City Council OKs $71k to complete Veterans Plaza; hears sexual harassment concerns

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A artist’s sketch of the proposed Memorial Wall.

The Edmonds City Council tackled a full agenda Tuesday night that included approval of $71,000 in additional funding to complete the Edmonds Veterans Plaza, after construction work on the site uncovered some unanticipated electrical work and parks staff requested changes to plaza benches to lower maintenance costs and reduce liability.

But the council also spent a significant amount of time discussing two other issues raised by several speakers during the hour-long council public comment period: whether the city is taking seriously concerns expressed about sexual harassment in the police department as well as recent incident of swastikas that were painted on cars and homes.

The Veterans Plaza measure was approved on a 5-1 vote, with Councilmember Kristiana Johnson abstaining and Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas voting no. Fraley-Monillas emphasized she supported the project and that her “no” vote was simply procedural; she wanted the measure to come back as part of next week’s consent agenda rather than being approved Tuesday night.

City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite said the goal is to have the Veterans Plaza completed in time for a grand opening on Memorial Day in late May.

As for the citizens’ concerns during the public comment period, several speakers addressed what they said was the failure of the city to fully address issues raised about recent allegations of sexual harassment in the police department.

One speaker, Leslie Brown, said she was making her comment in response to Police Chief Al Compaan, who at the April 11 city council meeting issued a response to a previous March 28 statement — also from Brown — that accused the department of engaging in ongoing sexual harassment of employees.

Brown’s March 28 comment came after the city in February announced a $235,000 settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought in 2013 by Edmonds police officer Jodi Sackville. In Compaan’s April 11 response, he said that Brown’s claim “that sexual harassment is the norm in our department is absolutely not supported by the facts.”

On Tuesday night, Brown reiterated her concerns and said it was her understanding that allegations have been made against the police department in the past “but were not properly documented or investigated.” Added Brown: “This is a leadership issue and a failure to take concerns expressed by women as serious or true.”

Speaker Laura Johnson was one of several who suggested that the police allegations should be looked into by an independent party. “If nothing is found then you can celebrate,” Johnson said. “But if there’s something, then where to address it can begin before it results in any additional lawsuits or loss of valuable employees.”

On the topic of the swastikas and other graffiti left on cars and homes last week, speaker Courtney Wooten said the lack of community response to that incident has been disturbing. Many people she knows have dismissed the issue as the work of bored teenagers who didn’t even know how to paint the symbols properly.

“The swastika is a symbol of hate,” she said. “We know its meaning, even if it is reversed, even if it’s poorly painted, even if it is put there by teens.”

Both sets of concerns were addressed during the councilmembers’ comment period at the end of the meeting. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she had emailed City Attorney Jeff Taraday — who wasn’t present at Tuesday’s meeting — regarding her belief that Compaan’s April 11 statement shouldn’t have come during the meeting’s public comment period. Instead, she said, the police chief’s appearance should have been part of the regular council agenda, to allow for council questions and dialogue.

“I do want to let you know that we are in fact listening to you and we will be looking further into this,” Buckshnis said after thanking citizens for their input.

Fraley-Monillas said the police discussion “isn’t just about sexual harassment, It’s about discriminatory behavior toward women in general.”

Fraley-Monillas also responded to speaker Courtney Wooten’s comment about the city not taking the issue of the swastikas seriously, stating “I do believe that people are paying attention to this. I don’t think it’s being ignored.”

Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling noted that the police are conducting an active investigation into the swastika incident. “We do not accept or condone any kind of action like that,” he said. However, the mayor noted that “there’s a definition that you have to meet before it becomes a hate crime. We are investigating it and if it turns out to be a defined hate action, we will pursue it on that action.”

In other business Tuesday night, the council also had a lengthy discussion about staff-proposed adjustments to apprenticeship requirements on public works projects. Staff had recommended reducing the percentage of apprentices on projects from 15 percent to 10 percent and also increasing the threshold of projects requiring apprentices from $300,000 to $1 million.

“It is not an attempt to get rid of the city’s apprenticeship program,” said Public Works Director Phil Williams. Rather, he said, after six years of experience with the apprenticeship requirements — which were approved in 2011 — staff is making “an attempt to modify the structure somewhat so it better corresponds with the types of projects we have here.”

“The lower limit [of $300,000] just doesn’t seem to fit, and it’s a rarity on those smaller projects that contractors are able to comply with that requirement” to have apprentices, Williams said. “We think it would be much more sensible to just move the threshold up to a million dollars.” In larger projects of $1 million or more, contractors are able to make better use of apprentices, “and we fully support that,” Williams said.

Councilmembers Fraley-Monillas and Mike Nelson were vocal in opposing the changes, noting — as did several speakers during the council public comment period — that providing apprenticeships serves to create living-wage jobs. In fact, Nelson said he found it ironic that many on the council had just attended a forum on low-income housing in Edmonds “and one of the main challenges is how expensive it is to live here and how unaffordable housing is here. And one way you can offset that is paying people more for the work that they do. An apprenticeship programs can help us get there,” Nelson said.

Fraley-Monillas proposed an amendment to maintain the apprenticeship requirement at 15 percent, and that was approved 4-3 with Councilmembers Nelson, Dave Teitzel and Neil Tibbott joining her in voting yes. She then moved that the city maintain its current requirement of $300,000 rather than moving to $1 million, but that amendment failed 3-4, with Councilmembers Johnson, Bucksnis, Mesaros and Tibbott voting no.

The council also:

– discussed an interlocal agreement with the City of Lynnwood and the Edmonds School District for improvements to five artificial playfields at the 26-year-old Meadowdale Athletic Complex. The athletic complex is in the City of Lynnwood and is owned by the school district. Under the original agreement, the city was to contribute $500,000 toward the $5.1 million project for safety equipment for the fields, including safety netting, backstops, fencing and ADA improvements. However, during Tuesday night’s meeting the council learned that bids for the project had come in higher than expected, and the city was now being asked to kick in an additional $200,000, for a total of $700,000. Councilmembers weren’t happy about the prospect of contributing more money, so City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Manager Carrie Hite agreed to discuss other options for the project with the City of Lynnwood and the school district. The scope of the project could possibly be reduced or the entire project could be rebid, Hite said. The agreement was placed on next week’s consent agenda for approval at the $500,000 amount.

– heard a proclamation announcing that this Friday, April 28, is YWCA Stand Against Racism Day.

– received an annual report from the Edmonds Cemetery Board.

– moved to next week’s consent agenda a two-year extension for a wastewater treatment, disposal and transport contract between the City of Edmonds and the City of Mountlake Terrace, Olympic View Water and Sewer District, and Ronald Sewer District.

– received an update on the city’s development activities. (We’ll report more on this in a future story.)

– also agreed to place on next week’s consent agenda approval of construction bids received for the city’s 2017 Waterline Replacement Project and a right-of-way dedication deed from the Edmonds School District for 236th Street at the Madrona school property.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

 

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