Debi Humann trial Day 4, Thursday

Updated 4:15 pm

My Edmonds News is back in court for continuing coverage of the Debi Humann civil trial.

On deck for today, testimony by former Mayor Haakenson, Edmonds City Councilmember Strom Peterson, Snohomish County Councilmember Dave Gossett and possibly former Edmonds City Councilmember Michael Plunkett.

We will post updates throughout the day, so stay tuned.

9:45 am: Strom Peterson testified that he was “aware of concerns” about Kim Cole’s attendance issues at the county at the time Mike Cooper came on as mayor. He further testified that her lack of regular attendance as exec asst for Mayor Cooper was a “concern” for him and fellow councilmembers.

10:30 am: Under cross examination, Peterson acknowledges “ongoing friction” between council and city staff predating his tenure on council, and that this frequently manifested itself in less than respectful interactions between council and staff during council meetings. He testified that he observed Ms. Humann on “several occasions” display open frustration in council meetings including ” eye rolling, sighing, crossing and uncrossing arms,” and that this was “very obvious” and showed “disrespect” for the council.

Court in mid-morning recess.

11:30 am: Peterson testified that he opposed elimination of HR Director position saying he could ” not support this in a governmental administration of 249 employees.” He further testified that his decision to oppose this was “in no way” related to Humann’s whistleblower complaint, anything he’d read in the press, or Cooper’s decision to fire her.

11:45 am: Former councilmember Plunkett called as a witness. Testified that he supported elimination of the HR Director as a cost cutting measure, and that these functions could be “appropriately handled by a manager level position.”

12 noon: Plunkett testified that he feels staying current on local issues is part of the duties of City Councilmembers. However in the fall of 2011 he “wasn’t following the news very closely” and at the time of the vote to eliminate the HR Director position was “not aware” that Ms. Humann was seeking to be reinstated.

Court recessed for lunch.

2 pm: Plunkett back on stand, stipulates that he was present at Council executive sessions in October and November 2011 at which Debi Humann’s termination and whistle blower complaint for wrongful termination were discussed.

2:15 pm: Plunkett maintains adamantly that his motion to eliminate the HR Director position was not related to or in retaliation for Humann’s complaint challenging her termination.

2:30 pm: Plunkett testifies that he did not share his plans to propose elimination of HR Director position with Mayor Cooper prior to making this proposal in the November 22, 2011 city council meeting where it was approved.

Plunkett dismissed, Gary Haakenson back on the stand.

3 pm: Haakenson testified as to Debi Humann’s skills, professionalism and competence as HR Director. Also testified as to concerns he had heard both at the county and the city regarding Kim Cole’s irregular schedule, being paid for hours not worked, and speculation about an “inappropriate relationship” between her and Cooper.

3:45 pm: Haakenson testified that he promoted Debi Humann to the HR Director position in 2008. She had done an “outstanding” job as HR Analyst and Manager and he felt “she deserved it.” Despite the HR Director job description calling for a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement, and the fact that Ms. Humann did not hold a college degree, Haakenson felt it was “within his discretion” to do this.

He feels that Humann “served the city well” and that her periodic performance reviews reflected this.

4:00 pm: Under cross examination by the defense team, Haakenson was presented with a series of email exchanges between himself and Humann in which the two shared reactions to issues raised by Councilmember Plunkett and others. These will form the basis of questioning which will take place when court reconvenes on Monday.

Court adjourned at 4:10 pm

On Monday Gary Haakenson will conclude his testimony. Also scheduled to testify is Mayor Dave Earling, and (via video deposition) Kim Cole.

Reported by Larry Vogel

  1. Councilmember Peterson’s comments about “concern” are interesting. One might wonder what Councilmembers can do when they are concerned about staff. The following is from AWC’s Councilmember’s handbook:

    Q. What is the role of the city council regarding employee discipline, and
    what input can the council have concerning performance appraisals of
    A. Though the council may be concerned about employee discipline and how certain
    employees are performing their duties, the council should not be involved in any
    individual situations. While the council can establish personnel policies and voice their
    concerns to the mayor, it is solely the mayor’s job to discipline and supervise city
    employees, including conducting performance evaluations.

  2. A tip of the pen ( or click of the mouse) to Teresa Whipple for her coverage of this trial. It isn’t easy to summarize testimony. Thanks! Well done.

  3. Hi D – today it was yours truly covering the courtroom. Teresa and I are tag-teaming this trial. Not fair for one of us to have all the fun, eh?

  4. Why would any Mayor think it “within his discretion” to ignore a minimum requirement for a Director position?

    AWC’s Councilmember’s Handbook has a solid chapter titled “Resolving and Preventing Mayor-Council Conflict.”

