Edmonds City Council votes to censure DJ Wilson for role in Kim Cole settlement attempt

More than one political candidate has accused the Edmonds City Council and mayor in recent weeks of engaging in too much drama, and Tuesday night’s meeting didn’t disappoint — as the council voted following a lengthy executive session to censure Councilmember DJ Wilson for his role in trying to arrange a settlement for Mayor Mike Cooper’s executive assistant, Kim Cole.

Before the Council made its decision, there were attempts by Cooper, City Council President Strom Peterson and Council Vice President Lora Petso to have the council delay the censure vote in order to complete fact finding on Wilson’s charges — prepared by Wilson’s attorney Jim Johanson — stating that the council legally must grant Wilson a public hearing prior to taking a vote. In a letter to Peterson, that was hand-delivered to councilmembers, Johanson said that by voting to censure Tuesday night, the council would be violating seven state laws, four of which are criminal violations and three of those gross misdemeanors punishable with jail time and fines.

When asked his legal opinion of Johanson’s claims, City Attorney Jeff Taraday told councilmembers “there is no state law that requires a particular kind of hearing,” although he did say that it could be argued Wilson has the right to correct any factual errors in the censure resolution. However, Wilson’s threats convinced Petso, also an attorney, to leave the room before the vote was taken, stating she didn’t want to risk the possibility of breaking the law.

The resolution, read aloud by Councilmember Steve Bernheim, stated the council was censuring Wilson for 1) attempting to mediate a personnel dispute between the City of Edmonds and a City employee with whom he had a personal, political and professional relationship, 2) without Council delegation mediating a contract obligating the City of Edmonds to pay his personal, political and professional colleague Kimberly Cole $65,000 and a year of health insurance, and 3) misleading the residents of Edmonds by concealing his role in the matter.” The final vote for censure was 5-1 with Wilson voting no and Petso absent for the vote.

Wilson, who is running for re-election, did have an opportunity to respond to the censure before the council voted, calling the motion “perhaps the most irresponsible act an irresponsible Council has taken during my entire term of office” and one that is “entirely politically motivated.” “I have done nothing wrong,” Wilson said. “In fact, this censure resolution both condemns me for disclosing my role, and for not disclosing my role. Every one of the four points made in this resolution is either factually inaccurate or factually irrelevant.”

Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said she saw no reason to hold a public hearing on the matter and instead told Wilson: “You are clearly combative, and because of that you are not using good sense.”

In a detailed memo written Oct. 2 to Mark Bucklin, attorney for the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, the liability insurance pool the city belongs to, Wilson described his role in helping to negotiate a settlement for Cole during a process that involved Sharon Cates, a Lighthouse Law Group attorney who works with Taraday, Mayor Cooper and Cole’s attorney James Spencer. That settlement was later voided by the City Council on the basis that the mayor had no authority to enter into such agreements, although Cooper said he was acting on the City Attorney’s advice in approving them in the first place.

Wilson’s attorney Johanson also wrote a letter to Taraday and Cates, stating that there was a conflict of interest in having them advise the City Council on the censure issue given their involvement in the Cole settlement issue. But the council voted 5-1 (Petso opposed and Wilson abstaining) to agree that Taraday could provide them with legal advice.

Cole is currently on paid leave pending an investigation of workplace harassment that she says occurred while she worked for the City.

Immediately after the censure vote was taken, Cooper said during mayor’s comments he was troubled that “someone who may have voted on this item tonight took an action last week by releasing confidential executive session material” to the Edmonds Beacon. “When I read the Beacon on Oct. 27, 2011, I found myself in a state of shock and disbelief,” Cooper said, “discovering a councilmember or members had openly violated RCW 42.23.070 which states, ‘No municipal officer may disclose confidential information gained by reason of the officer’s position nor may the officer otherwise use such information for his or her personal gain or benefit.’ RCW 42.23.050 goes on to state that the municipal officer who violates this statute is subject to a $500 penalty and a possible forfeiture of office. The entire council was aware that much of this information is confidential in nature and should not be released during ongoing legal discussions. Yet someone took it upon themselves to break the law and put the entire council and the city in a compromised legal position.

“Our state laws are clear on this matter, and it’s an outrage to me think that some member or members of the City Council placed themselves above the law while claiming they believe in open government,” Cooper said. “The City Council is not a subcommittee of a social club. Laws are written to allow government to function with executive session provisions being an important part of the Open Public Meetings law. This behavior is destructive to the city, destroys public confidence in the City Council and must stop. The person or persons responsible for this act owe every member of our community an apology. My hope is that they will step forward and take responsibility for their actions.

Cooper said he will be asking both the City Attorney and the Prosecuting Attorney to review the matter for potential future action.

Note: due to the late hour of this council meeting, we will be including additional information about other actions taken by the council later on Wednesday.



