The City Council race between incumbent Kate Kruller and Charles Tyson has played out early on social-media sites in Tukwila an on the internet.
The social-media sites are where Tyson revealed background information he found about Kruller, through online research and through public-records requests.
An emotional Kruller, who is president of the Tukwila City Council this year, used a few moments at the end of a recent council meeting to talk about someone – she didn’t name anyone – whom, she said, was bullying her online and in public.
Tyson and Kruller have been invited to a candidates forum on Sept. 17 that will feature all the local candidates on Tukwila’s general election ballot Nov. 3.
Tyson posted a comment on the social-media site Tukwila Talk on July 23, challenging Kruller to a debate on the site and gave her 24 hours to respond.
She didn’t respond and the online debate didn’t occur, although Tyson has posted “position papers” and Kruller has posted items about community events on the site.
Tyson also reached to out Kruller on NextDoor, a social network for neighborhoods. He mentions Kruller’s Code of Ethics violation in 2012 that was well-covered by the Tukwila Reporter. And he had other “revelations” about Kruller.
He writes: “I urge you to quietly resign from Position 6 on the council, and I will not feel the obligation to bring facts, (not gossip or hearsay), before the public for review.”
Kruller filed her bullying complaint against Tyson on July 27 after he approached her on July 25 while she was volunteering at Touch A Truck at Westfield-Southcenter. According to the police report, he asked her several times to agree to a political debate.
According to the police report, because of Tyson’s emails and his appearance at Touch-A-Truck, Kruller told the officer she feared Tyson’s behavior would escalate and he could become violent.
Tyson told the officer he never threatened Kruller and the information he had gathered about Kruller was available to anyone through a public-records request.
The city’s prosecuting attorney, Aaron G. Walls, declined to pursue the complaint against Tyson in August, because Tyson’s comments were protected political speech.
“Online communications show the suspect [Tyson] made politically based complaints and was careful to limit his discussion of disclosing information to facts and not gossip,” Walls wrote.
Walls also explained that Washington state doesn’t have a crime of bullying. The closest crime would be cyberstalking or harassment, which as speech – especially political speech – is “limited to prevent First Amendment violations,” he wrote. The evidence must show “true threats” of physical harm, he wrote, which didn’t occur.
In doing online research about Kruller’s background, Tyson said he found court documents regarding Kruller’s guilty plea in 2008 to first-degree negligent driving. That was three years before Kruller was elected to the Tukwila City Council.
Several months later she changed her name from Susan Grace Kruller to Katherine S.G. Kruller. Tyson maintains she did that to hide her negligent-driving record; in an interview and in public comments, Kruller said she changed her name to honor her great-grandmother and “Kate” felt like a better fit for her.
The ethics violation in 2012 stems from Kruller’s efforts to rent a room at the Tukwila Community Center for a campaign event for State Rep. Bob Hasegawa. The allegation from staff at the community center was that Kruller used her position as a City Council member to get special privileges while renting the room.
Mayor Jim Haggerton ruled that Kruller violated the city’s Code of Ethics, which includes even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Kruller was fined and warned against using her position as a council member to “secure special privileges or creating the perception of engaging in such activity.”
Kruller appealed, but a hearing examiner upheld Haggerton’s ruling.
Kruller said in an interview she was following the process to rent the room that was outlined to her by city staff. She said there was a “miscommunication.”
What she learned, Kruller said, is that she won’t put herself in situations ever without asking the question, “Are you treating me any differently than you would treat someone else?”
“I have no intention other than showing contrition for ever allowing myself in a situation like that,” she said.
Since then, the City Council has changed the ethics code to remove the “appearance” of a conflict of interest. And a Board of Ethics, rather than the mayor, rules on whether a conflict of interest has occurred.
“I feel better that things are better than they were before. I am humbled by the experience. I did the best that I could do. And that wasn’t good enough. I am sorry,” she said.