Battle Ground City Council roiled by ethics complaints

Both complaints were raised during Monday’s City Council meeting

BATTLE GROUND — This week’s Battle Ground City Council meeting took an unexpected detour on Monday when the Zoom call was paused so council members could hold a brief executive session.

The agenda items were added at the eleventh hour when City Manager Erin Erdman announced that two complaints had been filed against council members.

Council members returned to the regular meeting after about 10 minutes, with Mayor Adrian Cortes requesting and receiving permission to call in outside legal counsel to help deal with the complaints, one of which pits a citizen against a council member over allegations of bullying, and another pits two council members against each other over posts made on Facebook.

Munson under fire

The first was a citizen complaint filed against Councilor Brian Munson, which centered on an alleged altercation on June 1 at Cedar Trails Park, a greenway in the Daybreak neighborhood near where Munson lives.

In the complaint, obtained by Clark County Today, Jennifer Hamilton says she had taken responsibility for the park two years ago as part of the city’s Adopt a Park program. 

A sign at the north entrance to the pedestrian trail reads “adopted by the Hamilton family.”

A sign at the entrance to Cedar Trails Park in Battle Ground. Photo by Chris Brown
A sign at the entrance to Cedar Trails Park in Battle Ground. Photo by Chris Brown

In her letter, Hamilton says much of the area had become overgrown by blackberry bushes.

“Last year I found two partially stripped bicycles in there along with a lot of trash and graffiti on the back of the neighbor’s fences,” Hamilton wrote in her letter to Erdman. “This year it is even worse. The kids have made trails in there and someone has dug a huge hole that I was told may have been used as a toilet by someone living there.”

Hamilton says she received permission from the city to remove the blackberry bushes, along with any debris, so she and two volunteers started hauling out wood that had been used to build a bridge to an island in a seasonal creek that runs north/south through the park.

A short time later, Hamilton says one of the volunteers told her he had been working in the park and had found the bridge rebuilt. When he tried to remove it, several neighborhood children became upset and started putting it back up.

“I went to the park later to check the situation and indeed found that the bridge had been rebuilt, a small tree had been cut down, and there was even a wooden pallet as part of the structure,” Hamilton wrote. “There was also a middle-school-aged boy sitting in a lawn chair on the island.”

Pallets and other wood have been used to cross a seasonal creek in Cedar Trails Park in Battle Ground. Photo by Chris Brown
Pallets and other wood have been used to cross a seasonal creek in Cedar Trails Park in Battle Ground. Photo by Chris Brown

Hamilton says when she informed the boy he would need to move so they could clean up the area in order to protect the wetland, he said “you don’t own the park,” then followed up her request for him to stop digging a hole by saying “my dad is on the city council.”

Hamilton says he told her his dad’s name, so she left a message on Munson’s work number with a request that he call her. 

“Mr. Munson called me shortly after 5, raised his voice at me and demanded that I meet him at the park in five minutes,” Hamilton’s complaint reads. “As I approached the island, I noticed that his son was still there along with four more boys and his son was lighting a fire in the hole he had dug.”

Hamilton says she took a photo of the activity to show to Munson, which his son noticed and demanded that she delete the photo. She refused and walked away.

“When I approached the 22nd Place entrance to the park, Mr. Munson and his wife approached me and immediately started yelling at me that I was not to have any contact with his son,” Hamilton said. “He also yelled at me that this had nothing to do with his position on the City Council and that this was about his being a dad. He and his wife made absolutely no attempt to be civil at all.”

Battle Ground City Councilor Brian Munson on a Zoom call during Monday’s city council meeting.
Battle Ground City Councilor Brian Munson on a Zoom call during Monday’s city council meeting.

Hamilton says the couple went towards the island. When she approached, Munson said she was “never to talk to these boys again,” and told them to let him know if she did.

“That, to me, is an inferred threat of retaliation,” Hamilton wrote. “What is he going to do if I talk to them?”

Hamilton says Munson also demanded she delete the photo, then threatened to call the police when she refused, which she told him to do.

“I do not believe that he did because no police came to my door,” she wrote.

Hamilton also alleges that Munson brought up her past profession as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, leading her to worry that he had looked up her background. 

“He also told me that he had talked to ‘four’ people in the area who told him that I had told them I ‘owned the park,’” added Hamilton. “He refused to tell me which people and just waved vaguely to the north.”

