Due diligence or implied bias? Council split over $ 337 in reimbursement for Chief of Police files
$ 337 is not a lot of money. But $ 337 is the flash point that sparked an incendiary and seemingly endless debate in Edmonds City Council.
“I think it was a witch hunt.”
—Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Board Member
“It’s hard to ignore the position of bias.”
–Board member Laura Johnson
“I was slandered tonight, and I was accused of bias and I just want it on the record.”
–Council Vivian Olson
The $ 337 is not the real story. The story is the internal battle of the council which, for several months, has pitted members against each other; much of it centered on the debate over a new police chief.
Police chief search
In early December, board member Vivian Olson spent $ 337 of her own money to obtain copies of testimony in a federal lawsuit that raised questions about the past experience and behavior of Sherman Pruitt, one of the two candidates. at the helm of Edmonds last year.
She distributed copies to all council members and the mayor just before the confirmation vote on Pruitt. Olson insists she was concerned because the city’s human resources department did not have these documents and she felt council should review the information before the Pruitt vote.
It never happened. Four council members (Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Susan Paine, Luke Distelhorst and Laura Johnson) claimed that the city and the HR department were already aware of this information and had verified it and that nothing in the documents prevented hiring Pruitt. Three others (Olson, Diane Buckshnis and Kristiana Johnson) said they and HR did not have the documents until Olson provided them.
In federal testimony, Pruitt admitted to being involved in previous incidents of domestic violence. Edmonds State of Police Hiring Regulations that “any incident of domestic violence”, and not just a conviction, is an “automatic disqualification” for any officer “(to be hired).
The council has never publicly discussed the documents; a motion to discuss it in executive session failed on a 4-3 vote. In early December, Fraley-Monillas and Mayor Mike Nelson had agreed to increase the confirmation vote by a week, and Council (4-3) confirmed Pruitt as leader. A few days later, Nelson canceled the offer. He did not cite court testimony as a reason for doing so.
March 2021 Council debate
Olson then submitted his bill for $ 337 to council for reimbursement, which is allowed by the city code. The debate broke out. Last December 2020 Board Chair Fraley-Monillas refused to accept the reimbursement, claiming that she, as board chair, did not authorize the expense. In March, Olson told her to new submissive. “I don’t find this reasonable or prudent,” Fraley-Monillas said in the March 9 session. “This is the job of HR, not the job of a board member.” Monillas also said that this groundwork “was only addressed when the person was chosen to be the first person of color to be the Edmonds Police Chief.”
Olson argued that the documents had nothing to do with race, but were part of the “due diligence” that any board member is entitled to do to vet nominations. Councilor Diane Buckshnis supported her. The board members “had a lot of respectful disagreements,” Buckshnis admitted, “but there was a precedent, and the finance committee (of the board) recommended paying and moving on.”
Board member Laura Johnson said: “If we approve and reimburse these unauthorized expenses, it would interfere with the work of qualified professionals and we engage in an administrative function; but more importantly, it would set a dangerous precedent for accountability. “
Current board chair Susan Paine also refused to authorize the payment. She argued that there had been no prior approval by the Chairman of the Board, as required, and that “this is not part of the typical board responsibility.[…]this presentation puts the city at a level of responsibility and risk ”.
Board member Kristiana Johnson said, “HR was aware of this information, but it was not shared” (with some board members). “I really commend Board Member Olson,” she added, “for doing this research and bringing her to the Board.”
Council member Luke Distelhorst also rejected support for the payment, in part because “it includes potential liability (for the city) as I understand it”.
Monillas alleged that, “I think that (Olson’s information) created a lot of problems in the black community. In my personal opinion, and this is my opinion, ”she added,“ I think it was a witch hunt. And I don’t mean it was a “witch” witch hunt because I believe it was looking for problems that might arise.
Against Olson, “I object to being painted, as I have been by Council Member Monillas in terms of digging for dirt; when I found that it looked like a stone that needed to be turned over.
City attorney Jeff Taraday has been asked for his legal opinion. “The council,” he said, “is not required to trust the mayor or the mayor’s staff for the recommendations that have been made. The problem, Taraday said, is that board members should be asking themselves, “Not whether you would have spent the money or bothered to acquire the information. It is irrelevant whether you agree that this money should be spent. “
Taraday explained, “This is clearly money spent in the performance of his duties by the board member” and the member requesting reimbursement “is doing so in good faith.” He also said he was not sure the liability issue was related to the reimbursement, that he had “no reason to believe this is a problem”.
It didn’t solve anything. Council members deferred a vote to the April meeting.
April 2021 Council debate
At the Council meeting on April 20, Fraley-Monillas made a new accusation: “Has Pruitt’s information been provided as to the objections he has made to the Council?”
Olson fired back: “Pruitt objects to a board member’s reimbursement being reimbursed?”
Monillas: “He has an objection because he thinks Ms. Olson implied bias and that every aspect of what she did had to do with her color.” Then she told the board, “I know he spoke with the director of human resources.”
But the Taraday city attorney says My new Edmonds This is not the case. “The administration has not had any discussions with Mr. Pruitt,” Taraday wrote in an email, “since he was disqualified in December 2020. Also, the city attorney’s office is not aware of it. no threat of pending litigation from Mr. Pruitt and has not been engaged in negotiations or other discussions with him. “
So let’s get back to square one. Councilor Olson believes she is entitled to her $ 337. The issue will come back to a future council agenda, but no date has been set.
– By Bob Throndsen