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Councilwoman’s blog entry prompts calls for resignation

City Councilwoman Rene Neff’s spirited defense of a fellow council member on the council’s online blog has spurred calls for her resignation.

Neff wrote an entry called “Stop bullying!” and posted it on the council’s blog on Dec. 3. In it, she defended Councilman Robert Gilman, who she said had been unfairly criticized in an opinion piece written by Kathleen Waters in the Nov. 27 issue of the Record.

“I have worked hard to ignore the negative blogs, articles and gossip that has circulated in the community lately but finally could not hold back any longer,” Neff wrote.

Neff supported Gilman’s work on the city’s comprehensive plan, the document that guides development in Langley, and characterized Waters as a bully and said her comments were “erroneous,” “ridiculous” and “preposterous.”

Neff’s blog entry, republished on the Record’s website last week, led to a flurry of online comments calling for her resignation. Waters is one of four candidates who have volunteered to serve on the council in the position left empty by the resignation of Russell Sparkman earlier this year, and some said it was inappropriate for Neff to criticize the council candidate and Langley businesswoman.

Others said that if Neff didn’t resign, she should at least recuse herself from the selection process for the new council member.

Waters, a Langley government watchdog who has been a frequent critic of Langley’s elected leaders and the council for its lockstep voting record, said it was ironic for someone in a position of power to attack a citizen who raises legitimate concerns as being a bully.

“Mr. Gilman is totally capable of defending himself,” Waters said. “There was absolutely no need for another council person to defend him.”

Waters said Neff’s “blame the messenger” tactic was nothing new.

“I think there’s a continuing pattern of very defensive behavior by the council. They have a circle-the-wagons mentality,” Waters said.

Waters has owned property in Langley since 1976, and recently started a business in the Village by the Sea. She said she doubted she would be treated fairly by Neff when the council interviews the candidates for the empty council seat later this month.

Council members are expected to appoint a new council member at their meeting on Dec. 20. The other candidates are Thomas Gill, Hal Seligson and Robin Adams.

“I will not get a fair shake,” Waters said, pointing out that she was called dishonest in Neff’s blog entry.

“My reputation is really kind of out on a limb here, with comments on the city’s website that are really maligning my character and veracity,” she said, adding that she will be exploring her legal options.

“If Ms. Neff has the interest of the community and especially her neighbors and constituents in the city of Langley at heart, she will do the honorable thing and resign,” Waters added.

Neff was reluctant to talk to the press about her blog posting, saying she prefers to deal with Langley residents one-on-one.

She did say, however, that the council and the mayor have been subjected to a constant stream of criticism that is getting tiresome.

“I feel like we are under attack,” she said. “It feels like a very deep, concerted effort to attack the city. I think at some point, people need to say what they feel, and I did.”

Neff said she has listened to a wide variety of viewpoints, and is interested in moving the city forward in a positive direction.

“When I read Kathleen’s article, her viewpoint, it makes me hurt. It makes me feel bad for the city, it makes me feel bad for Robert,” she said. “The way she paints the picture of this man ... it’s derogatory. It’s like a witch hunt.”

Gilman, the mayor pro tem of the council, has been the subject of much criticism in recent months, mostly due to his efforts to have Langley’s current zoning scrapped and a new one, built around subarea planning, created to take its place. Some have said the complex regulatory rewrite will scare new development away from Langley, a town already burdened by a “no-growth” reputation.

Neff said the council has yet to vote on the new zoning and planning ideas that have been proposed. And she agreed that democracy means having the right to speak out.

“That doesn’t mean you degrade people in the process,” she added.

Neff said she would be willing to not take part in the process to select Langley’s next council member.

“I’ll be happy to step aside,” Neff said.

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