Debi Humann trial day 5, Monday 11/3

Updated 4:00 pm

8:45 am – My Edmonds News is back in court today with ongoing coverage of the Debi Humann trial. Scheduled to testify today is former mayor Gary Haakenson, Mayor Dave Earling, former County Council President Dave Gossett, and (via video deposition) Kim Cole, former executive assistant to Mayor Mike Cooper. We will be posting regular updates throughout the day, so stay tuned.

10:45 am: Gary Haakenson spent the morning responding to often intense questioning from the defense team. The line of questioning appeared to be trying to establish that after leaving office as mayor Haakenson had maintained contact with Debi Humann and had been “tipped off” by Humann about which documents to request as public records. In addition, the defense questions attempted to establish that Haakenson had not sought Council confirmation of his promotion of Humann to HR director as required by City code.

Haakenson testified “unequivocally” that Humann gave him no help/hints in regard to his public records requests. He further testified that since Humann was already serving as HR manager, the promotion to director was not a new hire and thus was not subject to council confirmation. He further testified that given Ms. Humann’s excellent job performance he had “no doubt” that had council had the opportunity to confirm Ms. Humann, they would have done so.

12 noon: Mayor Dave Earling took the stand after the mid-morning court break. Under questioning from the plaintiff’s attorney, Earling testified that he terminated Kim Cole the day after he assumed office on November 29. At that time Cole was on administrative leave. At that time he also put out a job announcement for an executive assistant, and received approximately 70 applications for the position. He went on to say that his expectation is that the mayor’s executive assistant is effectively the face of the mayor’s office, and that the person in this position would work a full 40-hour week.

Earling further testified that he read and studied “everything I could find” on the Kim Cole/Debi Humann situation, and as a result decided to reinstate Humann as HR Director for the remainder of the year, at which time funding for the HR Director position would be cut off pursuant to the recent council action to eliminate the position.

Under questioning by Beth Bloom, attorney for Humann, Earling testified as to his belief that it is improper to be paid for work not done, and that part of the HR Director’s job is to see that this doesn’t happen.

Bloom also raised the issue of the city hiring attorney Jim Webber to investigate Kim Cole’s claim that she was being harassed by Debi Humann, specifically for her checking into her hours and questioning her time sheets. Earling testified that he was “aware of this report” and its finding that it was appropriate for Ms. Humann to raise these concerns, and that she would have been remiss in her duties as HR Director had she not done so. When asked if he agreed that the Webber report found no wrongdoing by Ms. Humann, Earling responded “yes, I generally agree with that.”

Court recessed for lunch at 12 noon. The afternoon agenda will begin with further questions of Earling from the plaintiff’s team, and cross examination of by the defense team.

3:00 pm: Attorneys for the plaintiff continued questioning of Mayor Earling when court reconvened after lunch recess. Asked whether he knew at the time he reinstated her that Ms. Humann would continue to pursue her case for wrongful termination, Earling responded that he did not, and that in any case this was “not a factor” in his decision to reinstate her.

Under cross examination by the defense team, attorney Jayne Freeman asked pointedly whether Earling was “trying to get rid of the whistle blower” by reinstating and then terminating her. Again, Earling firmly and clearly denied this.

Referring back to the Webber report, Freeman asked Earling if he was aware of any actions taken by Ms. Humann toward Ms. Cole would fit the City of Edmonds definition of harassment as set out in the city’s personnel policies. Again, Earling firmly stated that in his opinion they did not.

When asked by Freeman whether he understood that Humann feels her reinstatement and subsequent termination by him constituted retaliation, Earling stated clearly, “yes, but it’s not true.”

Under cross examination by John Kugler, attorney for Mr. Cooper, Earling was asked about what he was hearing from citizens about this case while he was doorbelling prior to his election as Mayor. Earling said that many questions came up about this, to which he ascribes the high level of “caring and involvement” by Edmonds citizens in the affairs of their community.

4:00 pm: Former Snohomish County Councilmember Dave Gossett was called by the plaintiff to provide testimony on his experiences working with Mike Cooper during his time on council, at which time Kim Cole was his legislative aid.

