Debi Humann trial Day 10, Wednesday

Updated at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday

My Edmonds News is back in court today for day 10 of the Debi Humann civil trial against the City of Edmonds and former Mayor Mike Cooper.

Updated at 10:30 am:

Prior to the jury entering the room this morning, Judge Marsha Pechman ruled in favor of the motion by the City of Edmonds attorney, Jayne Freeman, to dismiss Humann’s claim of retaliation related to the Edmonds City Council when it eliminated the Director of Human Resources position in November 2011.

“I’m convinced that there wasn’t a back channel working here in order to influence the vote,” Pechman said in granting the motion.

Attorney Jayne Freeman had argued that all of the city’s councilmembers who voted to eliminate the HR position in 2011 had testified “none of them felt strong-armed or convinced or persuaded by any one of the other councilmembers” to ax the job, and that it was strictly a budgetary decision. Humann had suggested in earlier testimony that the City Council’s decision to eliminate the HR director position altogether was proposed by Michael Plunkett in direct retaliation for Humann’s decision to investigate a harassment complaint made by former Finance Director Lorenzo Hines against Plunkett and Councilmember Diane Buckshnis.

Taking the stand following Pechman’s ruling was former interim City Finance Director Jim Tarte, who testified that the fact Kim Cole was late on her time sheets did not cause him to suspect she was stealing funds from the city or that Cooper was allowing her to do so. He also testified that it wasn’t an issue to him that Cole was a few hours short on the vacation hours she claimed in her time sheet in August — something that was an issue between Humann and Cooper — adding that he knew those hours would be made up quickly during the next pay period

Updated at 1 p.m.

We are now on a break for lunch. During the morning session, under questioning from Freeman, Tarted confirmed that he was contacted by Courtney Craft from the State Auditor’s Office regarding a whistle blower complaint regarding Cole’s timesheets, and that when he told then Mayor Mike Cooper about it, he did not seem angry or upset, but was “pretty matter of fact” and directed Tarte to comply with Craft’s requests.

Tarte also testified that he was present in the room when then Mayor Mike Cooper fired Humann, but did not observe or hear anyone yelling or crying afterward, adding “Debi handled that in her usual professional manner.”

After Tarte left the stand, Cooper was back on the stand for questioning by his own attorney John Kugler. Cooper reiterated that Cole performed all of executive assistant duties he assigned her “to my satisfaction” and that he was mindful of tracking her time, given her flexible schedule. When Humann accused Cooper of “cheating and stealing from the city,” as Kugler put it,  Cooper replied that “to have my integrity questioned is very offensive to me.”

Another outstanding issue that Judge Pechman has promised she will rule on: A motion by City defense attorney Freeman to dismiss Humann’s claim that the city did not provide her with due process to clear her name. Attorneys for Humann have argued that Humann was entitled to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to do just that, and that it was the city’s responsibility to initiate the process. Freeman said, however, that the ALJ hearing was in process when Humann accepted a settlement for her claims to back pay from time she was fired in September 2011 until she was temporarily reinstated for two weeks in late December 2011 by new Mayor Dave Earling. (She was officially laid off after those two weeks since the City Council had eliminated her position from the 2012 budget.)

The only reason the ALJ hearing did not take place, Freeman said, is because Humann chose to accept the settlement offer. Humann attorney Beth Bloom argued it was up to the city to initiate a new ALJ hearing.

Expected to testify Wednesday afternoon are Carrie Hite and Mary Ann Hardie from the City of Edmonds.

Updated at 3 p.m.
Mike Cooper continued his testimony, answering questions from his own attorney.

He discussed the work that Cole was doing for him and also continued to talk about Cole’s relationship with Humann, noting “they never really did seem to get along very well.”

Cooper also talked about earlier testimony related to a public records request that former Mayor Gary Haakenson had made about the Haines Wharf park project, which also included a request for Coles’ time sheets. Cooper relayed how he had told staff that Haakenson’s request should be treated like that of any other citizen, despite his former mayor status, and that appeared to upset Humann.

Under aggressive cross examination by Humann attorney Bloom, Cooper disagreed with Bloom’s assertion that he was not keeping close track of Cole’s time. He also disagreed with Bloom when she said Cooper speculated Humann was the whistle blower who tipped off the state auditor about Cole’s time sheets.

Updated at 4:30 pm

We have ended for the day and Judge Pechman has told jurors she expects they will get the case at some point Thursday for deliberation.

Judge Pechman is currently hearing arguments from attorneys on both sides about admissibility of Mary Ann Hardie’s personnel file. Hardie was on the stand at end of day and focus was on her working relationship with Humann and her opinion of Humann work style. More on that later tonight.

Updated at 10:30 p.m.

Here is a summary of highlights from the latter part of the afternoon. Before Mary Ann Hardie took the stand, Humann attorney Beth Bloom continued to grill Cooper about his approach to managing Kim Cole, noting that even Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, whom Bloom referred to as Cooper’s friend, complained about Cole’s attendance issues.

Cooper replied that Fraley-Monillas actually wanted to share that Cole “not dressing as professionally as she should” and that one constituent complained about not receiving a return phone call from the mayor’s office.

Cooper continued to assert that Humman’s questioning of Cole’s time sheets and work habits was done “in an argumentative and accusatory manner” that suggested he was not telling the truth, although he admitted Humann never actually accused him of anything.

Bloom brought up earlier testimony that Cole had been heard yelling and even swearing at Cooper, and Cooper replied that his former executive assistant was “an animated communicator” who had been jokingly described “as someone raised on the East Coast,” even though she hadn’t been.

He said that Cole “was never disrespectful,” adding that she had a habit of swearing at everyone, a habit he was trying to have her break while in the office.

The judge then asked jurors if they had any questions and one of them was whether Cooper had concerns about Cole’s multiple commitments while working for him, including serving simultaneously as his assistant, a single mother, a law student and a Lynnwood City Councilmember.

Cooper replied he was not concerned but rather “was in awe of her ability to balance all of her commitments.”

When Hardie took the stand, she explained that she started working as the city’s HR assistant in 2005 and was promoted to HR analyst in 2008. She was appointed as temporary HR manager after Humann was fired in September 2011 and was permanently promoted to HR manager in April 2012.

Under questioning from City attorney Freeman, Hardie said that before Humann was promoted, she did talk with her about her desire to be the HR Department Director and that she would look for other work if she wasn’t promoted.

Hardie described Humann’s email communication with councilmembers, noting that Humann would often ask Hardie to read the emails and give her opinion about them before sending them. She said that Humann spent “a lot of time” writing emails to councilmembers and responded yes to Freeman’s questions asking if the tone of the emails was generally contentious and not professional.

Hardie said that Humann confided in her that she had concerns that she might be fired for her ongoing  efforts to bring the issue of Kim Cole’s time sheets to then-Mayor Cooper’s attention.

Freeman then asked Hardie about what happened the day that Humann was fired and Hardie disagreed with Humann’s earlier testimony that employees were yelling at one of the city’s attorneys, Sharon Cates, about Humann’s firing. Hardie also said it wasn’t true that Humann gave Cates a hug and told her it would be OK.

And Hardie added under questioning that while it was true Humann was very busy seeing people in her office, in many cases “not only to get HR information but to socialize.”

Asked Freeman: “Did you feel that she made an efficient use of time?” Replied Hardie: “No.”

Hardie will be back on the stand Thursday. Also expect testimony from Carrie Hite, the city’s parks, recreation and cultural services director who also has been serving as the city’s very part-time (5 percent) Human Resources Reporting Director to assist Hardie.

Finally, at the end of the day after the jury left the room, Judge Pechman did announce to the attorneys that she is denying Freeman’s motion earlier in the day to dismiss Humann’s claim of lack of due process related to the name-clearing hearing. The judge said her research of past court rulings indicated that the city did have a responsibility to initiate such an action.

— Reported by Teresa Wippel

 

  1. It ‘s embarrassing that our town government appears to have behaved and performed in such a seemingly unprofessional, irresponsible and sordid way. And women it appears are the only victims. All hail the Code of Ethics!

    Looking forward to the coming changes…..So Edmonds can actually function for the greater GOOD of our town. We have lots of hard work to do together…..Let ‘s not allow ourselves to be pitted against each other so we can move foward

  2. Cooper is in complete denial (but then again that’s one reason why he got blown out during the election) if he thought that Cole was actually doing her job. You mean to tell me that she had time to be a single mom, employed full time, going to law school at night and on the board at Swedish Edmonds and on the Lynnwood City Council?!? Who are you kidding? There’s no way she had enough time to do any of those, let alone any of it well. The funny part is nobody is really focusing on the idea that the STATE AUDITOR got involved and was investigating Cole’s behavior. Also this behavior was nothing new. There were “time sheet” issues with her back at the county as well.

    1. Regardless of what happened here, I know many woman that have done more than this, and done it well and these women are not so well known and well known. Many men come to mind also, not so well known, and well known…..These are people that only require 4 hours of sleep. Many, many Nobel Laureates, so this is not unusual.

      1. Those incredible people (who do exist, I’m not debating that) would have actually been in the office doing their jobs. Kim Cole was not one of those people. 🙂

  3. The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get to the office.
    — Robert Frost

    You cannot mandate productivity, you must provide the tools to let people become their best.
    —Steve Jobs

    The things we fear most in organizations–fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances–are the primary sources of creativity. — Margaret J. Wheatley

    Management is, above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet.
    —Henry Mintzberg, author and professor at McGill University.

    Just some thoughts

    1. Those are all good quotes and I’ve seen some of those before. And here’s a belief I have regarding some of the exceptionally smart people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Brilliance can be demonstrated / seen. Mayor Cooper and Ms. Cole were unable to demonstrate her brilliance at the County, and they certainly failed to demonstrate it to the folks at the City.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.