    Under “Whose role is it?”, AWC states that the City Council may provide for a detailed personnel system establishing specific qualifications for positions, requiring publication and public posting of job opening announcements, and the like.

    I believe these specific qualifications must be adhered to, because once an employee is hired the City Council has no power to do much of anything related to employment. Although the City Council controls the salaries paid to City officers and employees, the City Council may not lower a salary with the purpose of causing the person holding that position to quit.

  5. To me, it would seem unusual that this would be an isolated incident. Again how much of our hard earned tax paying dollars is this type of government operations or things unfolding costing the citizens of Edmonds? Are there other lawsuits the citizens do not know about? …..I’m glad to see that our Mayor will be testifying. I believe that Mr Reidy is correct. Staff is the Mayor’s job, not the Town Council.

  6. I guess one could argue that the City Council should have caught the minimum requirement issue during the City Council confirmation process. However, was Ms. Humann ever confirmed as a Director by the City Council?

    The following is taken from My Guest Column about City Officers written January 18, 2012:
    – The last person to hold the position of Human Resources Director was Debi Humann. I have been unable to determine when she was appointed and confirmed. The Aug. 18, 2008 City Council Meeting Minutes indicate that Ms. Humann was Human Resources Manager as of that date. The Sept. 2, 2008 City Council Meeting Minutes indicate that Ms. Humann was Human Resources Director as of that date. It is possible that she was appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by City Council sometime during that time period. The Nov. 22, 2011 City Council approved minutes indicate the City Council eliminated funding for the Human Resources Director position in the City’s 2012 budget.

  7. Hopefully one outcome of this trial will be new consideration of the appropriateness of our current Mayor-Council form of City Government.

    Is a strong Mayor form of government in the best interest of Edmonds and its citizens?

  8. Our current Mayor, as the record shows, offered to reinstate Ms. Humann. Ms. Humann’s qualifications have nothing to to do with the trial at hand, nor the reasons she was fired. It is over reaching to make it a case for a City Manager form of governance. Abandoning a strong mayor form of government eliminates one of the basic checks and balances built into our form of government at a very basic level and puts the all the power into the legislative branch. A city manager answers to and serves at the pleasure of the Council. It would be like eliminating the job of President, and letting Congress do both the administrative and legislative functions.

    1. Diane:
      I agree 100% with your comments. We considered the change when I was on council. After listening to presentations on the topic we concluded that the current structure is the better one.

      1. I thought that the last time this was looked at, the Edmonds City Council voted 4-2 to hold a public hearing on July 20, 2010 to obtain citizen comment and possibly take action to place the measure on the Nov. 2, 2010 general election ballot. The Council removed the item from the agenda the evening of July 20th, but several citizens commented during audience comments.

        July 20, 2010 was the evening former Mayor Cooper was appointed Mayor.

        I think it would benefit all to carefully consider the appropriateness of our current Mayor-Council form of City Government. The hiring of consultant Jim Reid of the Falconer Group to assist in improving relationships among the council, the mayor and city staff provides evidence that there is room for improvement. I see no harm in looking at it closely. It can possibly be placed on a future ballot so the citizens can vote on it.

    2. Well, in theory, that would be true, but it seems like in this particular town, it is not true, and particularily regarding the size of this town. I see a very small amount of checks and balances from where I’m sitting.

      And three former Mayors of Edmonds sitting in court in downtown Seattle, I think is not an attractive picture for our town.

  9. Thanks for your thoughts Diane. I am not yet making a case for a different form of City Government – I am simply stating that now may be a good time to consider the appropriateness of our current Mayor-Council form of City Government.

    Time for more research on the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of City Government…

  10. Yes, if there ever was a time to consider the case for a different form of government or changes being made regarding the government and its operation, this would be the time to at least consider and ponder what is always unfolding and how much the citizens are usually in the DARK about (and the dollars being spent, wasted, etc.), including law suits, actions that appear to skirt our laws, including Federal Laws, operations of government, staff, closed door meetings, including many, many executive sessions (seems like an unusual amount to me for this small town), people feeling intimadated and afraid to say something, etc……issues. that are consequently questioned regularily by the citizens and some members of government that have come to not trust their government because of this.

    If a town is above board, following all laws, government open and transparent, codes updated, Code of Ethics, it would appear to mean that extra people would not have to be hired to do all the many FOIA requests and the citizens would pretty regularily know what is happening with their government.

    Consider and ponder the enormity of all these things that keep showing up with our government. And, of course, the money. And this being said, think of all that could be accomplished here with our government just tending to our town and moving our town forward into the future, and government here being by the people, of the people, and for the people. Gee, what a simple concept.

