Letter to the Editor: Public servants need to be accountable to the public

Editor:

The recent political debacle and government shutdown made me painfully aware of how important it is for me to REALLY pay attention to whom I cast my vote. With our own local election for council only weeks away, I went back to paying attention to the details of our local race.

In my previous letter to the editor I shed light on how one of our councilmembers, who is up for re-election, received the majority of her financial support from outside of Edmonds; several of those supporters happen to be party-specific special interest groups. Interesting fact in light of this being a “non-partisan” position.

Here’s what I also found interesting that happens to involve this same councilmember…but before I go there, let me provide some background: Rrior to 2013, councilmembers were paid $50 per meeting for attending up to four outside committee meetings and four Edmonds City Council meetings per month. Per Ordinance 3110 no payment would be due if the committee meeting host paid for the councilmember’s attendance. Each month councilmembers were required to complete time sheets reporting the meetings for which they were requesting compensation. Effective with 2013, this policy changed and the councilmembers’ monthly pay assumed that they had attended eight meetings for the month, so they no longer have to complete attendance time sheets.

Councilmember Fraley-Monillas was the council’s representative on the Snohomish County Board of Health committee. She was paid $55 by that organization for each meeting attended. Contrary to City Ordinance, councilmember Fraley-Monillas also sought, and received, $50 for attendance for each of those meetings from the City of Edmonds. Hmm. What happened to “no payment would be due if the committee meeting host paid?” In March of 2012 this overpayment was discovered by the City, and Councilmember Fraley-Monillas was required to reimburse the City $900 for the 18 meetings she reported as having attended during 2011 and Jan/Feb 2012. Just as a side note, this information was obtained through a public records request from the City.

Just to confirm that there wasn’t some discrepancy in documentation, a public records request was also filed with the Snohomish County Board of Health to verify the number of meetings for which Councilmember Fraley-Monillas was paid. Those Board of Health records show that Councilmember Fraley-Monillas was not paid for attending 18 meetings, but only 15 meetings. Hold the press. Councilmember Fraley-Monillas reported on her city council time sheets that she attended 18 meetings and was paid by the city for attending 18 meetings, yet the Board of Health only shows her being paid for 15 meetings. What happened to the other 3?

Now I realize that there may be some explanation as to why Councilmember Fraley-Monillas was unaware that it was not legitimate to receive a double payment for meetings. I find this a bit interesting when several folks have pointed out that Councilmember Fraley-Monillas is fiscally smart. If this was in fact a legitimate mistake on Councilmember Fraley-Monillas’ part, then integrity, transparency and common sense would dictate that she disclose it to the citizens of Edmonds when it was discovered over a year and a half ago. Mistakes happen and when we are forthcoming, then it is much easier to look past the mistake. But this is kind of like the kid stealing candy, thinking he can get away with it, gets caught, has to pay restitution and just prays that his parents don’t find out. The parents found out.

I think it is really important that those we elect to office remember that they are public servants and need to answer to the public. I’m disappointed in these recent findings and no matter what type of spin one wants to put on this issue, there is no legitimate reason to claim payment for meetings that were not attended.

Mike Schindler
Edmonds

19 Replies to “Letter to the Editor: Public servants need to be accountable to the public”

  1. I don’t usually respond to Wambolts election team but I was made aware of your public disclosure weeks ago. Our wonderful and dedicated council assistant voluntarily wrote a letter taking full responsibility for the error that she reported to payroll. I in turn reimbursed the city as soon as possible when the payroll error was discovered.
    I am curious of your timing of this post (ballots arrive today) but I shouldn’t be surprised. Ethics seems to be missing with this team.
    Lets try talking about the real issues that effect our citizens and a plan to resolve those. Lets talk about what the citizens of Edmonds wants to see in their town. Its always easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize those willing to do the work.
    Mike, try spending a day volunteering your time in our city helping others that need help without getting paid.
    That’s the true meaning of community!

    Ignored

  2. Mike,
    I’m glad you bring up City Ordinances and the need for our elected officials to follow laws. I agree 100% with your comments about integrity, transparency, common sense and disclosing things that occurred in the past. I also believe it is very important that those we elect to office remember that they are public servants and that they need to answer to the public.
    On November 2, 2009, the City Council had on its Agenda an item to Reconsider an action that the Council had taken on March 17, 2009. Then City Council President D.J. Wilson had written a Narrative related to Reconsidering Ordinance 3729. Mr. Wilson’s Narrative documented several reasons why the Ordinance itself may have been illegal. That document is still available on the City’s website and is a public record.
    Approximately 50-70 citizens attended the November 2, 2009 City Council Meeting to show support for this Reconsideration. That was a large number of citizens in attendance at a City Council Meeting, so the City Council should have noticed how much this issue mattered to the public.
    We were unaware that in the day’s preceding that meeting, former Mayor Gary Haakenson had been emailing City Council Members related to the Reconsideration Agenda Item. For example, Mr. Haakenson used his yahoo.com email address to email former City Councilmember Michael Plunkett on October 29, 2009 at 3:47 pm an email that included the following:
    “If he persists and puts it on the agenda, you may want to rally three other votes to remove it from the agenda on Tuesday night if you think its wise. Just trying to keep you in the loop as to what he is doing. Why he is doing it is beyond me but if he’s working with Reidy….it must be to get at you somehow.”
    I do not know if rallying three other votes is okay under State laws and guidelines.
    Five minutes later, at 3:52 pm, Haakenson emailed former City Councilmember Ron Wambolt an email that discussed placement of the Reconsideration item on the Agenda. Mr. Haakenson’s email included the following:
    “Just a heads-up that DJ is up to something. I advised Plunkett because Reidy hates him and maybe that is why DJ is on it.”
    The point of the Reconsideration request was to determine whether or not Ordinance No. 3729 was legal . . . it had nothing to do with a Mayor’s opinion of who liked or disliked anybody.
    The City Council went into Executive Session the evening of November 2, 2009. After an extended 55 minute Executive Session, the City Council finally exited Executive Session. Council President Wilson walked directly over to me in the audience and told me the Council had discussed the Reconsideration Agenda item in Executive Session and that he had agreed to remove it from that evening’s Agenda. Mr. Wilson explained that if the Council had voted in Executive Session to remove it from the agenda, he anticipated the vote would be 6-1 in favor of removing it.
    The City Council meeting was opened and the first thing that happened was a motion by Ron Wambolt to remove the Reconsideration item from the Agenda. The item was removed from the agenda by unanimous vote.
    As Councilmember Strom Peterson is the only current Councilmember who voted to remove the Reconsideration item from the Agenda on November 2, 2009, I recently asked him to review the November 2, 2009 Executive Session Meeting Minutes and to please release all or part of the Minutes to the public. I mentioned to him that at least the portions of those minutes that related to a lawsuit known as Mission Springs versus Spokane had to be released to the public as that lawsuit had already been discussed by the Edmonds City Council in an Open Council Meeting.
    Councilmember Peterson reviewed the Minutes. He emailed me the following on October 2, 2013:
    “I have reviewed the summary notes from the executive session. I will not be recommending that these summary notes be released. I believe executive sessions are an important component in council’s decision making process and must be respected.”
    I responded to his very disappointing decision as follows:
    “Respectfully, please appreciate that your “beliefs” about Executive Session have no bearing on whether or not the City has to release all or a portion of the November 2, 2009 Executive Session Meeting Minutes. Please simply comply with the State’s public record laws regardless of your “beliefs”. “
    Mr. Peterson did not respond to my October 2, 2013 email.
    So yes, I agree 100% with your comments about integrity, transparency, common sense and disclosing things that occurred in the past. I also believe it is very important that those we elect to office remember that they are public servants and that they need to answer to the public.

    Ignored

  3. Mike, another thing stated by former Mayor Haakenson in his October 29, 2009 email to Mr. Plunkett was the following – I’ve replaced the name of the financial supporter with (name):
    “Mauri Moore has made a bunch of public records requests bout the matter and she appears to be working on Reidys behalf which is odd since she was financially supported by (name) in the mayoral election two years ago.”
    Why would a former Mayor find Ms. Moore’s desire to determine whether or not a Council action was legal, “odd” related to who did or didn’t make campaign contributions?
    This election season, I encourage those who make campaign contributions to make them for good cause. This isn’t a game that we are playing. It is critical that the voters elect the best candidates to be our public servants. Once elected, I believe the City Councilmembers should perform their duties at the highest level, representing the public as a whole regardless of who contributed to their campaigns.
    For me, a true commitment to Open Government and Transparency is the most important factor impacting my voting decision. I also desire City Councilmembers who are committed to as few Executive Sessions as possible.