  1. Well, let’s now add “the most irresponsible act an irresponsible Council has–” to other defamatory comments of the outrageous Donald J. Wilson, aka DJ which includes other highly inappropriate descriptions including “untrustworthy” and “jerks”. These are all terms the reckless and immature Wilson has attempted to assign to our hard working City Council when the majority frequent;y disagrees with him.

    Once again his reaction to criticism is usually to project his own specific shortcomings onto the person or persons who have charged him with bad behavior. He is the irresponsible untrustworthy jerk, not the five leading and respected Council members who have voted to hold him responsible for his latest totally irresponsible act.

    As for Mayor Cooper’s assertions, I now seriously doubt he will remain in office at the end of the month. I believe the Mayor had knowledge of DJ’s bad behavior and kept it to himself, a big mistake. (and I voted for him, bad move)-should have left the Mayor blank)

    DJ is unethical and deceitful and cannot be trusted any longer by the public. In my forty one years of observing our Council, he is clearly the worst performer. He should simply resign and do all of us, including himself a big favor.

  2. I’m sure that we will hear from the Wilson haters this morning and this will be turned into more evidence against him. However, I ask that the reader set personal feelings aside and look to the more critical issue. WHERE WAS THE TRANSPARENCY OF GOVERNMENT THAT COUNCIL HAS BEEN PROMISING?

    DJ Wilson asked for a PUBLIC HEARING. He wanted the record to become public and the public to know the details of exactly what happened. He was DENIED. and the PUBLIC WAS DENIED.

    I understand that some things must be discussed behind closed doors but, when the accused is asking that all matters regarding his actions be told to the public and those requests are denied, it makes me wonder what the remaining Council members have to hide. WHERE IS THE TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT NOW?!

    I hope that Mr. Wilson, though Mr. Johanson, an attorney I know and have great respect for, immediately sends a letter to the prosecutor’s office asking that investigation be started in this matter and sanction be brought against the appropriate Council members. It appears this is the only way we can let the sun shine through on this matter.

    Regarding Taraday and the Lighthouse clan, they should have recused themselves from this matter. How could they advise Council on a matter that they are a witness to and where they have a vested self-interest? This is Legal Ethics 101. This scenario could have been used as a hypothetical is a law school class. I am mortified at the shotty work this law firm has provided our town and the conflicts it has created internally by giving bad advice and then covering up. I also hope that Mr. Wilson, through Mr. Johanson, immediately sends a letter t the Washington State Bar asking that Taraday be investigated for acting as counsel when a conflict of interest existed.

  3. Priya,

    Once again you are attempting to deflect justified criticism of DJ away from him and onto other subjects.

    DJ has every opportunity to respond to every single citizen of Edmonds if he so chooses. So he is NOT denied. I’m sure all papers and other news sources will welcome any response he may have.

    If you are going to blindly defend him, why don’t you speak to the very specific charges against him?

    The Council acted forthrightly and wisely. No public hearing is needed to let DJ blather away for hours. That would be dreadfully boring.

  4. Ray,

    I can’t defend DJ. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know the whole story. Similarly, you can’t condemn him because you do not know the whole story. Or, do you? Perhaps one of the Council members Mayor Cooper listed above leaked information to you too?

    What I do know is the Council had the opportunity to give the public information and it chose not to. LACK OF TRANSPARENCY. If Mr. Wilson is truly a bad actor, why not hang him in public? Why do it behind closed doors?

  5. Why are citizens kept in the dark so often as to what takes place behind closed doors, even YEARS AFTER the related Executive Sessions have been held? Now, related to this case, Mayor Cooper has asked both the City Attorney and the Prosecuting Attorney to review what he says was the release of confidential executive session material to the Edmonds Beacon, material related to an executive session that took place sometime in recent weeks.

    We have Executive Session meeting issues in this City that need to be addressed and improved upon.

    Elected officials often convene behind closed doors with their legal advisors in what is known as an executive session. Per RCW 42.30.110, there are 14 reasons to conduct an executive session. The city of Edmonds has scheduled many executive sessions recently, many with the following or similar stated purpose: “to receive and evaluate a complaint or charges brought against a public officer or employee,” and potential litigation.

    The Citizens are at the TOP of the City of Edmonds’ organizational chart. The Mayor, Municipal Court and City Council report directly TO the citizens of Edmonds.

    The Citizens of Edmonds, in delegating authority to the Mayor, Municipal Court and City Council, do not give our public servants the right to decide what is good for the citizens of Edmonds to know and what is not good for them to know. This is the law in the State of Washington.

    When our elected public servants assert Attorney Client privilege related to Executive Sessions, they are pro-actively deciding what is good for the citizens of Edmonds to know and what is not good for them to know.