  11. You couldn’t make a better case for having a city manager than this debacle.

    If Edmonds had a trained, professional city manager in place a lot of this drama could have been avoided. Instead we have untrained politicians making personnel, traffic and service decisions that they are not qualified to make resulting in the constant expensive blunders reported here frequently. This one’s gonna cost us all dearly.

  12. But the Council would decide if they liked what the trained professional City Manager was doing and could replace the Professional manager anytime they collectively felt like it. Remember that Mayor Cooper was appointed by the City Council, he was never elected.

    1. Right, the city council selected Mike Cooper to be Mayor – his sole qualification being that he was a prominent member of the democratic party. And it was also the city council that eliminated the HR Director position prior to Mayor Earling taking office.

      1. C’mon, Ron – your statement, “his sole qualification being that he was a prominent member of the Democratic party” is a stretch of the truth. In fact, he was elected four times to the State House of Representatives and was a member of the Snohomish County Council before being appointed to his position as mayor.

        One would think that his previous legislative experience would have prevented the debacle that occurred on his watch.

        1. Perhaps it is a good idea to not refer to anybody in our government, whether staff, Mayor, Town Council, etc. as “political” positions…………That designation and reference only divides people more…….that word “political”…..

          We are all in this together for the good of our town, and we need to all work together, not as separate entities, but TOGETHER for the greater good and not as designated separate “political” whatever by whoever.

          That kind of talk only divides, and does nothing for the good of the citizens and the town of Edmonds.

          Perhaps we now need FEWER politicians in this country

  13. Thanks for everyone’s thoughts…I do think that the ongoing trial is a reminder that change should be considered periodically.

    One reason I think change should be considered is because things do not seem to be working so well.

    For example, the City Council has budgeted funds to complete the crucial Code Rewrite on numerous occasions. The Code Rewrite has been a legislative priority for nearly 10 years, yet our Mayors have failed to make sure the budgeted funds are used to get this crucial job done.

  14. It is about the greater good, rather than individuals using the town of Edmonds as their GIG. I see this all over, and with people pretending to be something they are not and many pretending to be “professionals” that clearly are not This does not move our town forward, nor does it invite new business, people, etc. So many enmeshed in old ideas, old business as usual. I don’t think it is so much about “politics” as it is people personally gaining from this town rather than the town itself moving forward, all of us, as a whole for the greater good, not for personal gigs for the select few.

    I would like to see everybody that is part of our government, sworn in, and sign a Code of Ethics. That would certainly go a long ways to moving our town forward in a different light. And following the rule of law, not skirting and doing dancing around our laws.

    This “drama” is what is holding back our town from really blossoming and moving forward. Drama in a town does not invite new people or business…..We have enough of this in the world right now……Who wants this where they call “home”….not many

  15. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) stated in an article dated October 17, 2014 that today council-manager government is used by more municipalities in the United States than any other form. Of the 7,555 jurisdictions with known forms of government and populations of 2,500 or more, 49 percent operate under this form. Today more than 105 million people in the United States live in municipalities that operate under the council-manager form.

    ICMA also states that nearly every list measuring business friendliness and quality of life are dominated by council-manager cities. IBM’s David Edwards examined publicly available data from the largest 100 U.S. cities and learned that communities with council manager forms of government are nearly 10 percent more efficient than those with strong mayoral forms of government.

    1. Ken:
      Wouldn’t you agree that the ICAM is only likely to present data that supports a city manager form of government. Isn’t data from the MRSC a better indicator since it is an independent organization – an organization that you often reference. They say that in the State of Washington 81% of the cities have a Mayor/Council form of government. Anyway, it’s not a “one size fits all” situation; each city has its own peculiarities and needs to select what’s best for them. See the following link:

  16. Tere, I have tried for over two years to get the city council to pass a code of ethics . Please join me in speaking before the city council to push them along.

    1. As you may have noticed, I deleted several comments after this one as they started to deteriorate into borderline violations of our code of conduct.

  17. Ron, since it was data, I really wasn’t concerned with where I found it. My goal was to find current information on the United States as a whole.

    An internet search took me to National League of Cities (NLC) Website. I believe that NLC is an independent, neutral website. NLC’s website indicated that Council-Manager is the most common form of government. NLC’s website referenced surveys done by ICMA, so I visited ICMA’s website in my search for current data. Since NLC referenced ICMA’s data, I figured it was reasonable to post ICMA’s data.

    The more I research this, the more I am convinced that this is an issue that should be put on a future ballot. I think Edmonds voters should decide whether or not it is time for a change. If the voters decide that a strong Mayor form of government is still best, then we will at least know that the citizen’s desire such.

    I think a vote is wiser than simply moving forward under the assumption that the strong Mayor form of government is still best for Edmonds.

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