LIND, Wash. – Paula Bell, the mayor of Lind, slammed a metal claw hammer as a gavel on a folding table in the basement of Lind Community Church Tuesday night, trying to quiet the angry crowd as she shouted “Only one at a time! Only one at a time!” A council member banged his hand on the table in response and another council member moved to adjourn.
Earlier in the town council meeting Tuesday, Bell recited a statement that she had no intention to resign. “At this time, I decline any offer of resignation and will continue to fulfill my duties as mayor as I have been until my term is up in 2026 unless I decide to run for re-election,” she said.
Some council members had planned to hand her a 136-signature petition demanding her resignation, before the meeting ended prematurely. There are only 331 registered voters in Lind, a town of 535 people in Adams County.
The petition claims Bell has overstepped her authority, hides information from council, takes action without consulting council and violates council orders.
Nearly a year into her second term, the council is split, with three new members generally against the mayor and two veteran members supporting her.
“The mayor has done nothing but be transparent about everything that she does and that we do as a town,” council member James Dworshak said after Tuesday’s meeting. “People make blanket statements without regard to the justification of it.”
The conflict has been building for months as crowds of citizens have swarmed meetings looking for answers to a growing list of grievances.
Bell says the town is in a water shortage and must follow water restrictions due to declining aquifer levels. Town members are upset, they say, because Bell has failed to adequately manage the water system or be transparent about the issues.
“The problem right now is the mayor isn’t really telling the town what is going on,” said Jamie Schmunk, who served as Lind mayor from 2010-2017 and lost to Bell by five votes in the 2021 election.
Tuesday’s meeting escalated when Darla Shaver questioned Bell for a status update of an inspection of one of the town’s wells. When the town sold nearly a million gallons of water to a wind farm last year, Shaver’s well on her nearby property went dry, she said.
Shaver said Bell canceled an appointment for an evaluation of the town well after council had voted to approve it.
“It was not canceled,” Dworshak said.
Then several more community members began speaking at once.
“You are out of order!” Bell shouted and slammed her hammer. “It was not canceled, it was postponed.”
More yelling back and forth continued until council member Laura Dew moved to adjourn the meeting. “It’s a little wild in here,” she said.
The inspection issue stemmed from when SJ Environmental, a new company out of Moses Lake that services municipal water systems, offered to give the town a free quote and assessment of the water system.
The offer was met with resistance when co-owner Sam Snead pitched the council on Aug. 23. Bell said the town would not be able to afford the company’s services. Town members pushed back, asking why turn down a free quote and a second opinion?
The council voted unanimously to allow the company to make its assessment on Aug. 31. Yet the assessment never happened.
During public comment at a Sept. 13 meeting, citizens demanded an explanation.
Bell read an email she had sent to SJ Environmental requesting documentation of the company’s credentials and a hold-harmless agreement. She then read the reply from co-owner Jami Favor, who stated, “SJE has no issues with providing the requested documentation and signing a hold-harmless agreement. The question I have for you and the community is do you really want SJE to complete an evaluation on the town’s water and wastewater systems? SJE wants to build a positive relationship with the communities we serve. And to be truthful, I have concerns that this relationship is not starting off on a positive note.”
Bell said she called Favor and had a “very friendly, open, honest” conversation.
After the call, Favor emailed again saying, “Mayor Bell, per our conversation the scheduled water and wastewater evaluation scheduled for this Wednesday have been postponed until further noticed. Feel free to reach out if future circumstances change.”
Snead told The Spokesman-Review, “It just seemed like there were a lot of roadblocks being put in our way,” and that they would be glad to go ahead with the assessment once “the innerworkings of the city have been figured out.”
Council member Robert Dew and petition organizers say they plan to go forward with a recall using the signatures against Bell if she does not resign. For a recall to be put on the ballot, the petition must have signatures of at least 35% of registered voters, a threshold the petition meets.
Adams County Auditor Heidi Hunt said it is too late for a recall to go on the ballot for the November election since ballots have already been printed.
Dworshak said Tuesday was the first time the council had to end a meeting with agenda items still remaining. “We can’t allow this to go on,” he said.
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