Local News

Newly appointed council member faces controversy

A newly appointed member of the Ketchikan City Council is facing criticism and scrutiny after a document surfaced this week that alleges misconduct while he was a teacher in Washington State.

One day after Russell Wodehouse was appointed to the Ketchikan City Council, he faced his first big controversy when a 2006 document surfaced, indicating that his teaching certificate in the State of Washington was revoked that year following allegations of inappropriate contact with a female student.

During a special Council meeting to review the city’s budget, Wodehouse made a statement: “A document is being circulated which to some would appear to be a court document. It is neither an official court document nor a finding of facts in any legal sense. Some have made assumptions based upon this internal document, none of which have a basis in fact now resulted in any legal actions against me. I’m seeking legal counsel for guidance on how best to address this issue as to not further disturb the work I am to do here. I regret that this issue may have taken away from City Council time and I would like to get on with the business at hand.”

The document, signed by then-superintendent of the State of Washington’s Office of Public Instruction, Terry Bergeson, does resemble a court document, but it is titled “Final Order of Revocation” related to Wodehouse’s teaching certificate.

Wodehouse received that certificate in 1999, according to the document, and worked for the Kennewick School District. He was the drama coach and in 2003 was embroiled in a controversy over a play he directed with a small cast of students. It was a stage version of the R-rated “Breakfast Club,” a popular teen flick from the 1980s. While the play’s dialogue was changed to limit adult language, the Kennewick High School principal canceled the rest of the run after watching one performance.

Some of the allegations in the revocation document were related to Wodehouse’s job as a drama coach. The document states that after cast parties or plays, he would let students stay at his home, and that a male and female student shared a room on one occasion. It also alleges that Wodehouse called, and sent notes and gifts to a female student, and allegedly kissed her intimately in his school office.

The document also alleges that Wodehouse took a magazine quiz titled “Are You Good in Bed?” with a group of students. All those alleged incidents took place in 2002 or 2003, and the document states that Wodehouse was placed on administrative leave in February of 2003. It also states that in May of 2004, Wodehouse was given a notice of termination.

Wodehouse declined to be interviewed for this report. In a written statement released to the media, he says that “The allegations contained in the document, which is an internal administrative paper, not a legal or judiciary document, are false. I was neither aware of these “finding of facts’ nor have I had an opportunity to respond, attend a hearing or refute them after the initial allegations, which were found to be without grounds. I was not fired as a teacher from the Kennewick School District. There was never any litigation. I’m consulting with counsel to seek legal remedies. I fully intend to remain on the City Council as there isn’t anything that prevents me from fulfilling my duties. I would like to thank my friends and family for their continued support.”

While some of the allegations in the revocation document would be criminal, a KRBD records check through the Washington Access to Criminal History website showed no criminal convictions for Wodehouse.

Calls to City Hall seeking comment were referred to Mayor Lew Williams III. He says the revocation document has been circulating, and he first learned of it when it was sent to the Ketchikan Daily News. Williams is co-publisher of that newspaper.

Williams says he knows who sent the document to the paper, but declined to provide a name. He adds that he wishes the information had been available to the Council before Wodehouse was appointed.

“I wish we all would have taken time to Google people that are interested in the Council, but we never ran into anything like this before,” Williams said. “It was a surprise. I’ve given the clerk instruction to make sure that anybody who applies for a position, at least we Google.”

An Internet search of Wodehouse’s name brings up the document, which was posted on the Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction website, under the Office of Professional Practices.

Nathan Olson of the Washington Office of Public Instruction confirms that the document is real. He adds that the after the document was signed, Wodehouse should have been notified through his legal counsel, and given 30 days to appeal the findings.

Olson was not able to answer detailed questions about the allegations. A public records request for the investigative file will take several weeks to be processed.

Now that Wodehouse has been appointed and sworn in, Williams says there’s no official action that the Council can take. The only methods in the city charter that allow for removal of a Council member are a felony conviction, or a certain number of absences from meetings.

“City management has looked to verify his residency, which I believe has been verified; we don’t know of any criminal charges in this,” he said. “At this time, the Council has no – I mean, we can talk to Russell and tell him how we feel, but as long as he wants to be on the Council he can be on the Council unless he resigns.”

Wodehouse was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Sam Bergeron, who resigned due to a work conflict. Council appointees serve until the next regular election, which is the first Tuesday of October.

Council Member KJ Harris was one of the four who voted to appoint Wodehouse. Harris says he keeps telling himself that people are innocent until they are proven guilty, “but, again, it puts a real dark cloud over the Council. I’ve had people saying, ‘How could you do that?’ We didn’t know! ‘Why didn’t you Google?’ I don’t personally Google. I have no idea how. I can barely turn on my iPad.”

Harris says that if he’d known about the document, he would have voted differently.

Council Member Marty West, who nominated Wodehouse for the Council position, remains supportive.

“I think people shouldn’t rush to judgment without knowing all the facts,” she said. “I think there’s more to this story than is currently circulating. I hope people will have the grace to listen and to not rush to judgment, and that we can continue to work as a Council. I have faith in Russell and that continues.”

West says she doesn’t believe the issue is something that the Council needs to address, and that it won’t affect Wodehouse’s work as a Council member.

“I do think that he’ll be a good Council member,” she said. “The things I said about him when I made the motion to appoint him were true. And I think that when the rest of the information, the other side of the story, comes out, this will become a non-issue. At least that’s my hope.”

Wodehouse was one of five people who applied for the vacant position on the Ketchikan City Council. He works for a local seafood shipping company, and is a musician and graphic artist. He grew up in Ketchikan, left for a while and recently moved back from Washington State.

In the interest of full disclosure, Wodehouse is one of KRBD’s many volunteer DJs.

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