Banks City Councilor Erica Harold-Heine resigned from the Banks City Council Wednesday, May 4 over what she described as bullying from fellow councilor Pete Edison and a lack of leadership from Mayor Stephanie Jones in addressing the issue.
In an email to Jones dated April 12, Harold-Heine, who was elected to position #3 on the council in 2018, described Edison’s behavior toward her as “demeaning and not conducive” to a city council meeting.
“Pete was extremely rude to me and disrespectful in his response to me accidentally speaking over him,” Harold-Heine said.
“When he was later on spoken over by Stephanie he failed to have any response to her interrupting him. This leads me to feel he was directly being a bully to me because I am a fellow city counselor and she is the mayor,” Harold-Heine wrote.
Harold-Heine told Jones she would appreciate a public apology.
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In an interview with the Banks Post, Harold-Heine said the issue arose during a discussion leading up to the council’s approval of a $50,000 basketball court at Greenville Park during the March 8 council meeting.
In the meeting’s audio, located on the city’s website, Harold-Heine can be heard talking over Edison during the meeting, held online via Zoom.
“I don’t know, the width of the court, thirty-three feet-”
“I thought we were going to have three baskets,” Councilor Erica Harold-Heine interjects.
“Um, excuse me, I was talking,” Edison said. “Um, thirty-three feet doesn’t allow you to shoot three-point shots on the side of the court; it’s not wide enough.”
What follows is a lively discussion over the dimensions of the court and other details, which can be read here in a previous story.
Ultimately, Edison, who had raised objections to the non-regulation size of the proposed court, moved to fund it, and the measure passed unanimously.
“I have no idea what actions or lack of actions will happen from this,” Harold-Heine said in response to a question on if there was anything council could or should do about her reasons for resigning.
And while the timing of the resignation wasn’t planned or something Harold-Heine wanted, her resignation was inevitable. Harold-Heine noted that she is in the process of moving out of the city for personal reasons, and that once that move was complete, she would have been required to resign under the city’s charter.
In a resignation emailed to several city staff and Jones Wednesday evening, Harold-Heine laid her resignation at the feet of both Edison and Jones.
“I have thought about this for a while and have determined that the disrespectful culture that has been created with Mayor Stephanie Jones and City Councilor Pete Edison is not worth tolerating any further,” she wrote.
“I brought up concerns about bullying from Pete and was told to deal with it myself. The mayor should have stopped it when it started during our active city council. A leader that cared would have shut it down and she didn’t,” Harold-Heine said.
“The toxic culture is abhorring [sic] and not why we were elected to represent our citizens and city. With that said, I am resigning from city council effective immediately,” Harold-Heine wrote.
In response to her original April 12 email, Jones wrote back to Harold-Heine, saying “you need to talk to Pete directly,” and urged her to listen to the recorded audio from the March 8 meeting.
Harold-Heine also accused Jones of talking about her with an outside elected official “in a manner that concerned them so much that they came to [her]” to tell her.
Jones said that the incident between Harold-Heine and Edison wasn’t related to her discussion of Harold-Heine with a member of a committee Harold-Heine has served on in an email to the Banks Post Friday afternoon.
Neither Jones or Harold-Heine named the outside official in question.
“I did not talk about that occurrence with outside elected officials,” Jones said. “I did ask someone who serves on [a League of Oregon Cities] committee] with Councilor Harold-Heine if she had been attending the executive meetings.”
According to the League of Oregon Cities website, Harold-Heine served—and is still listed as a member—on that organization’s Finance Committee. Serving with her are the elected mayors of Hermiston, Hillsboro, and Mosier, a city councilor from Tigard, a planning commissioner from Aurora, and various employees from the cities of Hermiston, St. Helens, and Cottage Grove.
Jones also disagreed with Harold-Heine’s assessment that the incident between Edison and Harold-Heine constituted bullying.
“I do not define bullying as having someone point out they were still talking and you interrupted,” Jones said. “I would define that as embarrassing when the local paper chooses to focus on it,” Jones added.
“I do not agree that City Council has a toxic culture, but it obviously was for Councilor Harold-Heine,” she told the Banks Post.
In an email to the Banks Post Friday evening, Councilor Pete Edison said he doesn’t think he was rude or disrespectful to Harold-Heine.
“I went back and reviewed the tape from that meeting and it is true that she interrupted me and it is also true that I said, “Excuse me, I was talking,” Edison said. “My tone of voice remained even and I continued on with my discussion,” he said.
“I am sorry that Councilor Harold-Heine took it that way,” Edison added. “I am also sorry to hear that Councilor Harold-Heine is choosing to resign. She has always been a well-prepared Councilor with an educated point of view. I wish her success in all her future endeavors.”
During a council work session held April 12 (audio here), the topic of discourse during council meetings came up, thanks to the council’s move to hold hybrid meetings, where council members, staff, and interested parties can conduct a meeting both in-person at council chambers and online.
Council members and staff discussed the nitty-gritty details of holding a hybrid meeting.
More recently, about 90 minutes after emailing Harold-Heine to accept her resignation, Jones walked up to the podium at the Banks Fire District offices to deliver the annual State of the City address.
Highlighting the work the city has done over the last year, Jones also touched on remembering the human behind a Zoom meeting—or a Microsoft Teams meeting, which Jones seems to have a special dislike for—in the midst of a pandemic.
“When our interactions are through screens, it’s way too easy to forget how to listen and how to be heard,” Jones said.
“This dehumanization has also led to people forgetting how to interact with grace and courtesy,” Jones said.
Jones urged people to continue to be wary of the continuing pandemic, noting her husband lost a friend in March to the disease, said that some people are at a higher risk from COVID-19, and asked that people treat others with courtesy.
The Banks City Council is scheduled to meet next on Tuesday, May 10, and plans to discuss the process for replacing Harold-Heine, according to an agenda amended Friday morning.
With an election for the seat coming up in November, it could be a short, or even non-existent term. Following the resignation in 2019 of long-time civil servant and City Councilor Teri Branstitre, council considered leaving the position open until the next election before finally choosing former councilor Mike Lyda to fill the remainder of her term five months after her resignation.