Lynden councilman resigns in dispute with city leadership

Lynden City Hall
Lynden City Hall jdonaldson@bhamherald.com

City Councilman Tobey Gelder resigned at the end of Monday’s regular meeting, Gelder and city officials said Wednesday.

Gelder’s resignation took effect Tuesday, he said by phone Wednesday afternoon. He announced his departure with a letter handed to City Clerk Pam Brown before entering an executive session.

The letter, only one sentence long, offered no information as to why Gelder resigned. But he said by phone, and later in an email to The Bellingham Herald, that his decision was a result of recent struggles within the city’s administration, including:

▪ A lawsuit filed in September by three former department heads accusing the city, City Administrator Mike Martin and Mayor Scott Korthuis of gender and age discrimination.

▪ Another lawsuit filed in federal court by a volunteer firefighter against Robert Spinner, the assistant fire chief, alleging Spinner didn’t offer the man a full-time position because of his Egyptian ethnicity, and instead only gave him a part-time position.

▪ And Finance Director Sirke Salminen’s resignation, also in September, citing Martin’s behavior and the city’s “lack of responsibility” in responding to it, as the motivation.

“My resignation from Lynden City Council resulted from nearly three years of dissatisfaction with the actions of the administration and council,” Gelder wrote, in part. “Throughout these problems the majority of the council did not effectively respond to these events, and frequently criticized the council members who disagreed with actions and inactions of the administration.

“These actions, and others, led me to the conclusion that continuing as a member of the City Council was incompatible with my personal standards.”

Gelder, who held the position 6 seat, was appointed in 2006, elected in 2007, and retained the position throughout subsequent elections.

The council plans to appoint a new member within the required 90-day time frame, Martin said in an email. The successor would hold the seat at least until the end of 2017, when Gelder’s term was set to expire, and would be eligible to run for a regular four-year term.

“We appreciate the years of service Tobey gave the city of Lynden,” Korthuis said by phone Wednesday. “We appreciate his perspective particularly in financial matters. He always paid attention to the finances of the city and made sure we were doing things right. We wish him well in retirement.”

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan