Citing a desire to get to the bottom of whether former Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson violated city policy when he approved $725,000 in change orders for construction at Haines Wharf Park, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night voted 6-1 to begin an independent investigation into the matter.
In an email following the vote, Haakenson described it as a political move during a contentious election year. Haakenson is openly backing candidates running against some of the current councilmembers (four are up for election this November) and is also supporting mayoral challenger Dave Earling’s bid to unseat incumbent Mayor Mike Cooper.
“Since it appears that the City Council and Mayor are interested in litigation, I will be happy to oblige them,” said Haakenson, who resigned last June to take a job as deputy Snohomish County Executive. “It’s a shame that in these difficult times, our appointed/elected leaders are spending their time and our tax dollars on a political agenda. Clearly they are making an attempt to discredit me and then, by association, those candidates that I support for election this fall. Any further comment on the matter will come from my attorney.”
Tuesday night’s council-approved ordinance authorizes Mayor Mike Cooper and a representative from the city council to recommend a process to select an independent investigator “who will evaluate and report back to the city council whether any civil or criminal laws or city policies were broken by elected officials or department directors” in connection with the Haines Wharf project.”
Concerns regarding cost overruns at the north Edmonds park came to a head during the Aug. 23 City Council meeting, when Public Works Director Phil Williams publicly apologized for what he described as “mistakes of communications” throughout the project. During his report, Williams — who started his job with the City shortly before the park was completed — explained that the change orders signed by Haakenson stemmed from a host of construction-related difficulties at the Haines Wharf site.
City Attorney Jeff Taraday told the Council during the Aug. 23 meeting that city policy limits the mayor to signing construction contracts up to $100,000 without Council approval. While the policy doesn’t specifically address change orders, “my opinion is, once you are over that $100,000 threshold, any change order on that contract would need to come back to city council,” he said.
Councilmember DJ Wilson, running for election to his second council term, said he believes that “there has been an organized and methodical effort to mislead the City Council.” Wilson sent out an email his supporters earlier in the day Tuesday calling for a formal investigation into what he called “unauthorized expenditures.”
The sole “no” vote came from City Council President Strom Peterson, who said that while he agrees “mistakes were made” during the Haines Wharf project, an investigation of this nature “is not the correct way to move this city forward.”
“Anytime you are dealing with elected officials, it’s always politics,” Peterson said. “I think now is not the time to be pointing fingers.”
Also Tuesday night, the council spent two hours in a workshop on the 2012 budget, hearing ideas from city department heads on ways to trim their respective budgets by 2 percent. That’s the gap that the city’s interim finance director is projecting between revenue and expenses in the 2012 budget.
Among the ideas presented by various departments: for police, eliminating patrol officers and/or animal control officers; for parks and recreation, charging non-residents park user fees; for the municipal court, eliminating passport processing.
The Power Point on the department budget presentations will be posted to the City’s website Wednesday morning, Cooper said, and My Edmonds News will link to it when it becomes available.
In addition, the council:
– interviewed Mayor Mike Cooper’s choice for finance director, Shawn Hunstock, who is currently finance director for the City of Tukwila.
– was introduced to new Edmonds-Woodway High School student representative Alex Springer, a senior in the E-W International Baccalaureate program who is a three-sport athlete and carries a 4.0 GPA.
– listened to a proclamation from Cooper recognizing this Sunday, Sept. 11 as Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.