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Sumner Councilman Accused of Illegally Cutting Trees on City Property

Sumner Councilman Randy Hynek is accused of cutting down 63 trees along the White River that are protected through environmental laws -- possibly in an effort to help a grove of infant walnut trees thrive.

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.”

Kelda Miller December 29, 2011 at 03:11 PM
Hm. I've seen the site in question and I'd love clarification about which trees came down exactly where. To my memory (I'm out of town right now) there is a buffer zone of bigger cottonwoods next to the river, and then several yards to the east starts the walnut grove. ie, one can't see the river right next to the grove. The plantings that the city/volunteers put in were probably closer to the river, and the trees that were cut were probably those that were volunteering in the walnut grove. There's an ecological difference there. When I saw the site I was concerned that the volunteer cottonwoods would choke out the walnuts, etc, and probably said so repeatedly. Whoever cut them was indeed taking care of the more expensive/valuable trees. Of course, that they didn't have city permission is unethical. However, in general I admit to advocating for 'guerrilla pruning' in a lot of situations. I think of how many people go into our parks (Clark's Creek for example, or down by the library) and could be pulling out some ivy while they're there, and placing it in a gravel/sidewalked area so it dries up. This is kind of the same situation but more extreme, as the walnuts will undoubtedly thrive with the higher levels of light they'll receive.
Kelda Miller December 29, 2011 at 03:11 PM
Also, for what it's worth, doing not just native plants along the river may seem at first unethical but it is very promising if done with thought to ecosystem health. It starts to create a relationship between humans and the environment, the walnuts will grow with minimim water and fertilizer needs, and I've had discussions with agencies involved with the puyallup watershed who are looking forward to more sites such as this. (Just in case there's anyone who wants to bash it because it's not native, just remember that our food comes from somewhere, and if it's not within our watershed where we can keep an eye on responsible management than it's probably destroying someone else's watershed.) About this being an Enslow attack on Hynek, that entirely makes sense to me, and has some precedent with how Enslow treated Richardson. I can't wait to vote the mayor out of office. BUT I also don't advocate lying, especially by someone in office, and if Randy did it he should fess up. The tricky thing is that taking care of the trees is almost more progressive than the city made give permission for. Tricky.
Kelda Miller December 29, 2011 at 03:16 PM
I can't quite see the pictures (it must be my internet connection) but Yes indeed, those firs were going to shade out the walnuts. Now that I think of it, they could have been planted the same time as the walnuts, but much much too close. I suppose the firs could have been drastically pruned instead of cut to the ground, as an alternative. But I think this is a situation where the action was needed and was too progressive for city staffers to maybe wrap their heads around. A good question to ask Carmen is: if Randy had asked permission to cut down the trees that were too close to the walnuts, would he have gotten it?
Kelda Miller December 29, 2011 at 03:32 PM
PS. I just keep thinking about this. One big thing that should be encouraged is that Randy does spend untold amounts of time tending to Sumner-owned gardens, on his own time. This is an incredible gift to the community. To put things in perspective, Randy and his friends have been plowing on city land, harvesting on city land, fencing on city land, pruning on city land, etc etc etc. TO OUR BENEFIT This might be a case where that stewardship was extended to the walnut grove, and only in hindsight was it realized that cutting down trees is viewed by the public differently. Again, for what it's worth, I think that plowing is *much* more destructive than cutting down trees planted too closely. But we've let Randy do that. Who decides what stewardship is? What set of best practices should be followed on city land? I'm totally game for that conversation.
Kelda Miller December 29, 2011 at 07:14 PM
So I've been thinking about this more (surprise!) and it's highly possible that because Randy has a history of stewardship on city property, and up to this point he's been given the green light to do whatever stewardship he wishes, that him (and/or any allies) might not have Even Thought they'd need to get permission from the city. Think about it: noone has really cared about Randy's stewardship practices. The city has trusted him. I haven't seen the felled trees yet, but it might Not be cause for alarm. Picture Enslow coming at Hynek with an accusation (which incidentally would anger 'environmentalists' Hynek's base and I bet Enslow thought of that). The two don't have the most stellar relationship so I can see Hynek getting defensive. It's still no reason to lie. But he could be thinking "Well noone cared and it's not destructive! I'm not going to play this game with Enslow!"
Lauren Padgett (Editor) December 29, 2011 at 09:56 PM
Good question.. I was told that even if he had gone through the proper permit process, it would have been unlikely he would have been allowed to cut the trees due to the mitigation agreement they were planted under. The only way it would have been permitted, from my understanding, is if it were part of a larger conservation effort in the area.
Skippy December 31, 2011 at 06:30 PM
Ah the sweet irony. the green city counsel-man is getting a taste of the medicine that has and continues to poison private land owners, farmers, and ranchers for decades. How many endless stories have we heard of the EPA and scads of environmental agencies hamstringing owners of private land, deeming their land a protected habitat of the endangered dung beetle or ' _____ '(fill in the blank), thus making it worthless to said owner or subsequent would be purchasers. And what about that slight topical depression on your land that routinely gets soggy and muddy, not enough water to maintain a small pond, but wet and smelly enough to cause you to want to fill it in with rock and top soil. Oh no says the EPA woman not only can you NOT fill in the muddy depression and make it useable, you must not build withing 50 yards of it because now it has been arbitrarily deemed an important environmental wetland. Lets hope the councilman remembers this lesson next time he has an input on legislation that subjugates private land owner rights to draconian environmental edicts.
