City responds to Noordhoff lawsuit

·4 min read

Oct. 21—A month after North Bend city Councilor Susanna Noordhoff filed a lawsuit against the city, the city answered the suit in court filings.

Noordhoff filed a suit after the council voted unanimously to remove her from her position as liaison to city committees. Noordhoff claimed in her suit that the council did not have the authority to remove a councilor as a liaison, while also claiming the move was illegal because it was not properly noticed on the agenda for the meeting.

In a response from former City Attorney Jane Stebbins, the city disputed the claims.

Stebbins wrote that since the city council as a whole voted to appoint council members as liaisons, the board has the right to remove them.

Stebbins also made the argument that historically North Bend City Council has allowed "flexibility" about what topics are discussed a meeting and has used the council comments section to vote on issues many times through the years.

In her court filing, Noordhoff said the council acted inappropriately and asked the county to return her to her liaison appointments.

"During the week of June 6, 2021, there were two meetings of the Council, a work session on June 7th and Council Meeting on June 8th. (Writ Record, Item 1). All Council members attended the work session, but Petitioner was absent from the Council Meeting, Id. One of the actions taken at that work session was approving the agenda for the June 8th meeting. (Writ Record, Item 4, Pg. 2). This provided an opportunity for the City Council to add, delete or table items on the draft agenda. (Writ Record, Item 4, Pg. 2). The Council approved the proposed agenda. That agenda contained no reference to the consideration of a vote to censure Petitioner," the filing reads.

But in her filing, Stebbins said no changes were made the night before because Noordhoff's behavior that night led to the decision by Councilor Larry Garboden to act.

"It is relevant, if not readily apparent on paper, that during the work session on June 7, Councilor Noordhoff engaged in a pattern of escalating, disruptive behavior. A review of the video of the work session shows Councilor Noordhoff becoming gradually louder and more disrespectful as the meeting continues. At minute 84:30, she argues with the presiding officer and slams things down on her desk," Stebbins wrote.

The city attorney went on to say when Garboden made a motion the next night, no councilor protested or asked questions because they all know the motion was in relation to Noordhoff's behavior the night before.

Noordhoff also argues that Garboden's motion and the council vote were an effort to "censure" Noordhoff.

"Merriam-Webster defines censure as "a judgment involving condemnation, . . . the act of blaming or condemning sternly, . . . an official reprimand. Perhaps more on point is Dictionary.com which includes in its definition "an official reprimand, as by a legislative body of one of its members." The Council action was intended as a reprimand of Petitioner. This is clear from the language of the motion as well as the Council debate over its passage," Noordhoff's attorney wrote. "Council Rule 18 addresses the censure of a Council Member. That rule states, "To be developed at a future date." The existence of this rule is of significance in two ways. First, the Respondent's adoption of this rule is an admission that such a rule was required to authorize a Council Member's censure. Second, it is an admission by Respondent that the Council Rules do not yet authorize a Council Member's censure. Because the Council's rules did not grant the Council authority to censure Petitioner, it was acting in violation of its rules and the City Charter by doing so."

Again, Stebbins and North Bend saw it differently. Stebbins argued the word censure was never used and was not the intent when the council voted. But even if it was, she argued, a censure is not forbidden just because it as not fully developed at the time.

Noordhoff also argued that the council did not have the authority to remove a sitting council member from their liaison role because council rules only allow the council to remove "lay members." Noordhoff argued council members are not lay members of a committee or board.

Stebbins also fought this viewpoint, simply saying if the council appoints someone, whether a council member or not, to a board, it has the authority to remove that person.

A phone hearing on the suit was scheduled last week. There has been no indication of a ruling by press time.

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