Independent investigator finds most of Cole’s claims unfounded

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Updated with a response from Kimberly Cole’s attorney

The City of Edmonds on Wednesday released an 18-page report of an independent investigation into claims by Kimberly Cole, the former executive assistant to ex-Mayor Mike Cooper, that she faced a hostile work environment and harassment while on the job.

A news release from Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling’s office that accompanied the report noted that “of the 14 separate allegations raised by Cole, all but two and part of a third were either unfounded, not sustained, or if the facts were sustained, they did not constitute or suggest harassment.” You can read the complete report here.

The report was prepared by independent investigator Jim Webber, who was retained by the City’s WCIA-appointed counsel, and attorney Mark Bucklin of Keating, Bucklin & McCormack. (WCIA stands for Washington Cities Insurance Authority, the liability insurance pool the city belongs to, and Bucklin is the organization’s general counsel.)

The Cole investigation was one of two recent employment-related investigations involving former city employees, Earling’s office said. The other investigation involved former Edmonds Human Resources Director Debi Humann’s claim of retaliation by Cooper, which was investigated by a different person and did not result in a written report.

After My Edmonds News alerted Cole about the report, her attorney, James Spencer, offered the following comment:

“It is disappointing that for the second time Mayor Earling has used his recently-acquired public position, and taxpayer resources, to publicly address Ms. Cole’s unfortunate experiences as an employee at the City of Edmonds. Even more disappointing is that the City has thus far failed to provide the report to Ms. Cole or her attorneys, even after they requested a copy of the report in December.  The publication of the report today by MyEdmondsNews.com was the first time Ms. Cole or her attorneys have had the privilege of seeing the conclusions reached by the investigator hired by the City.

It can be no surprise that the report generated by the City of Edmonds and its attorneys, very obviously in anticipation of litigation by Ms. Cole and likely subject to public disclosure, would reach the convenient conclusion that the actions and inactions of those in Ms. Cole’s work environment didn’t subject the City to any liability.”

Because Ms. Cole and her attorneys have been denied access to this document previously, neither she nor her attorneys have anything further to offer at this time.

James W. Spencer, Esq.

16 COMMENTS

  1. After Reading the findings in the report, i don’t understand why Debi Humann was fired…
    Seems to me like someone didn’t have the facts straight!

  2. Peter, I have to wholeheartedly agree. I don’t understand why, or how, Ms. Humann could have been fired for what appeared to be doing her job.

    The worst thing I saw in this report – if you can call it that – is her being a bit too friendly and personal during the orientation. This is something I often find that experienced leaders do to make others feel comfortable.

    The conclusions I have at the this point, and with the information that’s been made available by both sides:

    * Ms. Cole has a great deal of paranoia. From day one, she felt there was a hostile work environment.

    * Ms. Cole lacks perspective. She was given an extraordinarily cushy job with a very flexible schedule, a great deal of privacy, early vacation, etc. Things that no one else would receive, but rather than being grateful and not sweating the small stuff, she instead seems to take everything in a negative light.

    * Mayor Cooper lacks perspective. The level of accommodation and secrecy about Ms. Cole is quite troubling. As a leader, it would seem that he would want his closest employee to be an example to others in city government – not someone stirring concern. If he would have disclosed, the full extent of the arrangements to his HR Director perhaps they could have helped use this is an opportunity to explore flex schedules with others whose jobs would be conducive to it. Instead the secrecy of the arrangements just make things look suspicious.

    * The investigator makes a great point – if Ms. Cole’s job was to be an executive assistant answering phones, greeting guests, etc. how could she do this when she wasn’t in the office? I left to wonder who did the parts of Ms. Cole’s job that required a physical presence when she wasn’t there? How much do they get paid? How long did they have to stay after their normal hours to complete the work they couldn’t do becuase they were fillign in for Ms. Cole?

    * Is it really that unrealistic for a boss to ask a new employee not to schedule doctors appointments during work hours in the first few months on the job? How many reasonable people would even have to ask – don’t we all want to leave a good impression with our boss/coworkers that we are hard working, team players?

    Final thoughts:
    * I still want someone to explain to me how Ms. Cole simultaneously did the following (1) served on Lynnwood City Council (2) was Exec. Assistant to Edmonds Mayor (3) attended Seattle U law school and (4) cared for her school aged child. Even with a ‘flex’ schedule I just find it impossible to believe that she did all 4 of these well in a world with 24 hours days.

    * Seeing these facts, I really would like to hear from both those who approved a ‘golden parachute’ for Ms. Cole. I would assume that before giving away $100k of the city’s funds that they would have some concrete evidence that supported her claims.

    * My best guess at the truth of the situation is that Mayor Cooper did a friend a favor. He knew and liked Ms. Cole and wanted to help her finish law school and care for her child, and figured that no one would notice if she wasn’t in the office. Though, he miscalculated, forgetting that many hard working city employees have lost their jobs or had their hours/pay reduced. These folks probably didn’t appreciate watching a newcomer get paid substantially more for less work in times when the rest of the city was cutting back.