    Certainly, there are legitimate reasons for asserting Attorney Client privilege, but I feel very strongly that the Attorney Client privilege is asserted far too often. I also strongly believe too much City business is done behind closed doors and/or kept hidden from the Citizens for far too long after the related Executive Session has concluded..

    I feel strongly that our elected public servants need to address these Executive Session issues promptly so the Citizens’ rights related to Open Government and Transparency will be better respected in the future.

  6. Priya,

    Thank you for your honest “I can’t defend DJ.”

    Its my belief that this particular Council, minus DJ, is the most ethical and above board group that I have observed. It surprises me that you think one of them may have leaked confidential info to anyone, and certainly not to myself. That you would have suggested such is hurtful.

  7. I am very sad to see the course of action taken last night. Full disclosure: I worked as a consultant in a non-political capacity in DJ’s office for about a year. I was there A LOT. All I saw was a parade of citizens with issues that had concerns and DJ always made time. He was respectful, kind and generous and I enjoyed my consulting gig in his office.

    If I read this correctly, I do NOT understand how Lighthouse could have been present in the initial settlement agreement (representing the city), then made mistakes and had to back-track on the legality of that settlement, and then give legal advice on a censure regarding someone for being present at said meeting? Huh? What a cluster.

    3 THINGS:
    *Why can’t the council wait for the facts? Don’t we have an independent person looking into the entire thing?
    *Why wouldn’t they make a hearing public if someone being censured asks for it?
    *What is WRONG with the city attorneys and can they seriously be this grossly incompetent?

  8. Ray,

    I disagree with you about this council. I sat on an executive committee with one council member who had no problem forwarding confidential board email, in violation of her fiduciary duty to the entity, outside the board. I have had at least two members lie to my face. I have evidence that they have lied. And, then there is Mr. Plunkett. I could write a novel.

    And, regarding the comment that my words were hurtful towards you, I’m not sure whether you are sincere or being sarcastic. Frankly, someone who spews so mush hateful propaganda on this site should not have such sensitive skin. However, the fact that you are defensive towards my comments leads me to believe there may be at least a scintilla of truth to it. I’d love to see you pulled in as a witness in this matter, spending hours of time in deposition. TOTALLY ROFLMAO.

  9. Well the council just took open and transparent gov. and trampelled all over it in the name of politics shame on them. I recall Bernhiem in Jan of 2010 when I ask him about 4 council members being present at Engles after a council meeting he told me”you aint seen nothing yet” I guess he was right. I also question some the council member sitting in judgement of others, Bernhiem ( signs on sunset) Buckhnis and Plunkett( complaint of ex finiance director) which cost the city over $100,000 in aditional salary and legal fees. What was the rush why not wait till all the investgations were done one reason and only one POLITICS.
    I strongly agree with Mayor Cooper about the leaking of executive session material. Until some one steps forward I will not have much trust or respect for this council. My opinion is that again it was done for polical reasons.
    It is time that the council establishes an ethics policy and is held to the same standards as city employees as they are

  10. This council really does not know the meaning of transparency. Transparency to some of them is the micro-management of city staff. Let’s face it, as a group they’re a bunch of hypocrites.

    I wonder if the city could get a court order to cause The Beacon to release the source of the executive committee meeting info that was supplied to them? Until this is known, the entire council will be viewed with suspicion.

  11. Clowns to the left of me, Jokers on the right ,Here I am stuck in the middle with you.No need to wait for Ringling Bros. to hit town we have our own Circus down at 121 5th ave.n Edmonds ,Led by head clown Mike Cooper and assistant clown D J Wilson.Where is J.\P. Patches when we really need him. Rick Enright

  12. RCW 42.30.110

    “(1) Nothing contained in this chapter may be construed to prevent a governing body from holding an executive session during a regular or special meeting:….(f) To receive and evaluate complaints or charges brought against a public officer or employee. HOWEVER, UPON THE REQUEST OF SUCH OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE, A PUBLIC HEARING OR A OPEN MEETING SHALL BE CONDUCTED UPON SUCH COMPLAINT OR CHARGE….”

    The law is clear, a public hearing or public meeting SHALL (not may) be granted. Did Mr. Taraday over look that small bit of language??????

  13. Thanks Dave for voicing the reality of this sad case. All the rest above is just hogwash from people who drank his verbose and voluminous Kool Aid. DJ Wilson did not need anyone to discredit him, he did it himself by acting on his own and behind the council’s back, attempting to give away public funds to a friend, something which is reprehensible, to say the least. Threatening the council with jail time! Beyond pitiful and laughable. He chose not to answer when the council gave him several chances to exonerate himself. That should also say something…
    Transparency and accountability are not in his vocabulary nor is honesty and respect for the elderly. Edmonds will be better for it when he goes.

