NAMPA — Mayor Debbie Kling rebuked a City Council member Monday, saying he went over her head in scheduling meetings with federal officials about wastewater regulations.
Councilman Bruce Skaug contacted U.S. lawmakers to set up meetings with Environmental Protection Agency representatives, including one in Seattle on May 3.
Kling said it’s not Skaug’s place to act on behalf of the city in this way.
Skaug said his efforts stemmed from the city’s letter to EPA head Scott Pruitt in February, signed by Kling, the City Council and the public works director. The letter voiced concerns about federally mandated wastewater upgrades. Nampa is running a $165 million wastewater bond in May in an effort to fund upgrades at the treatment plant.
In signing the letter, the council agreed to pursue political discussions as individual citizens, Skaug said. He reached out to U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and congressional candidate David Leroy, who offered to help.
A Labrador staff member set up a March 22 meeting in Skaug’s office with Jim Werntz, director of EPA’s Idaho operations office. Skaug said he had about a day’s notice and emailed Kling first.
Kling said she learned about the meeting four days after the fact.
“While I appreciate the efforts, I really don’t appreciate what’s being done behind the scenes with no knowledge,” Kling said.
“No phone call was made to say we’re doing it, no invitation to join the meeting (was given).”
On Tuesday, Skaug told the Idaho Press-Tribune that he couldn’t reach Kling before the meeting and notified her afterward as soon as he could.
Skaug said he has had trouble communicating with Kling since she took office in January, which is a concern that has been echoed by other council members. Kling said that comment was inappropriate, especially as Skaug was the one who did not communicate the meeting with her in the first place.
“You want to keep talking about it? Because I could line a lot out for you, Bruce,” Kling said. “I’m giving better communication to the council than they’ve ever had.”
Skaug said he did not negotiate anything with Werntz in his meeting and just questioned him on what could be done to help Nampa residents. Skaug said he couldn’t negotiate with Werntz even if he wanted to, because Werntz was not a political appointee.
But according to Kling, Skaug told her he discussed extending the term of Nampa’s wastewater permit. At around the same time, Kling said she and Fuss were working on setting up a meeting with Werntz about the same topic.
Following the meeting with Werntz, Skaug said he continued to work with Labrador’s office to set up another meeting in Seattle with an EPA official appointed by President Donald Trump. He said he let the Nampa City Council and Kling know about his request for a meeting in an email, and the meeting was set up for May 3.
Kling said she does not remember receiving this email from Skaug. From what she recalls, she heard about Skaug’s plans for a Seattle meeting from community members, and then received an email from Skaug telling her that he planned to be in Seattle on May 3.
Skaug added discussion about this meeting as a last-minute agenda item at the start of the City Council meeting Monday night, and the council finally took up the item close to midnight. Kling said she did not think the subject matter was an urgent enough topic to be included as a last-minute agenda item. The whole discussion was “embarrassing,” she said, to have in a public setting.
“I’m all for openness, so that’s why we’re here,” Skaug said.
While Kling said Skaug’s actions were disrespectful, Skaug said he was disappointed that Kling was against his efforts at making political progress for the city. But Kling said she is fully capable of making progress on her own, and she doesn’t understand the need to rush this issue right now.
“To me, it’s highly political, rather than what is the best process for us as a city,” Kling said.
Kling said she would rather the city stay focused on the upcoming $165 million wastewater bond election May 15 and later move on to fighting EPA regulations. She said Skaug scheduling a meeting with an EPA representative sends a mixed message to Nampa voters.
Skaug said while the Seattle meeting would not change the bond election, he does hope it could improve things for residents in the future.
At Monday’s meeting, Skaug asked the City Council to approve the meeting, which he would attend with Nampa Public Works Director Michael Fuss and Councilman Victor Rodriguez. Skaug and Rodriguez said they would pay for their travel out of their own pockets.
The rest of the City Council stayed out of the discussion during most of Kling and Skaug’s dispute.
The council approved the meeting in Seattle but did not specify which city representatives would go, instead asking that Kling, Skaug and others meet privately to make that decision. Skaug said he did not care who went, as long as they were able to make political progress for the city.
Kling said she did not know if the Seattle meeting would happen. If it does, she said,someone from city staff, such as Fuss, should be the one to attend, as it is not the role of City Council to be engaged in day-to-day work within the city.
“I hope City Council will allow us to do our jobs,” Kling said.