    Ignored

  4. Mr. Reidy’s comments recalls in my mind the nasty vicious attempts in very recent years by Haakenson, Wambolt, and DJ Wilson to prevent much needed budgetary reform led by Diane Buckshnis, and Lora Petso, These two ladies were supported by Adrienne who along with Ms. Petso, handed Mr.Wambolt a highly embarrassing but well deserved defeat at the polls. Ron now seeks to get even.

    Do we really want to go back to the wasteful and incompetent management of our city’s deficit ridden finances characterized by the leadership of Haakenson, DJ Wilson, and Wambolt; Do we wish to have more 800 thousand surprises such as Haines wharf? I certainly do not want our city to return to those days of constant and unpleasant conflict.

    We currently have a good Mayor and a good Council and this is giving us good results with sensible budgeting and accountability. Lets keep it that way.

    Vote Adrienne Fraley Monilas!

    Ignored

  5. Adrienne, thank you for your explanation. The letter that apparently voids your responsibility in the error was not disclosed in the request. Why not just be forthcoming in the future?

    What still remains a bit of a curiosity is the 3 meetings you claimed to attend that were not held?

    As far as ethics, to question your actions or involvement in a scenario is not a matter of ethics – my moral values are the very reason I asked the question – for further explanation. Who represents this city is important. If one sits in a position of authority or power, he or she is held to a higher standard – and if one is elected to an office, then he/she should be transparent and be prepared to live in a glass house, regardless of timing.

    As far as my volunteerism – I am happy to share those efforts with you if you really want to know. You are always welcome to stop by my office and I’d be happy to share the work I and my team do – often at personal expense and not profit.

    To Mr. Martin’s point, we do have a good Mayor and we do have several on council that are thinking long-term. However, what is being promoted as “good results” is not sustainable – and before you label me as “for building heights” or in the pockets of developers (which both have no merit or truth), just think about where our current city revenues come from.

    Ignored

  6. Mr. Schindler; while it is fair to discuss a candidates voting history during a campaign, it is foul play to blame Edmonds Council member Adrienne Fraley-Monillas for an accounting error made by a public employee.

    I consider myself to be a “numbers person.” Several years ago, I apparently made a mistake on our income tax. Last year, I received a notification from the Internal Revenue Service indicating that I had underpaid taxes. I try and keep up with changes in the tax code, but I did miss something. Is my accounting failure akin to a “kid stealing candy?” Is Mrs. Fraley-Monillas guilty of “stealing candy” as a result of an employee’s accounting error? Those are rhetorical questions, and the answer is “no.” If I were a referee, I would blow my whistle and call a foul on you.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I was a proud member of IFPTE Local 17 https://www.pte17.org/units/county/king/it/index.php when I lived and worked in King County. In fact, I was our chapter’s secretary and I participated in several mediations between labor and management. Our chapter endorsed political candidates.

    In fact, a wide range of special interests endorse candidates. It is not a phenomenon unique to unions. When I lived in Seattle, the Associated General Contractors and the Chamber of Commerce were quite vocal in their support or opposition during the political season. Out of state companies, such as Monsanto, DuPont, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola and several others are pouring money into our state in an attempt to defeat Initiative 522 that is on the ballot in this election. https://sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/initiatives/FinalText_285.pdf

    Ignored

  7. Ms. Tipton, perhaps you would call a foul, but I’m challenging your foul (I do love sports analogies!:) Would not one realize they are getting overpaid and bring it to the attention of those who can make that change quickly? I certainly know when my clients have overpaid me – regardless of who is actually responsible for the error.

    I certainly understand your point – mistakes do happen – but there is a level of transparency that is expected and required when in public office.

    Also, as I’ve said before, I am not opposed to outside support – I find it interesting when a candidate has greater outside financial support than local support.

    And to use your example, we all know why these out-of-state companies are pouring money into initiative 522 – should I assume these outside supporters of AFM have similar expectations and financial interest?

    Ignored

  8. Barbara:
    I know that you certainly not a bully, but I also know that you are a fair and reasonable person. So I want to bring to your attention two points that you’ve missed in Mike’s communications:
    1) Councilmember Fraley-Monillas has alleged that Jana Spellman wrote a letter taking full responsibility for the double payments that she had received. While I did not file the public records request that yield all of the pertinent records for this issue, I have seen the disclosures and the referenced letter, if it exists, was not disclosed. This will be double checked tomorrow.
    2) The disclosure request with the city dealt with the 18 meetings for which Ms. Fraley-Monillas received double payments. When those meetings were checked out through a public records request with the Snohomish County Board of Health, only then was it revealed that 3 of the meetings that Ms. Fraley-Monillas reported attending were never held – so the county only paid her for 15 meetings. The city council attendance records that include payment claims for those 3 meetings were filed by Ms. Fraley-Monillas and nobody else.

    Ignored

  9. Gentlemen (Messrs. Schindler and Wambolt), thank you for providing additional information pertinent to the letter entitled “Public Servants need to be Accountable to the Public.” I look forward to an update from either of you regarding the existence of the “letter of responsibility” for the accounting error made by a public employee. Hopefully that letter was recorded with the city.

    Mr. Schindler, I would like to disclose that I am a personal friend of Mrs. Fraley-Monillas (Mr. Wambolt is aware of that fact).

    Your letter defines the time span of the time sheets as January 2011 through February 2012. I do not know how often an employee working for the City of Edmonds is paid. If a given employee were paid every other week, that would be 26 pay periods in tax year 2011 and 4 pay periods from January through February 2012. That would pencil out to an extra $30 (gross) for each pay period. One would then deduct Federal income tax, Social Security and Medicare (FICA), and other deductions (such 401K and insurance.) I watch my money like a hawk and would have noticed an extra $25 (estimated) per pay period. But I am a numbers person.

    Mrs. Fraley-Monillas might have not noticed (sorry Adrienne) as she is a very busy individual involved in a myriad of service activities. I have worked with many people who just go to the bank and deposit their checks without taking the time to look at the check stub.

    But there is something deeper that bothers me. Mr. Schindler, I was employed by King County Government as a Financial Reports Analyst (Mr. Wambolt is aware of that fact). I created reports for a wide variety of county employees extracting data from the Oracle Financial Database. I also provided a wealth of information to the State Auditor. I worked on the 2003 upgrade of the Oracle Financial System.

    So I will take off my friend of Adrienne hat and put on my analyst’s hat. It is disappointing that an accounting error can be repeated over a 14 month period – 30 pay periods – without being discovered. That causes me to wonder how many other errors are going unnoticed. We need to take a closer look at the payroll system, diagnose the error and fix it.

    On a completely different topic, thank you Mr. Wambolt for stating that I am not a “bully.” The fans of Randy Hayden are continuing to say all sorts of things about me.

    Ignored

  10. Disclosure results regarding the public records request related to the double payments received by Councilmember Fraley-Monillas were communicated on October 2nd. A letter taking responsibility for a clerical error that caused those double payments was written by the council assistant on October 3rd, but was not subsequently disclosed.

    This double payment issue with Councilmember Fraley-Monillas would most likely have never been made public had it not been for the discovery from the Snohomish County Health Board that Councilmember Fraley-Monillas claimed payment from the city for 3 meetings that did not take place.

    The council assistant’s error was very likely the result of her not remembering that the city does not pay for attendance at health board meetings. I do not know what accounts for Councilmember Fraley-Monillas seeking compensation for 3 meetings that never existed.

    Ignored

  11. Ms. Tipton,

    First off, I should state that my interactions, though limited, with Councilmember Fraley-Monillas have been positive. I commend her for her commitment to volunteer and serve. I don’t always agree with her vote..well…in most cases I don’t, but from what I do know of her, she is a kind-hearted person. I have no ill-feelings toward her. I just have questions.

    Today I was provided a copy of the email, written by the public employee, that stated she made an accounting error. My first thought echoed your concern that this went on for many months without being discovered. What else might we uncover?

    I also understand (and can relate to) Councilmember Fraley-Monillas being busy (“she is a very busy individual involved in a myriad of service activities”); however, the oversight on her part of the accounting error doesn’t excuse her responsibility.

    Ms. Tipton, I really wrestled with her comments because I wanted to give her the benefit of doubt. But it all came back to, “who owns the bank account where the money was deposited?” To claim ignorance for more than a year does not remove responsibility.

    My dad and grandfather both taught me that the moment I sought a scapegoat was the moment I discredited who I am – today, I have a board that reminds me that “the buck stops in my seat.” I am responsible for not just my actions, but my employees. As a representative for our city, she is responsible to the people.