  3. Ron:
    I agree that the source of information does matter, and I did take that into account in my reading of the report.

    I just find the City’s story and the report to be far more plausible, than Ms. Cole’s.

    Just reading the list of allegations leaves me wondering about Ms. Cole. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m upset that we are wasting the City’s time and limited funds in a legal fight I would find some of her allegations laughable.

    She seriously thought she was being harassed when a meeting was interrupted and a door was left open? Did she consider it offensive that other employees needed the mayors time? Did her disability preclude her from closing doors herself, or requesting that others close them?

    I personally think the allegation of wiretapping or bugging is where the train the left the tracks for me. It would seems that she’d want to have some evidence of this before making this allegation. As for Mayor Cooper, I would imagine his lack of action on pursuing some of these allegations was to protect Ms. Cole from being seen and treated as someone who was incredibly paranoid.

    If Ms. Cole can produce something other than hearsay or feelings in order to substantiate her allegations, then I will certainly be glad to retract my statements. However it seems that she got caught trying to game the system, and now is happy to sling mud and get people fired for doing their jobs and trying to make sure that the city gets 40 hours work for 40 hours pay.

  4. I posted a link to Kim Cole’s statement here last night. I see it has been removed. I wonder why this blog has posted Humann’s statement but, not Cole’s statement. Am I missing something?

  5. Ron:

    Hate to admit it but, you are correct. The article was altered from my initial read of it last night adding Mr. Spenser’s remarks.

  6. Ron B.:

    You obviously get great joy out of continuing to disparage city employees with meritless charges. The fiasco with Ms. Cole was solely caused by her and Mike Cooper. Employees did not engineer it for political reasons. It was all over for Mr. Cooper before any of this became public – he had already been badly beaten in the Primary Election. And I have worked in large corporate offices; I can assure you that employees do talk, and get very concerned, about secretaries in senior positions who abuse those positions.

  7. After reading the report, it looked like (to me) that Ms. Cole came into this job somewhat paranoid and was looking for anything she could label as harassment. I agree with you Mr. Wambolt, the handshake agreement with Ms. Cole and the Mayor is what caused all of this and how can’t the other employees not notice this preferred treatment.
    The report was done by an independent investigator. From what I saw in the report I can’t really see how Ms Human was let go.

  8. Earth to Ron, Earth to Ron

    I am not sure what alternate reality you seem to be residing in but your conspiracy theories do not hold merit. Many of the City of Edmonds employees you accuse of conspiring to bring down Mayor Cooper faithfully served multiple mayors without incident. Why would that be?

    Could it be that you hold such personal contempt for Mayor Haakenson that you would vilify anyone that likes him? I believe that is closer to the truth. The report is pretty clear that Ms. Cole has deeper issues to deal with and they do not include ripping off the tax payers in the City of Edmonds any longer.

    Because I have state an opinion contrary to yours I can now expect a long dissertation of blather about how wrong I am.

  9. Ron B. In your second to last paragraph you want a citizen based council. I thought that was what we have. Mayors develope the budgets and pay scales and the council either approves or rejects them. This council has repeatly given pay raises during this budjet crisis. That is who you should be directing your comments about high pay for city employees.

  10. Don is, of course, precisely correct; the pay ranges are approved by city council. Their most recent blunder in regard to pay was in November when they approved the 2012 Hourly Wage Schedules. The 20 hourly pay grades were increased by 4.3% The rationale for doing it was because the state’s minimum wage was being increased by 4.3%. So because grade one was at the minimum wage and needed to be increased, they also increased the other 19 grades – which go up to over $50 an hour. In addition to the 4.3%, employees are also given 5% step increases for the first five years they are in a grade.

    The current council members who authorized the new wage schedules are: Peterson, Petso, and Fraley-Monillas.

  11. The Everett Herald is reporting that Ms.Humann has requested a hearing in front of an administrative law judge, where she plans to argue that she lost her job because of retaliation.

    The Article above states that:

    The Cole investigation was one of two recent employment-related investigations involving former city employees, Earling’s office said. The other investigation involved former Edmonds Human Resources Director Debi Humann’s claim of retaliation by Cooper, which was investigated by a different person and did not result in a written report.

    I wonder how much taxpayer money was spent on these two investigative reports?

    Furthermore, I find it odd that the second investigation related to Ms. Humann’s claim of retaliation by Cooper did not result in a written report. The lack of a written report is made more difficult to understand now that the Herald is reporting Ms.Humann has requested a hearing in front of an administrative law judge, where she plans to argue that she lost her job because of retaliation.

  12. Ron B. It is still up to the council in either form of gov. to approve pay scales for city employees. Are energies would be better spent letting the counci know the public is holding them responsable for the continued increases

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