Sara de Soto Hoime January 03, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Wow, are we giving lessons now? By the time everyone figures out that wetlands do have an intrinsic value far beyond discussion here, it will be too late. While I haven't read all of the comments yet, I believe that 1) if Randy Hynek planted a grove of Black Walnuts, why haven't I heard about it? This is amazing! I can't wait to see it. What an incredible investment for the f u t u r e city dwellers that get to harvest it and make all that money. 2) while I like it better if Randy didn't vote along with everyone else as much as he does, (for example, I disagree with condemning 60,000 square feet for a new drinking water well on Fleischmann's where a chemical plant is coming) he loves Sumner. To be continued...
Sara de Soto Hoime January 03, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Skippy, if you have found a gov't agency that enforces like you describe, please, but I really need to meet you. Green or not green! Btw, it is healthy to agree and disagree. For example, I might be green, Kelda might be very green, heck, even Dave is fairly green; but Hynek?!! No sir (or ma'am as the case may be)!
Sara de Soto Hoime January 03, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Kelda, you have many progressive views and are quite well and bravely spoken. I know that you and I have disagreed and agreed on different subjects in the past. And that's ok in a democracy! You have made excellent points here and certainly speak for me too. I'll be reviewing the site tomorrow firsthand and will let the Council know at tomorrow night's meeting how I feel about this use of public time.
Julie N.-M. January 04, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Monday nights Council meeting was full of tension, and through it all, Randy held his head high and maintained composure. Making sure the citizens knew wht we had to have an offical news paper and what paper that would be as it was only listed as an item on the concent adgenda. He also aggreed with a speaker that commision positions should be filled by local citizens. It was during the council comment period that things went to heck. I am sure many perople wil talk about "a lack of professionalism" or "not the place". But what I witnessed and heard from Councilman Hynek was frustration, and I believe he was truely hurt. He is being suddenly persecuted for the exact same thing he has been doing, all over the City, for years. This City has real issues, a golf course that is draining our coffers, a commitment to the Y for 2.5 million. And a commitment to Ortn Junction to provide City services, imagine the cost of that?! Move on City, there is no crime here! If you want crime, look into sewer, road and storm improvements that help private developers build, but the taxpayers fund.
Kathleen January 05, 2012 at 04:03 AM
Julie, It's not the City that has real issues, it is the City Council that has real issues. Being on the Council is a fiduciary duty to the public they serve. Something this Council blatently ignores. I am appalled at the entiltement of certain Council members and staffers. The lack of leadership and sound judgment from this Council is evident.
p villa January 07, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Mr Hynek has been known to take control of things that are not his to control- and has gotten away with it for some time. It is not a surprise, therefore, to see this sort of thing happen with his utter surprise at the backlash.
Sara de Soto Hoime January 08, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Once upon a time a citizen of Sumner informed us all about the coming chemical plant - without fear or worry about backlash, it was Randy Hynek that shed light to the town on that situation. He is a hero of sorts, a beacon of light, not a criminal vandal. To go after Hynek, the people's representative, in this manner is probably beyond repair. So much for olive branches. Instead we get to discuss douglas firs and walnuts and conservancy sites? Ok. Fine. Apparently we have nothing better to do with our precious time... what exactly is this site? I saw the word 'mitigation'. For what? And where does that number 60,000 dollars come into play? Emotional shock and sadness, now that we are clear this is about backlash for taking control is totally supplanted. Thanks for clearing that up. But the question still remains why exactly is Randy being schooled by lessons in this manner and at this time? I didn't know he was so powerful. Doesn't the City have plenty of other legal matters to contend with? The City can't afford special event fees for parades and Festivals downtown, but can afford time on this? Unimpressed.
Sara de Soto Hoime February 01, 2012 at 06:54 AM
Western Pond Turtle Skippy. Maybe I'll start a nursery for them. I think the landowners are winning the disappearing wetland dispute though (overall). If you look at historical data, they are going going gone. Does that matter? It's way more important to look for ways to destroy land and people. Right? Sadly, this could be any of Sumners Council. Hope they are paying attention to how they are treated. I'd be sure defending any one of 'em. Cause when you do this to representatives, and it is tolerated, you are doing it to youself. If that doesnt make sense, it never will.
Sara de Soto Hoime February 01, 2012 at 06:56 AM
Very unclear how these tree values are arrived at. I'll need to see the arborist's technical report to determine why a cottonwood is valued at more than a cedar. Details like these matter especially as the dollar amount charged makes this a felony. Unreal. Like Julie says, move on City. You have made us all very awake though. So kudos for that...we are back and we are staying back until we get solutions to problems that WE care about. You rock, Julie! YOU always speak such common sense!
Katharine Rode April 16, 2012 at 12:17 AM
To see or not to see; that is the question. If we could get two council members to say they wanted to see the film, Randy and the Trees,we could get it put on the agenda, I gave them four. They have since changed their minds and now will not allow us to show the film to the council. Ironically there will be a tree themed presentaion! There is also a public comment period. Come and speak your mind or to show support for Councilmember Hynek. Mon. April 16 7pm

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