    And then there is still the issue of request for payment for three meetings that didn’t exist. I have no explanation for why this took place.

    Ignored

  12. Mr. Schindler; your comments about “responsibility” came at the right time for me, personally.

    As you know, I recently wrote a letter about the race for City Council Position 1. The letter caused quite a bit of controversy.

    If Mr. Hayden wins the race, I will ask him and his wife to meet me for coffee. Yes, I stand by the facts in my letter; each statement is backed up by a hyperlink to a web source. However, it is part of my moral code to treat public officials with dignity and respect.

    When my son was a junior at Bishop Blanchet High School (in Seattle), I was the volunteer manager of the concession stand during basketball season. I was also working full-time for King County Government.

    I managed 20 volunteers who worked at our concession stand. Part of the training session, included a code of conduct that was similar to the one we used at St. John’s School (grades K – 8, in Seattle). All volunteers were instructed to welcome the opponents to Blanchet and wish them “good luck.” All people entering Blanchet were to be treated with “dignity and respect.”

    Which brings me back to my recent letter about Position 1. I take responsibility for my words and will take the courageous step to contact Mr. Hayden if he is elected to our city council. I have to admit that I am a bit scared by some of the people who have commented about my letter. It is tempting to hide in my garden or stick my nose in a book, but I need to take “responsibility.”

    Thank you for reminding me about “responsibility.” Your letter came at the right time, and it is a prayer answered.

    Sincerely,
    Barbara Tipton

    Ignored

  13. Ron, your penny ante effort attacking Adrienne which was for a situation that she confronted and corrected while her life was threatened by cancer doesn’t appear too very significant when recalling the city’s $800 thousand dollar loss in the Haines wharf affair for which your buddy Mayor Haakenson has publicly apologized to all citizens for.

    Where was your outrage during and/or for that extreme example of fiscal mis-management?

    Rather I recall you along with Mayor Haakenson, DJ Wilson, and a budget director waging a very bitter and losing effort to prevent the budgetary reforms that fortunately have now occurred.

    Ignored

  14. This entire discussion is an embarrassment to our fair City.

    I implore all to elevate our debates to higher ground, envisioning the future and our place in it, as well as outlining how our actions taken support the achievement of that vision. The above scrapping to gain some impression of having the upper hand is what makes voting less and less convincing as a way to influence the process.

    Ignored

  15. Todd, I was a participant in this discussion. If I embarrassed this city by my remarks, I apologize for doing so. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I view constructive criticism as an opportunity to improve.

    Ignored

  16. If anyone watched the council meeting last week . This subject really has no monitary value one way or another Im sure it was just an error on someone and no damage was intended no lets talk about something that has some real monitary value like the legal fees we the citzens are paying the city attorneys in the debbie human lawsuit now there is some real money that is being spent. I find it amazing how someone can get fired file a lawsuit and the city has all kinds of money fighting it maybe she should have been layed off with budget cuts plus the guy that fired her was out of a job about a month later go figure. So is this what we have to deal with when public employees get fired?

    Ignored

  17. Barbara the only truth in your article about me was where you said I’m soft spoken, humble, and polite. Because of these qualities I would take you up on your offer for coffee. I do think you need to be aware that there are people who don’t think just like you, but they do have valid opinions. You tried to tie me to the far right, but you negelected to mention my involvement with the far left Occupy Wall Street, or Move On. I listen to all sides and value everyones opinion.

    Ignored

  18. Todd:
    What’s an embarrassment to our city is that we have a councilmember who sought and received compensation for attending three meetings that never existed.

    Michael:
    That same councilmember, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, voted to appoint the mayor, Mike Cooper, who you have referred to. Mike Cooper created the city’s legal problems with his secretary, Kimberly Cole, and with HR director Debi Humann. Even after those two expensive legal cases were known, Ms. Fraley-Monillas gave financial support to Mr. Cooper’s election campaign. She obviously wanted the city to endure more of him.

    Ms. Fraley-Monillas has the audacity to ask the citizens of Edmonds to keep her in office for four more years.

    Ignored

  19. Ron your probably right and this type of situation isn’t going to go away now there is a sex harrassment case pending in the edmonds police dept, how much is the city going to spend on that?

    Ignored

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