Hamilton says the only other time she has confronted someone about their behavior in the park was when some young people were digging a “large hole” under some cedar trees, but that they quickly filled them back in and it became a “teachable moment.”

“My goal with everyone I have come into contact with is to educate them about what I am doing and why the park should be protected,” wrote Hamilton.

She added that Munson said he had no interest in her attempts to restore the park, and that her only job was to “pick weeds.”

Hamilton says her encounter with Munson left her so shaken, she contacted the city and said she would no longer be going into the park for fear of retaliation from him or his son and friends.

“I am heartbroken about letting the park disintegrate into a wasteland and heartbroken about the disappointment of my volunteers when I told them we would not be working there anymore,” Hamilton wrote. “They were so enthusiastic about fixing the damage so that the native plants, animals, and birds could return.”

Munson declined to comment when reached for this story. Hamilton said she was surprised to hear her complaint was moving ahead so quickly, but declined to provide further comment until after the ethics committee had ruled on the case.

Battle Ground Mayor Adrian Cortes, who chairs the ethics committee, confirmed that the fire marshal’s office has turned over its findings to the Battle Ground police department for further review, but otherwise declined to speak on the matter in order to “maintain a high fidelity with these issues.”

Councilor v Councilor

The other ethics complaint filed Monday involved two city councilors. 

Shauna Walters, the newest member of the seven-member body, filed a June 13 complaint against Councilor Mike Dalesandro, alleging recent social media posts ran afoul of city code.

In the complaint obtained by Clark County Today, Walters said Dalesandro violated the council’s code of conduct in a Facebook post from June 6.

On June 4, Dalesandro had posted that he was happy to see the city’s application for a federal grant to help cover the cost of a second school resource office (SRO) for the Battle Ground School District had been approved.

In a post two days later, Dalesandro said he had been made “keenly aware of concerns” from people in the community about “increasing the police presence” in our schools.

“My support of the SRO program has been founded in my experiences interacting with teachers, parents, and students who all welcome the SRO program to Battle Ground,” Dalesandro wrote. “What I failed to do was do my own research and talk to more community members.”

This Facebook post made by Battle Ground City Councilor Mike Dalesandro on June 6 sparked an ethics complaint from fellow Councilor Shauna Walters.
This Facebook post made by Battle Ground City Councilor Mike Dalesandro on June 6 sparked an ethics complaint from fellow Councilor Shauna Walters.

Dalesandro concluded that he was considering withholding his support for the grant, which needs approval both from the city council, as well as the school district’s board of directors.

Reached for comment on the matter Thursday, Battle Ground Police Chief Mike Fort said he is open to hearing any problems people might have with the SRO program, but that he has received no calls or emails from anyone, either for or against expanding the program.

Walters also pointed to another post in the Battle Ground, WA Community page on Facebook following Dalesandro’s comments, indicating that “consideration to reject this grant is being made.”

Walters alleges Dalesandro’s post runs afoul of city ordinance 10-07 section 5B, which states “A councilmember shall always represent that opinions stated are the member’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the council unless the council has voted and passed an ordinance, resolution, or motion that so states the expressed policy”

“It is not explicitly stated that he does not speak on behalf of the City of Battle Ground nor have we passed an ordinance, resolution, or motion regarding the SRO grant,” wrote Walters, adding that she felt “blindsided” by the post.

Walters, who sits on the council’s Ethics and Administration Committee, also recused herself from the investigation. She will be replaced by Councilor Cherish DesRochers until the hearing concludes.

Dalesandro and Walters declined further comment for this story, citing the ongoing investigation.

During Monday’s meeting, Councilor Shane Bowman didn’t speak directly to the issue at hand, but did offer a warning to his fellow council members regarding the use of social media.

“Unfortunately, once you’re elected, you really don’t get the opportunity to say, ‘well, this is just me,’ because everybody takes it as ‘a council member said this,’” said Bowman. “And that’s part of the thing that we did when we signed up. We said that we’re willing to do that.”

Bowman said he had received numerous comments from community members in the past couple of weeks expressing concerns about posts they had seen members of the council making online.

“I would suggest that we take a little bit more time and think about the position that we’re in, and what we are here to do,” Bowman summed up. “We need to clean up our own house. We can’t expect others to follow suit if we don’t clean our own house.”