Mayor: City hiring outside investigator to probe Kim Cole’s claims she was harassed on job

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The City of Edmonds is hiring an outside investigator to conduct a probe into allegations by Mayor Mike Cooper’s executive assistant, Kim Cole, that she was harassed in the workplace, according to the memo that Cooper sent to the Edmonds City Council Tuesday afternoon.

The memo also noted that because the council last Tuesday voided the settlement agreements made with Cole, she is on paid administrative leave “in accordance with the City’s personnel policies pending the outcome of the investigation into complaints she had regarding workplace harassment when she resigned.” Cooper added, however, that as mayor he has “the discretion to change her paid administrative leave status at any time, in accordance with the City’s personnel policies.”

According to Cooper, Cole’s attorney James Spencer sent an email to City Attorney Jeff Taraday last week noting that “Any paperwork she (Cole) signed regarding her resignation from the city was done as a consideration for the agreement that the Council has now voided.” In an email response to Spencer, Taraday agreed with Spencer’s assessment, Cooper said.

“It is important to note that the investigation will be conducted at arm’s length of the city administration,” Cooper said in the memo to council. The investigator “will work directly with WCIA Attorney Mark Bucklin; neither Mr. Taraday, me or my staff will be involved in the investigation and will not see the report until it is complete.”  (WCIA stands for Washington Cities Insurance Authority, the liability insurance pool the city belongs to, and Bucklin is the organization’s general counsell.)

Cooper said that once the report is received, he will work with Taraday to determine next steps.

 

29 COMMENTS

  1. Glad to hear that Ms. Cole is back on the payroll pending investigation. This is the right thing to do. Thank you, Mayor Cooper.

  2. Yeah wonderful news. The City is broke and we are now going to be paying someone to do nothing. I was open minded about the election for Mayor before all this happened. But for the good of the City it is obvious we need change and the sooner the better. It has become a Circus like atmosphere which cannot be good for getting the City’s work accomplished. It is a foregone conclusion we will get it, but Dave Earling will be inheriting quite a mess. Hopefully he can bring everyone together for the good of the City and push this soap opera behind.

  3. Don & Chris, Let’s presume for a moment that Ms. Cole’s claims are true. Under that presumption, what do you think the Mayor should do?

    Or if you don’t like hypothetical questions, let’s presume we don’t know if her claims are true. (We don’t know, do we?) Now what do you think the Mayor should do?

  4. All I was stating is that we obviously need change for the good of the City. Maybe Mayor Cooper is just extremely unlucky. It doesn’t matter.

  5. But Supposing Cole’s claims are true and since the Mayor was the Manager of both Individuals;

    He was responsible for the situation, the “hostile” environment, etc. It goes without saying he wasn’t successful in addressing the situation.

  6. I agree with Don’s last comment. It’s the old ‘the buck stops here’ philosophy that real leaders can embrace. Change is needed and the mess, before/during/after falls right on the appointed Mayor’s doorstep. Adding to the craziness is that because no deal could be cut to severe Cole entirely, we now have to pay her to stay around and an investigator to throw bones in the dirt to see what happened. Poor leadership is costing the taxpayers a load! Time for change…

  7. I’m a bit confused. First of all, I don’t think the alleged harasser has been named, so I don’t see how you can know that the Mayor was his/her manager. Secondly, you seem to be saying that if one employee harasses another, we should fire the manager.

    You’re entitled to your opinion of who should win the election, but I just don’t see why the facts in this story should influence anyone’s opinion of that.

  8. Joe;

    Here are some things to gnaw on;

    1. Debi Humann and Kimberly Cole both reported to Cooper.

    2. Yeah I guess you could call the firing of one and quitting of the other some sort of spectatcular coincidence totally unrelated to the “hostile environment” issue.

    3. Having worked at the City for 16+ years I might have some “inside information”

  9. Yes I do care about our finances, I live here and I worked my butt off for the City. I do apologize for my sarcasm, but nothing else.

  10. Don, sorry you were wrongly identified. No need to appologize for sarcasm. I did not see anything but in your comments except your well articulated views. Keep writing.

  11. I am curious about a couple of things. First in a Seattle Times article the following was written:

    “Cole said that the City “began to keep surveillance over her work hours and activities, even though she was answerable only to the mayor and worked on salary,” the Times said, and added that Humann began to increasingly complain about her to Cooper.”

    This indicates to me that MS. Cole feels she was harassed because employees in City Hall thought she should come to work and she did not share that opinion and tensions increased. Secondly, either Ms. Humann representing employees or on her own volition, made multiple complaints to Mayor Cooper about the situation.

    Mayor Cooper is the CEO of the City of Edmonds and thus responsible for and to all employees of the city. If there was a hostile work environment and he did nothing to mediate the situation he is at fault. If he fired an employee as his perceived resolution to the situation but cloaked that in his statements about trust, etc., he has not only taken an inappropriate action but left himself and the city open to additional lawsuits by the terminated employee.

    Throw into the mix that Mayor Cooper and Council Member Wilson attempted to negotiate a very sweet severance for Ms Cole and things begin to smell more than a bit fishy as they are all good buds in the Snohomish County Democrats.

    I made an earlier post suggesting that we all take a moment and slow down the casting of aspersions, and I realize my conjecture here has violated that request, but I am seeing too many news stories coming out that have made me go HMMMM. Something is not right in City Hall and I am not sure the outside investigator will have broad enough leeway to get to all the issues at play here.

  12. There have been a few people stating or implying that the Mayor did nothing about the situation. Nobody directly involved has even alleged that. The Mayor is not able to talk about what he did, due to the legal implications. The idea that he did nothing is not even credible.

    There have also been ongoing accusations that Ms. Cole did not put in her fair share of time. I’d like to add 4 verifiable facts to the discussion: First of all, she is not required to document or report her hours. Second, she is not required to do all of her work at City Hall. Third, it appears that the Mayor asked her to do tasks that required her to be elsewhere. Fourth, the Mayor alone is responsible for determining whether she is doing her job. These issues are outside the scope of what the HR director should monitor or control.

    If someone complained to the HR Director about any of the above, I would expect the HR director to explain to those employees what I explained in the paragraph above. If that was not explained or understood, it indicates a failing on the part of the employee or the HR director, not the Mayor. But now I’ve wandered into an area with much speculation and little verifiable fact.

    I know I’m not going to stop those who choose to vilify the Mayor over this. I can only hope that those who are undecided are not reading these comments, or are as unpersuaded as I am that he has done anything wrong in this matter, or that he has failed to do anything that needed to be done.

  13. I agree with Bill Vance. Yes, there will be an investigation and we will have to wait to see what the findings are but Edmonds needs a change. This may be just the tip of the ice berg on what has been going on in city hall. There is too much that has happened and it further deteriorates any citizen trust in city government. The way taxpayers money is spent, in my opinion, is done so freely and without regard for the citizens that pay the bills!! Yes, city services need to be paid for but the perception of how the money is spent is way over the top, in my opinion. Is the city going to ask for another levy to pay for the legal fees, costs that may accumulate because of these latest issues? We need transparent city government, and knowledge of where our tax dollars are being spent and exactly what the city accumulates in revenue….so the average citizen can understand it. The mayor and city council are suppose to do what they feel is best for the citizens of Edmonds, not their own interests because of their party affiliation.

  14. Ron B;

    I’ should contact an attorney and see if I can sue for defamation (but they all seem to be busy now). When I left the City there was also a vacancy in the Stormwater Engineer position. The City contracted me for that position until they hired another person three months later. I did all the storm development reviews for the City, and also completed three Capital Storm System designs, and did it for considerably less than they could get another consultant to do that work. When I was at the City I designed over 12 miles of Storm systems, since then staff has designed 0. Don’t even think of going further with this Ron.

