Anticlimactic end to City Council Executive Session Tuesday night

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A few observers and members of the media were present when the Edmonds City Council reconvened at 8:46 p.m. Tuesday in an anticlimactic finale following 90 minutes in executive session. “to receive and evaluate a complaint or charges brought against a public officer or employee,” and potential litigation.

With five councilmembers present (DJ Wilson and Michael Plunkett were absent), Mayor Mike Cooper asked whether the City Council wanted to take action regarding the waiving of attorney client privilege. After hearing no motion made, Cooper declared meeting was adjourned.

Former City of Edmonds Human Resources Director Debi Humann, who was fired by Cooper nearly two weeks ago, was present when the council reconvened.  She said afterward she didn’t know if the executive session –which is allowed to be closed to the public for personnel or legal matters — was focused on her, but wanted to be in the audience just in case.

There was also speculation that the executive session involved continued discussion about Cooper’s executive assistant, Kim Cole, who is on paid administrative leave while the city investigates Cole’s claim of workplace harassment while working for the City.

At last week’s council meeting, settlement agreements that Cooper had reached with Cole were voided by the City Council. My Edmonds News obtained copies of those agreements through a public records request and has attached them below.

My Edmonds News learned from those involved in the negotiations that the actual CR2A agreement for a $65,000 settlement signed Sept. 22 by Cole and the Mayor was drafted by Councilmember DJ Wilson based upon negotiations between Cole and the Mayor (with representation by respective attorneys)

That settlement amount was adjusted in the Sept. 23 document when it was determined through negotiations that Cole could not legally receive health benefits as part of the severance package. The amount was revised to $77,000 to cover the cost of her purchasing those benefits. An additional $7,000 was added in later negotiations in exchange for Cole giving up her claim of wrongful termination, bringing the total settlement amount to $84,000.

 

20 COMMENTS

  1. “Mayor Mike Cooper asked whether the City Council wanted to take action regarding the waiving of attorney client privilege.”

    As we have been discussing Open Government and Transparency, I find it frustrating that we have to sit here and wonder what the Mayor may have been referring to when he mentioned the waiving of attorney client privilege.

    As Kimberly Coles is employed by the City and on Administrative leave, I would be very surprised if the City would consider waiving attorney client privilege related to that situation involving an employee’s rights to privacy and possibly pending litigation.

    As Debi Humann’s situation may involve pending litigation, I would be very surprised if the City would consider waiving attorney client privilege related to that situation either.

    Was the Mayor referring to waiving the attorney client privilege as it somehow relates to the Cole/Humann situation? The publically announced purpose for the executive session was to receive and evaluate a complaint or charges brought against a public officer or employee, and potential litigation, Therefore, I have to assume the Mayor was referring to a waiving of the attorney client privilege related to the publicly announced purpose for convening in executive session.

    It would be helpful if the Mayor or somebody on the Council would simply confirm that Mayor Cooper was referring to a waiving of the attorney client privilege related to the publicly announced purpose for convening in executive session last evening.

  2. Teresa,

    The links to the documents are broken. The first document can be found here.

    The second link is a duplicate of the first. I was not able to find the second document.

    And thanks for obtaining these documents!

  3. On a related note, the following is from the State’s Open Public Meetings Act . . . what stands out to me is that the Executive Session announcement must contain enough detail to identify the purpose as falling within one of those (14 reasons) identified in RCW 42.30.110(1).

    Chapter 4
    OPEN PUBLIC MEETINGS ACT – EXECUTIVE SESSIONS (CLOSED SESSIONS)

    4.2 Procedures For Holding An Executive Session

    Statutory Provision: Before convening in executive session, the presiding officer of a governing body shall publicly announce the purpose for excluding the public from the meeting place, and the time when the executive session will be concluded. The executive session may be extended to a stated later time by announcement of the presiding officer. RCW 42.30.110(2).

    The announcement by the presiding officer of the executive session must state two things: (1) the purpose of the executive session, and (2) the time when the executive session will end. The announcement is to be given to those in attendance at the meeting.

