Unfounded Ethics Complaint

Jon Mutchler served as Ferndale’s mayor from 2016-2019, and on the City Council from 2010-2015. He and his administration served with integrity, honesty, and transparency and it grieved him and his family to see his good name wrongly attacked for the worst of reasons, petty personal politics. 

Statement from former mayor Jon Mutchler regarding unfounded, unproven, and untrue accusations of an ethics violation and summarizing the results of the September 2019 independent ethics investigation, paid for by the City of Ferndale, with Mayor Mutchler’s approval and support, conducted by W. Scott Snyder, of Ogden, Murphy, Wallace, PPLC (901 Fifth Ave #3500, Seattle, WA  98164). This is public record. [February 15, 2020, edited June 6, 2020]

Note:  all items referenced in this summary are public record available from the City of Ferndale and Police Department upon request. Contact City of Ferndale clerk. (360) 685-2354

Background:  

Complaint filed by Councilmember Keith Olson: A couple weeks following his primary election loss (August 6, 2019) where he ran for mayor against Mutchler, and the day following his admonishment and rebuke by the Ferndale City Council for conduct judged by his peers as “discriminatory, harassing, and retaliatory“ toward Ferndale’s chief of police Kevin Turner (August 19, 2019, Council minutes), Ferndale Council member Keith Olson filed an unfounded ethics complaint against then-sitting Mayor Mutchler falsely charging the mayor with interference with a police investigation that briefly involved a Mutchler family member (August 20, 2019, ethics complaint filed with the City).* 

At the same time Olson also filed an ethics complaint against a fellow council member, Rebecca Xczar, on an unrelated matter. Both charges were eventually dismissed by Council. 

Councilmember Olson used misleading, inaccurate, and second and third-hand gossip supplied to him by Gene and Yvonne Goldsmith who had become well-known political opponents of Mayor Mutchler and made similar public accusations against Mutchler.

Normally, ethics investigations can be done “in house” by Ferndale’s city attorney, but since the city attorney worked at the “pleasure of the mayor,” a conflict of interest arose.  Thus, the City hired an independent outside investigator at a cost of some $16,000 to investigate the charges. 

[It should be noted that Mayor Mutchler had verbally asked staff (City administrator Jori Burnett and Police Chief Kevin Tuner) to look into conducting an outside investigation regarding unfounded rumors that the mayor had interfered with police operations. But learning the cost to the city could be $20,000-30,000, the mayor chose not to pursue an investigation whose conclusions were already known to him and staff. It was Olson’s complaint that made the outside investigation necessary.]

With full support of the mayor, but concerns of expense expressed by council members, the city (directed by the city attorney and city administrator) located outside counsel, to conduct the investigation. 

W. Scott Snyder, an experienced attorney in such matters (without ties to Ferndale) thoroughly investigated the matter and summarized the answer to this central and only question of the ethic’s complaint, which was:  

“Did the Mayor attempt to influence a police investigation?” 

From Mr. Snyder’s September 24, 2019 report to the City: 

“…attached is my report on Mr. Olson’s…complaint regarding an allegation that an attempt was made by the Mayor to influence a police investigation…I conclude that this complaint is unfounded.” [Page 1]

And…

“Neither Chief Turner, Jori Burnett, Dannon Traxler, Lt. Huffman, Sgt. Vanderyacht nor Detective Melanie Campos [the only officers and/or city officials involved]  report any attempt by the Mayor to influence the police investigation or the City’s handling of it…” [Page 6]

And…

“When asked whether her investigation had been influenced, [lead] Det. Campos responded: “Hell no.”  [Page 6]

And,…

“Did the Mayor interfere in the judicial process in a matter before the Court…I [Snyder] recommend the conclusion that no violation of this provision occurred. The Mayor did not retain Judge Kaiman nor did the judge provide advice to him.” [Page 7]

And…

“Did the Mayor ‘place pressure on…employees that would cause them to deviate from preferred and acceptable public process or deviate from accepted behavior?’ The facts as presented by the officers with personal knowledge and the Mayor’s and Chief’s [Kevin Turner] versions…are consistent…the Mayor did not attempt to influence the actions or investigation at the department…” [Page 10]

In addition, we note that the original Ferndale police report (#19F03639) contained a number of remarks by Ferndale Detective Melanie Campos that were unclear and were subsequently distorted and twisted by political opponents to suggest “interference” by the mayor. 

Regarding her report and again, in the words of Attorney Snyder, “Det. Campos’ police report contains only second-hand information, and in one key instance, third-hand information. The structure of the report, particularly the two paragraphs prior to the conclusion of the Police Report (page 12 of 13) imply a causation [interference by the mayor]  that is not borne out by witness interviews.” [Page 7] 

A summary statement of the problems and confusion with this part of Detective Campos’ report is made by Ferndale Lt. Matt Huffman, and quoted in full here:  (October 15, 2019)

“Based on Detective Campos’ report from 04-24-2019, there had been some concern and a complaint filed that JON MUTCHLER (C8) had influenced the investigation of this case.  This was investigated by W. Scott Snyder of Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC.  

W. Scott Snyder’s report has been filed with the City Clerk’s Office.  On this date, I reviewed his report and verified that W. Scott Snyder concluded that JON MUTCHLER (C8) did not “place pressure on … employees that would cause them to deviate from preferred and acceptable public process or deviate from accepted ethical behavior.”  

W. Scott Snyder also concluded that JON MUTCHLER (C8) did not “… interfere with the ordinary course of law enforcement within the City” and did not “suggest or request such special favors or consideration of the disposition of any law enforcement person in the City…”.

As there was some language confusion in the report from 04-24-2019 by Detective Campos, I documented my review of the report into this case file.

No further action taken.”

To summarize all the testimony and evidence, with no contrary view: 

The mayor broke no laws nor violated any city ethics. There isn’t a single witness saying otherwise.  In fact, Mutchler’s communication with the Chief of Police, and City Administrator [regarding his family member and a possible complaint by a friend] were judged by the investigation to be “appropriate and thoughtful.” [Page 10]

One final comment about Mayor Mutchler’s family member, an 18 year old at the time:  he was never questioned nor interviewed by any law enforcement in any jurisdiction and the case closed shortly after it opened. 

If you have any questions about the reporting in this memo, you are welcome to contact me.

Jon R. Mutchler

February 15, 2020 (edited June 6, 2020)

(360) 927-1881

JonMutchler@gmail.com

* At the same time a second minor ethics charge was brought by Keith Olson alleging a campaign car-sign violation to both the City and the PDC (Public Disclosure Commission).  This was dismissed by both the PDC and the City Council, but led to some language clarification in the city sign code. 

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