  14. Betty, I find it offensive for you to to call the citizens of Edmonds comments hogwash. How is Pittsburg did you get snowed on. So that I stay polite I will sign off now.

  15. Want to know what goes on in executive sessions? All you legal types chime in…a few years ago, the Lynnwood PFD held an executive session I assume under same rules as Edmonds council. A Sr.VP from Video Only left a running tape recorder in the meeting when the room was cleared for the ex session. On the tape the guy indicated there were several like recordings (“tape11”). At the time we were negotiating with video only about the purchase of their property. Aside from ethical issues there apparently is no law against listening in as video only guy was never prosecuted. We went to legislature and got a house bill but no one in senate was interested.

  16. @Don. For your information I am still here in rainy and cold Edmonds and have been for quite a while now. When I left Pittsburgh it was 85 degrees. May be hogwash is too strong and you’ll have to forgive my lack of vocabulary. I looked up hogwash and the most polite synonym I found was “nonsense”. i think it fits. Best regards to Lilly, I always enjoy her at the shop.
    @ Mike. It is a shame that the senate was not interested. I feel The People have a right to know, especially when it concerns their hard earned money! I wonder if the council can decide to abolish “executive sessions” and have meetings such as they have where the public cannot comment but can see and hear what is going on.

  17. Betty, No I wont forgive you for your insenativity to people who disagree with you and by the way my wifes name is spelled LiLi

  18. Im watching all this stuff right now DJ should get his public hearing. Priya comment is right, Dj is suppost to get his public hearing I’m not certain of what he did or did’nt do and frankly don’t care but do know what the rcw says. I don’t care what the city lawyer says that rcw is real clear Dj is suppost to get his public hearing if he request one. Now that is non negotiable.

  19. Does anyone know if the Censuring of DJ prevents him for doing his duties as a council member? And if it does what duties does it prevent him from doing? Or is the censuring some form of hand slap that does not impact his abilty and duty to perform his role as a council member?

  20. I find it entirely improper, irresponsible, and unethical for the council to have brought the motion to censure to a vote at this meeting without giving Mr. Wilson the opportunity to have a public hearing about the accusations against him. Giving him the chance to respond to the censure before the vote is NOT the same thing as having a public hearing devoted to the matter. I would like to hear the reasons why so many of the council members didn’t want to delay this matter until more facts were known or until Mr. Wilson had the opportunity to publicly defend his actions in a proper hearing. It strikes me as an unbelievable coincidence that this occurred 7 days before the election.

  21. Betty,

    I have tired of your pompous attitude to anyone in Edmonds that does not drink your Kool Aid. You easily bloviate against others that do not share your privileged point of view. I would ask that maybe you look more closely at the facts, apply some due diligence and then you can make your snarky comments belittling all the rest of us hill billys here is little ole Edmonds.

  22. On Tuesday November 1, 2011, I attended my very first Edmonds City Council Meeting. Just a week earlier I watched on Channel 21 the City Council meeting from Ocober 18, 2011. Some Impression I recieved! I am still waiting for a “fist fight” either between Mr. Bernheim and Mayor Cooper or Mayor Cooper and DJ Wilson. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Bernheim or Mayor Cooper will be around after next Tuesday’s election. Maybe DJ Wilson will do the right thing and resign. Just because you are politically savvy and you have excellant vocabulary talents does not mean you are representing the constituents who put you in office. Mr. Wilson reminds me of a “bully”!. The bully had his bluff called! What about the City’s 2012 Budget? What in the hell does any of the Council’s personal shortcomings got to do with the greater reality of the City having a so-called “unsustainable balanced budget”? Why is the City so inept? I do not even know any of you either personally or professionally and I believe that the entire lot of you should all be fired. How could you continually say to the public that “we didn’t know” or the “Mayor kept it from us” or we need an explanation of a project associated with the project code number to understand what a check is being written for? You know, the Edmonds Performing Arts Theatrical Society should adapt a play based on the clownical characters that run our City. You all are an embarrasment to to the City of Edmonds with all of your inner figting that goes on. How can you all say we need to “move on” and put this all behind us? Fall always seems to be a “stuffy” time of year. With the election looming just 4 days away, I believe the City Council is going to recieve a breath of fresh-springtime air and I have to believe that with a new Mayor who epitomizes “team work”, I think that the City of Edmonds will be brighter than it’s local newspaper, The Beacon! Wow! I can’t believe I just said all that after going to 1 City Council meeting. I feel like I just watched “Survivor: Edmonds Style” with all the transparent alliances in play. Well, hopefully you won’t catch me on a bad day. In all reality, we need to pray for our City leaders who perform acts of governing. Remember that forgiveness sometimes is hard but it is absolutely necessary. You can take that for what it’s worth.

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