    The announced purpose of the executive session must be one of the statutorily-identified purposes for which an executive session may be held. The announcement therefore must contain enough detail to identify the purpose as falling within one of those identified in RCW 42.30.110(1). It would not be sufficient, for example, for a mayor to declare simply that the council will now meet in executive session to discuss “personnel matters.”

  4. Thanks for fixing the links, Teresa!

    I can understand why the first agreement was thrown out. It was poorly drafted with serious errors, and provided no legal protection for the city. If it was reviewed by the City Attorney prior to signing, they made a mistake by allowing the mayor to sign it.

    The second agreement bears little resemblance to the first. My reading of the second agreement is that the City agreed to pay for 12 months of medical coverage in addition to the $84,000. But I’ll admit that the wording of that was complex enough that you’d probably need an attorney to verify what it actually means.

  5. Mayor Cooper made an announcement at the beginning of the meeting before the executive session. I would assume that will be on channel 39 for FIOS folks and channel 21 for Comcast folks. If so the points Ken mentions can be checked.

  6. Darrol, do you know how these meetings are supposed to work? It looks like we had two things going on last night:

    1. City Council Committee Meetings

    2. A meeting of All City Council Members, including:

    a. an Excecutive Session

    b. POSSIBLE ACTION REGARDING WAIVING OF ATTORNEY CLIENT PRIVILEGE

    If you go to the City Council Agenda Page for October, 2011, it only indicates a
    City Council Committee Meeting scheduled for October 11, 2011. How would the public know that a meeting of All City Council Members was also scheduled?

    If one had bothered to click on the City Council Committee Meeting for October 11, 2011, they might have noticed, at the very top, under the City Council Committee Meetings Heading a note that said:

    *Note: At the conclusion of the City Council Committee Meetings, the City Council will meet in executive session at 7:00 p.m. Please refer to the end of this agenda for additional information.

    The note did not say that the City Council would convene in an open meeting of All City Council Members following either the City Council Committee Meeting or the executive session.

    If you convene an open meeting of All City Council Members, don’t you have to make sure the public knows you are doing such and don’t you have to approve an agenda and other things? Where is the agenda item related to this POSSIBLE ACTION REGARDING WAIVING OF ATTORNEY CLIENT PRIVILEGE and where are the details so we know what this related to? Sorry, I’m concerned and puzzled about what this related to.

  7. I think this was an issue on October 4th. After the executive session that evening, there was confusion expressed related to whether the “Potential action as a result of executive session discussion” should take place before or after the approval of the agenda. I think somebody stated that it should be done before the approval of the agenda because the action related directly to the executive session.

    That infers that the POSSIBLE ACTION REGARDING WAIVING OF ATTORNEY CLIENT PRIVILEGE related directly to the executive session also. Otherwise, wouldn’t they have had to have an agenda for the one item and approved the agenda before discussing the agenda item in an open public hearing?

    Any help would be appreciated…..

  8. Ken,
    This story is about the Oct 11 meeting.

    In the discussion that proceeded my comment in 6 I assumed all the talk was about the Oct 11 meeting and open public meetings in general. Good discussion.

    My comment was only to inform people that at last nights meeting I think right after the committee meetings Cooper went to his spot and called the meeting to order and read some statement discussing the executive session, and then convened the meeting to the executive session.

    I left so cannot relate to what happend next or when. I will rely on what this story says.

    All this looks like it went along the plan of the annouced agenda that is posted on the link below.

    http://agenda.ci.edmonds.wa.us/agenda_publish.cfm?mt=ALL&get_month=10&get_year=2011&dsp=ag&seq=590#ReturnTo0

    So you comments in 7 are a puzzle to me. First I will assume you tone and language was not an attack on me nor was it to imply that I did not know how the public meeting stuff all worked. I separate conversation and email with you I told you of my experience as an elected person to a school board and my experiences with public meetings and executive sessions. What I did not fully tell you because of time and space constraints is that I have attended 3 training sessions about the public meetings laws so while I may have miss a few details, I do know a little about the subject.

    So that all being said if folks want to see and hear what Cooper did last night it is on the tape. What suprised me is that a meeting was called to order and only he was in place and I did not see any council members present either on the stage or in the room. I do not know enough about the quorum issues but I did not see a quorm present. I do know know if a quorm is needed for the mayor to convene a meeting or not but he convened the meeting and then announced the details of the executive session.