Gossett testified that there were ongoing concerns on the county council about Cole’s irregular attendance, calling it “disruptive” and pointing out morale issues among the other council staff who felt she was being paid for work not done. He further testified that this “reflected badly” on the council and him (he was council chair at the time).

Gossett went on to testify that he looked into records of remote logins to the county server (citrix records) and records of use of the blackberry device assigned to Cole. He found no citrix records, and no calls on the blackberry, however there were records of data use on the blackberry. He testified that since her timesheets indicated full 40-hour weeks and she was frequently absent from the office, this suggested to him that Cole was being paid for time not worked.

He testified that when he asked Cooper directly about this, Cooper responded that he was satisfied that Cole was doing the work he had directed her to do, and that it was between the two of them and “no one else’s business.” Gossett requested that Cooper direct Cole to keep the front desk informed of her whereabouts, but testified that again Cooper maintained that Cole’s schedule was between the two of them and no one else’s concern.

Upon cross examination by Cooper’s attorney John Kugler, Gossett agreed that a legislative aid reports to the councilmember only. He also agreed that he had no way of actually knowing what Cole was doing when she was outside the office.

Next up was video testimony by Kim Cole. Cole is now living in New Jersey, and her testimony was taken by remote video conference.

When asked about her relationship with Cooper, Cole testified that the two had a “long standing professional relationship that turned into a second family.” She related how they would attend church together, celebrate holidays, and that her child would play with Cooper’s grandchildren. She considered Cooper “a mentor.”

Court adjourned at 4 pm. Cole’s testimony will continue when court reconvenes tomorrow morning.

Reported by Larry Vogel

  1. What you are reporting about former Mayor Gary Haakenson’s statements about City Council confirmation of Directors is hard to comprehend. When former Mayor Haakenson was in office, Ordinance No. 3279 was in place and it clearly and simply stated the following:

    The mayor shall appoint, subject to council confirmation, the department director positions of police chief, fire chief, community services director, administrative services director, development services director, parks and recreation director, public works director, and human resources director. The City Council shall interview the top three candidates for each position prior to the mayor’s final selection. [Ord.3279 § 1, 1999].

    The Mayor’s appointments were SUBJECT to Council Confirmation, plain and simple.

    On October 2, 2007, former Mayor Haakenson requested confirmation from the City Council of the appointment of Assistant Police Chief Al Compaan to police chief.

    Why would he have done so if only newly hired appointees were subject to City Council confirmation?

    1. Also: The City Council SHALL interview the top three candidates for each position prior to the mayor’s final selection. [Ord.3279 § 1, 1999].

      At that time, the Code did not allow simply promoting from within without the City Council interviewing the top three candidates for each position prior to the mayor’s final selection.

      This portion of the Code was updated during January of 2014.

  2. Another example of Council Confirmation of a Director under former Mayor Haakenson is documented in the June 22, 2010 City Council Meeting Minutes:

    Item F: Confirmation of Phil Williams as the new Public Works Director for the City of Edmonds.

    Councilmember Wilson pulled this item from the Consent Agenda to vote against it. He found it inappropriate to appoint a senior director level position at this time as the new mayor may wish to form his/her own team.

    Councilmember Buckshnis advised there were originally four finalists and two withdrew. Mayor Haakenson agreed two withdrew for unknown reasons. She asked whether Mayor Haakenson had already negotiated with Mr. Williams and was the Council’s confirmation simply a rubber stamp. Mayor Haakenson agreed, explaining per the City’s Code the Council was provided an opportunity to interview candidates. He recalled four of the six Councilmembers supported the selection of Mr. Williams which was also his choice for the position. Mayor Haakenson offered him the job and tonight was seeking confirmation from the Council.

    Councilmember Wilson explained the Council provided their feedback to Mayor Haakenson following the interview process. It was within the Council’s prerogative to change their mind now. Mayor Haakenson clarified it was his choice; per code he asked the Council to participate in an interview process and provide him their recommendations. The majority of the Council’s recommendations matched his choice and he was hiring Mr. Williams regardless of whether the Council confirmed his selection.

