone on staff or Council had to provide that to the person who gave it to the attorney.”
The memo was given to John T. Moshier, a lawyer in Phoenix, who wrote a response to Patton. Moshier’s response was then printed in the Dec. 14 edition of The Scoop. Although Patton’s memo was not published, Boles said it was meant for the Council members only.
“Dale had already received the letter from the lawyer (before it was printed), so he knew his memo had been compromised and so we had an executive session on that,” he said.
According to Moshier’s printed response, Patton’s letter dealt with the proposed “big box” ordinance. The City Council voted against enacting the ordinance at the Dec. 14 meeting.
No one on the Winslow Mail staff has seen the memo in question. However, based on Moshier’s printed response, he contradicts Patton’s advice to council members that such an ordinance would be successfully challenged in the courts. Moshier’s letter to Patton was an advertisement paid for by Maria “Bunny” Gamez, a Safeway employee who has been the most outspoken Winslow resident against the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter.
Gamez told the Mail that she received the memo in her mailbox but that it did not have a return address written on it. She said Patton’s memo was dated Nov. 3 and that she received it by Nov. 11.
“My name is listed several times over where basically what the memo has done is to impede my credibility to the Council,” she said.
During the meeting, Gamez addressed the Council, stating each member’s name and adding that not one of them gave her the memo.
When Patton asked her who sent her the memo, Gamez replied, “That is confidential, Mr. Patton.”
Council members Peter Cake and Judy Howell did not testify under oath. Cake was absent from the entire meeting due to an illness but said he would be willing to testify under oath, Boles said.
Howell read a prepared statement into record then excused herself from the swearing in.
In her statement, Howell said she has been “the victim of character assassination by the city,” and has been “harassed” and “belittled” by City Hall. But she also said she did not reveal the confidential memo.
“As a Council Person, my personal Code of Honor would not allow me to release any confidential information,” she read. “In conclusion, I will not allow myself to become the victim of another set-up nor will I participate in the set-up of any other person.”
After Howell sat down in the audience, Boles said she, “doesn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation.”
After Council members Maribelle Ogilvie, Dee Rodriguez, Harold Soehner, Robin Boyd and Mayor Boles and City Administrator John Roche and Clerk Suzy Wetzel all denied being the source of the leak under oath, they adjourned to executive session for legal advice. Howell did not join the other members and remained seated in the audience.
She returned to her seat on the Council after the approximately 10 minute executive session. When the regular meeting was reconvened, Howell asked Patton if he had visited any other Council members and “asked them to confess.”
Patton’s initial response was that Howell, “showed a lack of common sense to raise that issue.” He later added that she was the only member he visited because, “based on comments made in executive session that I assumed she’s the one that disclosed a copy of the memo.”
Patton added that Howell told him she did not release the memo but said he believed she lied to him.
“I did not go to anyone else because I believed she was the one,” Patton told the Council. “I did not ask anyone to confess.”
Gamez told the Winslow Mail that no one from the city contacted her about where she received the memo.
“At no time, they ever contacted me and asked me about the memo,” she said. “At no time, when my attorney responded to them did they respond to him and say, ‘this is confidential information, where did you get it?’”
Councilman Soehner made the motion to hire a private investigator after Councilman Cake testifies under oath.
Councilwoman Rodriguez said an investigation is necessary to be able to move on.
“We need to put it to rest as soon as we can,” she said. “We have to be able to trust each other and communicate with each other.”
The Council then voted to have Patton find a private investigator. The vote was unanimous, including Howell.