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Councilwoman’s ‘rude and unprofessional behavior’ triggers ban on staff contact – again

Pam Roach, then a Republican state senator from Auburn, addressed The News Tribune editorial board in July 2016. Roach now is a member of the Pierce County Council.
Pam Roach, then a Republican state senator from Auburn, addressed The News Tribune editorial board in July 2016. Roach now is a member of the Pierce County Council. dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

The message from Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier to his department directors and staffers couldn’t be clearer: Don’t talk to county Councilwoman Pam Roach. Instead, put everything in writing.

The memo issued Tuesday by Dan Grimm, Dammeier’s chief operating officer, cites a pattern of “rude and unprofessional behavior” by Roach, elected to the County Council last year after a 26-year career in the state Senate, where her treatment of staff led to multiple clashes with colleagues. Grimm delivered the memo to Roach on Tuesday and spoke with her briefly.

“Regrettably, Councilwoman Roach’s behavior has not been consistently respectful or civil,” the memo states.

Roach told The News Tribune that Dammeier’s action reflects his lack of respect for council members.

“We know each other from the Legislature,” Roach said, referring to Dammeier’s past service as a state senator. “He knows very well that I’m gonna want some respect here. We’re supposed to have equal branches of government, and in Pierce County, we do not.”

Dammeier’s directive sets the following conditions for staff contact with Roach:

▪  Personal meetings with Roach require approval in advance from Grimm or his designees;

▪  Department directors and staff will respond to requests for information from Roach only if she submits them in writing or during public council meetings;

▪  All information or assistance to Roach must be provided in writing and retained;

▪  Directors and staff may excuse themselves from meetings attended by Roach (or phone calls from her) if they think she is being rude or unprofessional.

Grimm told The News Tribune that the topic of Roach’s behavior has “been a discussion item for months.” No single incident provoked the decision, he said. Instead, it was an accumulation of incidents involving contacts with staff in the public works and budget and finance departments.

“Hope springs eternal,” Grimm said. “One hoped that her behavior here would rise to a higher standard than what was the case when she was in Olympia when she was a state senator. But it hasn’t.”

The county dust-up echoes similar incidents dating to Roach’s lengthy tenure in Olympia. Between 1999 and 2016, various clashes between Roach and state staffers resulted in sanctions and reprimands revolving around alleged mistreatment of employees.

In 2010, Senate Republican leaders barred her from caucus meetings, which also meant nullifying her voting privileges. In 2008, Republican leaders banned her from contacting caucus staff, saying her behavior created a hostile work environment. In 2003, Senate leaders reprimanded Roach and asked her to seek counseling after more than five years of staff complaints.

Since arriving at the County Council in January, Roach has butted heads with council members during public meetings and generated other complaints behind the scenes regarding her treatment of staff.

Roach said Tuesday that Dammeier is unhappy with her efforts to raise awareness of long-term planning for the unincorporated areas of Browns Point and Dash Point and potential annexations. She said she wasn’t consulted beforehand about those plans and should have been. She also said Dammeier’s staff has hindered her efforts to establish a county farming commission.

“Of course he’s gonna attack me,” she said. “I want to protect my constituents from an unbridled executive who comes in and does what he wants in spite of what the council might want. I think he’s making the first overt strike against me. I have not done this to him, but that‘s what he’s doing. I am giving courage to some of the people who are here to stand up to an executive and would-be governor. I’m gonna do what I think is right and it’s well motivated. I’m doing good stuff.”

 
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