Tensions flare at McCleary city council meeting

Mayor Chris Miller rejects claims of ‘targeting’ and ‘bullying’ city employees

A McCleary City Council meeting saw heightened emotions get out of control on Wednesday, April 12, as a large swath of community members voiced concerns about the day-to-day operations of the city government and the direction the rural East County town is going.

With a hundred people in attendance and the council chambers filled to the point where a few people were required to stand in the hallway, a litany of concerns were aimed toward allegations of targeting and bullying city employees by McCleary Mayor Chris Miller.

The meeting spiraled when the public comment segment came up on the meeting agenda. Police escorted one woman, Monica Drake, out of the room after she spoke past the allotted three-minute time frame. Another speaker, business owner Tyler Sauer, was threatened with removal before leaving on his own accord. Multiple people also called for Miller to resign as mayor during the public comment session.

Councilmember Brycen Huff, who also serves as the McCleary Mayor Pro Tem, told The Daily World in an email that community members offered to give their speaking time to hear the rest of the statement from the individual who was escorted out by police and that Mayor Miller “attempted to shut the offer down.” Huff also expressed a desire to see similar community engagement moving forward.

“I found it refreshing to have the community present asking questions and making statements to their elected officials,” Huff said. “Just being there shows you are invested in what is going on and quite frankly holds the mayor and council accountable. I hope the public stays engaged in attending meetings. I hope the concerns voiced didn’t fall on deaf ears, but time will tell.”

While the rest of the McCleary City Council either declined to comment on the matter or could not be reached before press time, Miller told The Daily World via phone interview that there is no validity to the claims that he has previously or currently is targeting and bullying employees of the town. Instead, he cited an internal investigation into a report of workplace malpractice by a city employee in December 2022 as the cause for the allegations. Miller said the investigation featured months of police work and ended with a punishment handed to the accusers, who were also city employees, for making false claims.

“It turned out in the end, we dealt with them in disciplinary action. They were not happy so a couple of them went around and amped it up and claimed that we were trying to fire them even though it was already resolved,” Miller said. “It brought a lot of people in who didn’t necessarily know everything that was going on. With that many people, I’m not going to sit there and argue with everybody about it.”

When asked what prompted him to have an individual escorted out by police during the April 12 meeting, Miller said the goal was to maintain order in the council chambers.

“We try to hold them to three minutes for public comment which is pretty much standard. She had said in the beginning that she didn’t know if she could express all of it in enough time. She was running over so I stopped it. I asked the police chief to escort her out, trying to maintain some control of a meeting that was really hard to control,” Miller said. “Nobody got in trouble, she didn’t get trespassed or arrested or anything like that, but the problem is that it got worse after she was escorted out, so we had lost control anyways.”

Despite the calls for his resignation, Miller told The Daily World he has no plans on doing so. He said he’s cognisant of possible ramifications for future council meetings, but expressed his desire to avoid drama, serve the city and help rebuild an outdated infrastructure.

“I can’t cater to one side or another,” Miller said. “I think the problem, even before I came in, is that our city is really divided and I’m trying to bring two sides together but neither one of them wants to, which is an extreme challenge to me. I don’t want to participate in their personal agendas, I just want to work for the city, improve the city and do better for the city as a whole. That’s my goal.”

Contact Reporter Allen Leister at 360-463-3572 or allen.leister@thedailyworld.com.