    Council President Bernheim moved, seconded by Councilmember Peterson, to confirm hiring Phil Williams as the new Public Works Director for the city of Edmonds. Motion carried (4-2), Councilmembers Buckshnis and Wilson voting no.

    As I said yesterday, the more I research this, the more I am convinced that Edmonds voters should be given a chance to decide whether or not it is time for a change from a strong Mayor form of government to a Council-Manager form of government.

  3. Then perhaps you need to start gathering signatures in order to get it on the ballot next year. That should get you the opinion of the voters and if enough of them agree with you, then it could be on the ballot for a vote.

  4. Well, Mr. Reidy, THIS certainly explains a lot of things. Yes, change is definately needed and a total update of ALL City of Edmonds Codes

    Thank you Ken for all the work you do to simplify and explain complicated issues for us. Thank you for your research……Yes, change is needed! …….some type of change.

  5. This case is about the wrongful termination of an employee who chose to do her job and point out abuse within the system. Everyone is commenting on a lot of ancillary issues in the community and among the council, but that’s ultimately detracting from the spirit of what’s happening. If you have good individuals as government employees, they the issues in the community will work toward resolution over time.

    Ms. Humann is on trial for doing the right thing. If your aim is to improve the community by having quality individuals in leadership positions you should be supporting her through this trial and helping the community see that there are people who make the right choices, even at their own risk. Whistle-blowing endangers an individual’s career, family and credibility in a community. To not support whistle blowers as they navigate their battles is to welcome and passively endorse corruption in our own community.

    Stay on point. Do the right thing.

    1. I thought that this started when an Anonymous Tip was made to the State Auditor sometime before August, 2011. I believe Ms. Humann has represented that she did not make the anonymous tip. If so, somebody else pointed out the “issue” to the State Auditor.

      I do not know if the Anonymous Tip was in the form of a whistleblower complaint or not.

      I’m not sure, but I think the whistleblower concept as it applies to Ms. Humann came in to play when she filed a complaint seeking relief from retaliation after she was fired.

      Stating that Ms. Humann is on trial for doing the right thing is inaccurate. She is not on trial. Furthermore, this Jury has yet to decide anything about wrongful termination.

      1. Ms. Humann was fired by a Mayor (appointed by the city Council) for doing her job as a Human Resources director. She rightfully followed up on time sheets, worried about the morale of the other City employees and wasn’t told that an employee had an alleged disability which made her working hours invisible to other employees at City Hall. She cooperated with the State Auditors, and was fired.
        It isn’t about her appointment or lack thereof. It is about how the City treated her in light of the fact that the Mayor’s assistant was highly paid and did not appear to be doing the work we tax payers paid her to do. She got caught up in the politics of an election, fired, offered to be reinstated and then had the funding cut for her position.
        Ms. Humann has had to endure the legal process, had her education questioned (and her abilities to do the job which she had been doing), has had her career on display, and has had to find other employment.
        In my opinion, she did the right thing. The jury will decide that. Whether or not she was the one who “blew the whistle”, she was certainly the one who risk her job to do what any Human Resource manager should do. In my opinion we should be thanking her for both the job that she did in bringing the situation into the daylight, and for following through with her case and letting us get to the facts of what happened.

        1. Thanks Diane – if she was wrongfully terminated, I hope the jury rules in her favor. I also hope as many facts as possible come out as I think the citizens deserve to know what happened. Significant time and resources have been spent related to this matter.

  6. Yes, whistle blowers should ALWAYS be supported because in the case of corruption and other issues, usually this is the PATH NOT Chosen…….It is a very hard thing to do……We are a society made of laws, and the LAW always comes first above all….

    .I think ANY whistle blower is a hero/heroine in my book……..The path chosen is the right path in this case, from what I have seen or believe.

  7. ………..I guess I’m mistaken regarding the “whistle blower” here in this case, and it does appear that the “whistle blower” here was anonymous……I guess I now have to say “anonymous” is my heroine/hero!…….lol…..anonymous, thank you wherever you are lol

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