    By the Way, Debi Humann and Darrell Smith (Darrell wrote the grant that secured funding for the 220th St project, it was 75% paid for by Fed and State funds) also worked hard and for many years at the City. They never got paid for doing nothing. Kim Cole worked a year and is now getting paid for nothing, none of the rest of us are guilty of that. Your defense is totally illogical, it is more like a diversion tactic.

  15. Once again Ron B. spouts off about things without any regard for the facts. Saying things repeatedly doesn’t make them true Ron. We get it. You don’t like a lot of people and have a very specific set things you want the city to adopt and do. Enough of the diatribes. Enough of the manifesto length postings. Enough of the flat out making things up.
    We now return to you daily city drama.

  16. Well, I know my experience with the city of Edmonds was the worst choice of my life. My husband and I brought our $220,000 of investment dollars to the city in 2007 when we purchased a lot located at 9330 218th Place for development. After a letter in 2008 from Noel Miller, the city’s then Public Works Director, informing us that city staff would no longer talk to us about our active building permit for a single family house, he directed us to appeal to the Hearing Examiner, which we did. The Hearing Examiner referred to the expert testimony of Don Fiene and Noel Miller, that as a condition of development our lot would have to accept and manage the storm water runoff from the surrounding city roads, houses and driveways in the plat of Westgate Village, a 2.5 acre area. I always thought that having a single family lot accept and manage storm water from the city’s drainage system and public roads was a violation of one’s 5th Amendment rights, taking of private property for public use without just compensation. However, it seems that the city does not recognize the Federal 5th Amendment. In response to the absurd decision of the Hearing Examiner, we acquiesed and submitted a creative engineering solution so we could build a house and also divert from the city system the storm water from the applicable 2.5 acres of the plat of Westgate Village in accordance with the binding decision of the Hearing Examiner. My husband and I were thereafter astonished when we received review comments from city stormwater engineer Rob English, that the threshold had been significantly changed to the entire surrounding drainage basin, a surrounding 6.5 acre area. At that time, 2009, Don Fiene was providing consulting services to the city. How could the engineers for the city simply ignore, the binding decision of the Hearing Examiner, as well as the previous direction from themselves of the previous 2-1/2 years, and increase the threshold to the extent it rendered the lot undevelopable. The property next door and to the west, is two feet lower than the city piping system surrounding the lot. Any overflows would go to the house to the west, and not back up into the city system. The liability is simply too great. What a terrible decision it was for my husband and me to bring our investment dollars to the city of Edmonds.

  17. I am a bit perplexed at Ms. Cole being put on paid administrative leave. Usually I’ve only seen this happen when someone was being investigated for wrong doing and facing disciplinary action.
    She apparently made an agreement to leave employment at the City of Edmonds with a severance pay-out. It seems to me that if she is not going to be working, then she may still not be going to be returning to the City of Edmonds to work. Why not just figure that out first. If she returns to the City then she can be paid back pay, if suitable. If she doesn’t, then she can get a severance package.
    In any case, I would not be inclined to have people paid for no work. And giving out severance pay-outs to keep people from suing you doesn’t make sense to me either. I know that they get paid to avoid costly litigation, but someone someday has to say ‘enough, is enough”.

  18. unfortunately during the last couple of years the city council makes more and more decisions based around party lines. In my view that hurts our city.
    I am also distressed that we must pay a private investigator to find out whether or
    not Ms. Cole was harassed on the on the job. I don’t see in this case that we really have a choice. Money down a rat hole.
    I have a couple of other ramblings that I would like to comment on after reading all these comments on this topic and others.
    I have been a chamber member for over 25 years I am not as involved as I once was but in all the years have have been a member no one in the chamber ever contacted me or tried to influence who I was going to vote for. To my knowledge the chamber has never had a slate of candidates.
    Lastly this. If Mayor Cooper fired everyone on staff that no longer supports him their
    wouldn’t be enough employees left to run the city. That’s my opinion.
    Dave Page

