Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Sunnyside City Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar made it publicly known at Monday night's meeting that she felt she had been threatened by Councilman Don Vlieger.
The perceived threat stems from a discussion at the beginning of last night's Sunnyside City Council meeting.
Before Council last night was the consideration of an annexation and zoning issue that will allow the Diocese of Yakima Housing Services to construct a 51-unit rental property in the area of Sheller Road and 16th Street.
The discussion started off with resident Dale Gostovich presenting Aguilar with a petition signed by some 60 residents asking for the councilwoman to excuse herself from the discussion. Gostovich cited a possible conflict of interest because of the relationship Aguilar has or has had with the Diocese.
"I don't believe you can be objective to the proceeding of the rezone," said Gostovich to Aguilar.
The issue of a possible conflict of interest between Aguilar and the Diocese was brought to the attention of the Council by Vlieger during a public hearing in February.
Last night, Aguilar reclarified her perceived relationship with the Diocese. Aguilar said she served as the religious education director for St. Joseph Parish in Sunnyside 10 years ago, a position she held for two years.
"I don't think there is any conflict," said Aguilar.
Aguilar then turned to Assistant City Manager/City Attorney Mark Kunkler for clarification on the issue.
"I see no appearance of fairness conflict," said Kunkler.
Kunkler said Aguilar won't financially benefit in any way from the Diocese completing its project.
Aguilar then refused to remove herself from the discussion about the Diocese project.
Later in the public hearing on the annexation and zoning issue, Sunnyside resident and former City Councilman Jim Stevens asked if any Council members had removed themselves from the discussions. Mayor Ed Prilucik said that the issue had already been addressed concerning a possible conflict of interest with Aguilar. He added that Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer and Councilman Jim Restucci had excused themselves from the discussion earlier.
Vlieger interjected, saying that neither Farmer or Restucci had a conflict of interest under the letter of the law, but both excused themselves to avoid a perception of a conflict.
Aguilar countered by saying that Vlieger has a possible conflict of interest and shouldn't be hearing the matter. Aguilar pointed out Vlieger owns rentals and the Sunnyside Bed and Breakfast and he could stand to lose money if the Diocese builds its housing units. Vlieger said the Bed and Breakfast is not affected in any way by the Diocese housing project while the housing units the councilman owns are located in Grandview.
At the end of the meeting during the Council comment portion of the agenda, Aguilar made it publicly known that she believes Vlieger had threatened her and she no longer wanted to be seated next to the two-term councilman at future meetings. Aguilar said this is the second time she feels Vlieger has threatened her, once being in private. She said since the perceived threat was done at a public meeting, she wanted to make the issue public.
Vlieger said he would be more than glad to have someone else sitting next to him.
This morning (Tuesday) Vlieger said he doesn't feel he threatened Aguilar.
"She attacks people and then she cries victim," said Vlieger. "She gets a petition (presented to her) and then she attacks me."
Vlieger said what he said to Aguilar at last night's Council meeting was that if she personally attacked him again at a public meeting then he would do the same thing in return. Vlieger said he was cut off by Aguilar before he was able to finish his comments.
Vlieger said he doesn't know what Aguilar is talking about as far as a perceived threat that may have occurred before last night. Vlieger said she could be talking about some issues Vlieger had with her brother-in-law, Juan Aguilar.
Vlieger said that about a year ago, he and Aguilar met and decided they would be civil to one another during Council meetings, which he felt didn't take place last night with her saying what she did about him.
"She accused me last night of having a financial interest and that was attacking my integrity," said Vlieger.
Aguilar was unavailable for comment this morning (Tuesday). Messages were left at her work and no one answered at her residence.