    Looking at the tape may help to understand what was said but it kind of look to me that it was done in the sequence of the announced adgenda in the link above.

    Just some facts as I saw them. So if anyone was to attack the messenger that is fine. Just trying to lend a hand with the facts.

  9. Hi Darrol, my questions were asked of you out of my respect for your knowledge of and your experience with public meetings. I apologize if you took my questions in any other way. I’m just trying to figure ot what took place last night, October 11th, I just mentioned October 4th as an example of confusion related to procedure after an executive session.

    Hopefully some clarity will ensue shortly. I’ll try and record the meeting so I can watch it later.

  10. Some time I will tell you how elected officals can get around the public meeting requirement and had meeting that while technically compliant are intended to avoid having a public meeting.

  11. I’d be interested Darrol. One reason I’m so supportive of Open Government and Transparency is because I believe elected officials would exercise a higher level of ethical integrity and apply laws properly and more evenly if they knew detailed meeting minutes of executive sessions would be made available to the citizens at a future date. I hope elected officials and candidates support this strongly as I believe it would be in the best interest of the citizens.

  12. Placing an alleged harassment victim on paid leave is a common practice among public and private employers, as is bringing in an impartial investigator.

  13. I do not know who wrote the settlement agreement but #1 says “Neither party agrees to speak to the press…” Wow – my reading of this is everybody is free to talk to the press! How about “both parties agree they will not speak to the press…”? The original language if this document was not voided would allow full disclosure. For a bunch of highly educated people involved in this MESS, someone sure did something unmentionable to the pooch here.

    The second agreement says Ms Cole records reflect a resignation but she would be able to collect unemployment. I may be missing something here but is that allowed in WA?

  14. Chris, agreement #1 was written by DJ Wilson. I was also amazed at the sloppy phrasing. Makes you wonder whether anyone at the table actually read it.

  15. Joe, Admistrative leave issue? When the Plunkett and Diane and Lorenzo deal was all going around I recall that there was some claim by Lorenzo about harassment or something like that???? If so I do not recall putting him on adm leave while the independent investigation was done? So if the story line in the Cole case and the Hines case were both dealing with a harassment case why were the not handled the same??

  16. Darrol, I don’t know the details of Ms. Cole’s harassment claim, so I just can’t answer the question of why it was handled differently. In the case of Mr. Hines, perhaps all parties thought that it was adequate to separate the Mr. Hines from council and let everybody keep working.

  17. Much interesting information attached to the October 18, 2011 City Council Agenda . . Councilman Bernheim’s Haines Wharf memo and timeline; the apparant need to GRANT an easement to the City; and the following:

    The October 11, 2011 meeting minutes are available as part of the Agenda for October 18th’s City Council Meeting. They do not seem to clarify much…..it does not appear to me that the Mayor and Council stated that a discussion of attorney- client privilege related to ????, was one of the reasons for going into Executive Session. Hence, without an agenda and information on the related agenda item, how are citizens to know why they discussed attorney- client privilege at the conclusion of the October 11, 2011 Executive Session?

    From the minutes:

    CONVENE IN EXECUTIVE SESSION TO RECEIVE AND EVALUATE A COMPLAINT OR CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST A PUBLIC OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE PER RCW 42.30.110(1)(f), AND POTENTIAL LITIGATION PER RCW 42.30.110(1)(i).

    Mayor Cooper announced that the City Council would convene in executive session to receive and evaluate a complaint or charges brought against a public officer or employee per RCW 42.30.110(1)(f), and potential litigation per RCW 42.30.110(1)(i).

    He stated that the executive session was scheduled to last approximately 45 minutes and would be held in the Police Training Room, located in the Public Safety Complex.

    Mayor Cooper also announced that the City Council may take action regarding waiving of the attorney- client privilege at the conclusion of the executive session.

    He noted that executive sessions are closed to the public. Elected officials present at the executive session were: Mayor Cooper, and Councilmembers
    Bernheim, Fraley-Monillas, Buckshnis, Peterson, Petso, Plunkett and Wilson. Others present were City Attorney Jeff Taraday, Attorney Mark Bucklin and City Clerk Sandy Chase.

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