Castle Rock Mayor Paul Helenberg was formally admonished by the City Council on March 24 after having made disparaging remarks toward Police Chief Bob Heuer during a previous council meeting.
The remarks had come about after Heuer presented a request for a $10,000 budget amendment transferring funds to the Police Department to cover unexpected expenditures at the end of last year.
Heuer told the council Nov. 25 his department had encountered a significant increase in calls, relating primarily to domestic violence, and, as a result, began spending more on fuel and overtime than had been budgeted.
At that time, the council expressed a willingness to approve the budget amendment and a formal ordinance transferring the funds was presented during their next meeting Dec. 9.
However, Helenberg had not been present during the Nov. 25 meeting and, on Dec. 9, spoke harshly to Heuer and his fellow officials for what he said appeared to be a violation of the directive given to his department heads to not go over budget.
“We pay you a lot of money,” stated Helenberg to Heuer during the meeting. “I expect to know when these lines are over budget, and I’m pretty upset about it…Right now I want to freeze all your overtime—again this year—because I can’t trust you to finish your budget under budget.”
Helenberg went on to accuse Heuer of “cheating the taxpayers” through over-spending and said, if Heuer did not get the police budget under control, the city needs to “find someone that can.”
Helenberg also suggested the City Council was attempting to take advantage of his absence at the previous
meeting and make policy decisions he would not otherwise approve of.
“The way I feel, you guys were trying to pull this over and didn’t think I was going to be here at this meeting,” he said. “That’s just what I feel, from all you guys.”
Council Member Mike Davis defended the council’s actions and said overruns in the Police Department have been brought up regularly as they occur and the request before the council at that time was not unexpected.
“We brought this up and brought this up and there’s no reason for your attitude tonight on this situation,” Davis said to Helenberg, who then continued to defend his opposition of the amendment.
After discussions concluded, the council passed the budgetary amendment unanimously on first reading, despite Helenberg’s condemnation of the ordinance.
During the following meeting Jan. 13, Helenberg publicly acknowledged he had been “really hard on him (Heuer) the last meeting,” and said he had personally apologized to Heuer for his conduct.
It was also clarified overtime had not been frozen and Heuer’s position within the department was not in jeopardy.
However, council members were concerned Helenberg’s statements had violated official etiquette policies, and a complaint against him was opened.
It was reported March 24 by City Attorney Frank Randolph an independent investigation of the complaint, guided by the Association of Washington Cities, examined Castle Rock’s rules of conduct, as well as Helenberg’s statements, found a violation did occur Dec. 9 and the most appropriate action was for the council to formally admonish Helenberg.
“Basically, it is a formal warning that the conduct breached a standard and that it’s not to happen again,” said Randolph of the recommended admonishment, clarifying it would be a formal action of the council requiring a majority vote.
He also clarified an admonishment is a condemnation of a person’s actions and not the person themselves, failing to rise to a level of severity such as a reprimand.
After a lengthy executive session, the council voted unanimously to admonish Helenberg, though it is notable Helenberg had chosen not to be present during that portion of the meeting, which was then led by Mayor Pro Tem Earl Queen. Helenberg later clarified he felt, given the subject matter, it was more appropriate for Queen to lead the remainder of the meeting, and said he felt the council’s action was appropriate given his conduct.
“I clearly was a little bit out of hand,” he said.
Randolph also clarified the rules of etiquette in question, last revised in 2010, apply to all officials during a council meeting, as well as city employees and those who wish to speak from the audience.
The budgetary amendment presented Dec. 9 was eventually abandoned after it was found, upon closing the books for 2013, the Police Department was going to end the year with a $15,000 surplus and the $10,000 transfer was no longer necessary.