Woodinville’s mayor has become the target of attack ads as he campaigns for re-election to the City Council.
The ads — which call Mayor Bernie Talmas a bully and accuse him of using an informant — aren’t sponsored by his election opponent or a registered political-action committee, but by a shadowy entity that isn’t saying where it gets its funds.
It’s the latest eruption of heated rhetoric involving members of the City Council, often directed by one member toward another.
Unpleasantness has included accusations of conflicts of interest, a challenge of a council member’s residence in the city and an anonymous letter suggesting a member’s mouth be sewn shut.
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The council is considering a proposal under which members could be censured for insulting or slandering their colleagues.
Even as “Ethical Woodinville,” the sponsor of recent ads attacking Talmas, calls for “stricter ethics rules for Council conduct,” targets of the ads say the anonymous name-calling ignores voters’ right to know who is underwriting independent election expenditures.
Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders, a target of some of the ads, filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission last week alleging the ad campaign violates multiple sections of the law.
A mailing received by voters Tuesday said Talmas “had an informant who watched the home of another Councilman late at night,” and labeled the mayor “Peeping Bernie.”
Boundy-Sanders gave the PDC recordings of two robocalls and copies of four mailings that refer voters to www.EthicalWoodinville.com.
She said the city has a long history of anonymous political attacks, “always supporting the same slate of candidates, always nasty, deceitful, always with the claim, ‘Oh, we’re just your neighbors concerned about Woodinville’s future.’ ”
PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said she doesn’t expect commission staff to investigate the complaint before the Nov. 5 election because of the volume of other investigations under way.
The Public Disclosure Act requires that anyone spending $1,000 or more on direct mail, newspaper or TV advertising that mentions a candidate’s name within 60 days of an election, report the source of the funds. Ethical Woodinville has submitted no reports to the PDC.
Talmas said the anonymous advertisers were making “deliberately false attacks on me” with the intention of swaying voters away from him and toward challenger Brad Walker.
But, he added: “I think most people are savvy enough to understand when they get this kind of attack from an anonymous group to take it with a grain of salt and not to pay attention to it.”
Walker said he and his campaign aren’t involved in Ethical Woodinville. “As to where my backers put money, I don’t know. I would hope not,” he said.
“I don’t feel it’s necessary; I don’t think it’s required; I don’t think it’s merited,” he said of the ad campaign.
An unidentified person answering a query to an email link on the Ethical Woodinville website said the group’s goal isn’t to sway the election.
“We do not advocate the election or defeat of any candidate. The election is irrelevant to this issue …” the email said. “If and when the City Council passes stronger ethics rules governing council behavior we will stop pushing for stronger ethics in Woodinville.”
The writer of the email declined to provide his or her name, or to offer any information about the ad campaign’s financial backers.
Boundy-Sanders, who is running unopposed for re-election, said the mailings went to every household she has doorbelled. Assuming the mailings went to all voters, she estimated their cost at $7,000, plus a consultant’s fee, and additional charges for robocalls.
An ad targeted Boundy-Sanders over an email she sent to political allies supporting another candidate and referring to Councilmember Liz Aspen as “The Mean Cafeteria Lady” and insulting former Mayor Lucy DeYoung.
That email led Aspen to complain about “cyberbullying” by council members and to propose a process for censuring those who do it.
“In the event that this occurs in the future, we need to have a formalized procedure to address it. That’s all I want,” Aspen said this week
In August, an anonymous letter was sent to council members with a needle, thread and handwritten message on a printout from the Ethical Woodinville website: “The simplest solution would be to sew shut Aspen’s mouth.”
Neither Aspen nor Police Chief Sydney Jackson saw the letter as a violent threat, but Aspen said it “was just stepping over the line.”
Several Ethical Woodinville ads focus on Talmas’ statement at a council meeting that he believed Councilmember Scott Hageman had moved out of the city and was no longer eligible to serve on the council.
Talmas told the council Hageman had bought a house in Kirkland and “it was reported to me that someone saw you at that residence” late at night. Hageman explained that his wife and son had moved into the Kirkland house, which he visited, but that he was living in a rented house in Woodinville.
Talmas said he wasn’t involved in any spying, a claim he dismissed as “preposterous.”
Hageman said he has nothing to do with the Ethical Woodinville ads and doesn’t know who’s behind them.
But, he said, “I know several people that have told me enough’s enough already. Woodinville citizens, including at least a couple council members, actually are glad that somebody’s finally shining the light in some of the dark places.”
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org