  19. Here’s a quick ordered sequence of events, since quite a few comments seem unaware of these details:

    1. Ms. Cole alleges that she is the victim of workplace harassment.
    2. Ms. Cole is placed on administrative leave (common practice for public & private employers)
    3. The city, on the advise of the City Attorney offers to pay her $84,000 in exchange for her agreeing to resign and not take legal action against the City. Ms. Cole accepts. Note that this is not severance pay.
    4. On further review, the City Attorney recognizes that the agreement is not valid without prior City Council approval.
    5. City Council votes to affirm the agreement is not valid. We go back to step 2.
    6. The Mayor authorizes an independent investigation. Common practice for a harassment claim.

    Some have suggested that the harassment claim is not credible or substantial. The large settlement payout agreed to by the City and their Attorney would seem to indicate otherwise.

  20. As a public employee for 33 years (federal/city/county), I’m bothered by one development in this reality series, and as a taxpayer truly bothered a second time. Contrary to his statements, the appointed Mayor is not a CEO in the general understanding of that acronym. Edmonds is not a business. He is an appointed public servant holding an office @ this time. His responsiblity is to the citizens/taxpayers who pay his salary and that of Ms. Cole (and all the others). To view himself in the CEO role tells me that the appointed Mayor forgets for whom he works.

    While we probably cannot find this out, it is a big problem that one of the key players in this situation (the appointed Mayor) is doing the hiring of the ‘investigator’ and certainly will/could determine the scope and issues to be investigated. Councilmembers, are you ensuring a fair and open investigation? Are you reviewing the scope of the work and, subsequently, the report of findings that I assume goes only to the Mayor’s office. Come on folks, you can’t let this happen!

  21. Mr Morgan,

    Call me a conspiracy theorist if you wish, but there are some issues with you post 30 above.

    1. Ms Cole now alleges she is a victim of work place harassment. Her original claim was hostile work environment. There is a drastic difference in allegations and the ability to prove and be awarded damages.
    2. I have only been involved in 2 hostile work environment in the private sector so my experience is not vast, but in neither of these instances were any individuals involved put on paid administrative leave. It may be common practice in the public sector but in my limited experience not in the private sector.
    3. It was not the City that offered to pay MS Cole $84,000, it was her immediate supervisor with advice from DJ Wilson, a good democrat along with Cole and Cooper, and the new city attorney agreed. Note the original offer was reported to be significantly less than the final and did not go up until DJ became involved according to the news paper accounts.
    4. I am not sure the City attorney made any determination about the appropriate nature of the agreement. From what has been reported it appeared to me that the City Council made the discovery and acted upon it.
    5. All good here
    6. while I agree and investigation is needed to get to the bottom of this situation, I am uncomfortable with having the final report controlled by one of the primary players in the situation. The city council should be the recipients of the the report and disseminate the information appropriately.

  22. The city has hired:

    Jim Webber
    Human Resources Training/Consulting/Investigations
    Phone: (206) 601-9242
    jim.webber@comcast.net
    218 Main Street PMB 304
    Kirkland, WA 98033
    http://jimwebber.net

    A look at Mr. Webber’s website indicates that he’s probably a good selection. Since he’s been hired by the city, it seems logical the the city council will be appropriately involved. And they should be reviewing the scope of the investigation. Although I would guess that Mr. Webber would not take on the assignment without having sufficient latitude to get the job done.

  23. Regarding comment #33
    Bill, Ms. Cole is now claiming harassment. Since I don’t know the details, I can’t explain why she only claimed a hostile work environment earlier. Perhaps she got an education about the difference.

    You make a good point about not wanting to trust that $84K was fair, given the close relationship of all parties. But since Mayor Cooper wants to be elected, he at least has that motivation to keep the payout low.

    Having an independent investigator involved seems like the right remedy for that conflict. And now we know that Council will be involved and has the power to nix any agreement between Mayor Cooper and Ms. Cole if it doesn’t seem fair to the city.

    Anyway, I really agree with most of what you are saying.

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