Sumner City Councilman Randy Hynek is facing accusations that he illegally cut down city owned trees -- in an effort to protect other city-owned trees.
Hynek, who angrily denied he has anything to do with razing a grove of 63 trees along the east side of the White River, could face charges of destruction of public property. But the two-term councilman said the accusations amount to nothing more than a political witch hunt.
“I am being set up and railroaded,” Hynek said. “Everyone is lined up against me.”
City officials hope the dustup can be resolved amicably. “Early indications show that this was a misunderstanding,” said city communications director Carmen Palmer, who confirmed the case has been forwarded to a county prosecutor to review if charges will be filed.
The seeds of the fight were planted in 2006, when the city planted over 3,000 trees along the White River in a conservation partnership with state, federal and local agencies, including the Muckleshoot Tribe. The plan was to plant the trees, nurture them to an age where they could sustain themselves, then leave them alone. In a subsequent effort to further restore and enhance the riverbank, Hynek proposed the idea of planting some fruit-bearing trees that could benefit the community by their harvest. The result was a grove of 20 walnut trees, just south of 24th St. E.
Since planting them about three years ago, Hynek assumed full responsibility for the walnut trees and has maintained them with city property but on his own time.
"I have spent hundreds of hours taking care of those trees and building the cheapest community garden in the state," said Hynek. "I don't destory, and I don't destruct."
In early December, Hynek expressed concerns to the city's head groundskeeper that volunteer cottonwoods would choke off the new, spindly walnut saplings. Since it's a protected area, any clearing would need a permit.
At this point, stories diverge.
In a police interview, Hynek admitted to borrowing the city’s chainsaw and trimmer and, acting on his own, felled the grove of trees. City officials say he inquired about doing so after the fact. He spoke about cutting down cottonwoods to Mayor Dave Enslow and retired councilmember Leroy Goff at the Dec. 5 meeting, which they both reported to police.
Hynek denied ever saying that.
“That’s an outright lie,” said Hynek. “I will take a lie detector test to prove that I never admitted to cutting down those trees.”
The issue seems to have opened old council rivalries, too. Hynek said Enslow is drumming up the story because of their past disagreements.
Enslow said this isn’t the case at all.
“This isn’t about me and him, it’s about a rather serious matter that occurred near the river that needs to be dealt with,’” said Enslow. “I don’t have any vendetta against him, nor should I… Frankly, my view on this is, it needs to be handled like it would if it had been anybody else.”
While Hynek doesn’t admit to cutting the trees, he did assert that his main interest is protecting the city’s investment in the walnut grove, which cost about $1,200, he said.
Palmer said that the cost of replanting the trees he cut is almost incalculable, because the city didn’t lose seedlings – 22 five year-old firs were lost.
“We’re not sure how to quantify it yet,” said Palmer. “We got a lot of help from the community planting those trees, and countless staff time to develop the plans for this project.”