Debi Humann Trial, Day 7, Wednesday

Updated at 4:20  p.m.

My Edmonds News is back in court today with continuing coverage of the Debi Humann civil trial against the City of Edmonds and former Mayor Mike Cooper. Humann is expected to continue her testimony today, after which the plaintiff intends to rest its case and turn it over to the defense.

Updated at 10:30 a.m.

Debi Humann spends 90 minutes on stand answering questions from her attorney Beth Bloom. They go over details of her interactions with her boss, then-Mayor Mike Cooper, regarding his executive assistant Kim Cole’s attendance issues.

Over the 14-month period that Cooper was mayor, Humann said she heard complaints from other staff members regularly about Cole’s attendance and those “didn’t taper off.” Among those complaining were department heads Phil Williams, Public Works; Al Compaan, Police Chief and Stephen Clifton, Economic Development and Community Services. Edmonds City Councilmembers Strom Peterson and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas also complained, Humann said. “Her (Fraley-Monillas’) view was that Kim was seldom in the office… and  felt it should be addressed,” Humann said. “They asked me to look into it and they suspected that something wasn’t right.”

Humann said that talking with Cooper about Cole’s attendance “was a sensitive topic,” and not something she looked forward to.

Bloom asked Humann to describe Cole and Cooper’s relationship and Humann said “it was closer and very much like family. Kim would frequently cut Mayor Cooper off when he was talking and correct him. They would almost speak for each other.” Humann also said there were “maybe three times or four times over 14 months” that she and other employees could hear raised voices “where Kim was yelling at Mayor Cooper,” adding that “she was a pretty emotional person.” The yelling could be heard from the HR office on the other end of the third floor from where the mayor’s office was located, Humann said.

Humann was asked if she had heard rumors about an inappropriate relationship between Cole and Cooper. Humann said she had heard them but didn’t spread them to others. She also said she didn’t gossip about Cole’s attendance although “judging by the number of people who commented to me, this wasn’t a secret.” Under questioning, Humann said she did not speak directly to Cole about her attendance as she was not Cole’s supervisor, Mayor Cooper was.

Updated at 11:00 a.m.

Humann testified that Cole’s absence was irritating to staff because they had made great sacrifices in recent years, agreeing to take nine days of unpaid leave in 2009 to save the city $500,000 during tough budget times.

Bloom asked Humann if Cooper ever offered an excuse for why Cole wasn’t at her desk and Humann replied that he always had a standard response: “He had been keeping track of Kim’s time, she had been working 40 hours a week. It was kind of a mantra almost.”

Humann also testified that neither Cooper nor Cole requested any type of accommodation for an ADHD disability that Cole reportedly had, even though there was a city procedure for that.

Following up on earlier trial testimony that Humann did not complete projects that Cooper asked her to complete as part of her job, Bloom went through Humann’s work plan for the year. Humann said she was able to finish most projects on the list, with the exception of those that were canceled or were in process when she was fired. She noted that because Edmonds’ HR department was understaffed compared other cities its size (two employees for 200 staff members) she also spent a fair amount of time directly meeting with employees and “handling daily phone calls, walk-in questions, disciplines, and issues managers, supervisors and employees are having.”

Humann also talked about “difficult communications issues” that were occurring between the Edmonds City Council and director-level city staff at about the time that Cooper was appointed to fill the mayor’s job in summer 2010 (after then-Mayor Gary Haakenson left for Snohomish County). Steve Bernheim, the City Council president at the time, came in to meet with Mayor Cooper and staff, Humann said, and it was noted that there were negative comments from individual councilmembers and “rude, disparaging comments from council to staff.”

Under questioning by Bloom, Humann said that most of the disparaging emails came from Councilmember Diane Buckshnis to city’s then-Finance Director Lorenzo Hines. Cooper also told Humann he had received “a couple hundred emails” from Buckshnis. Humann relayed that Hines eventually filed a claim of harassment against both Buckshnis and former Councilmember Michael Plunkett due to the negative exchanges. Humann said she was obligated to have the claims investigated and hired an independent investigator to do so. As reported by My Edmonds News in Feb. 2011, the investigation concluded that while both councilmembers didn’t violate state or federal law, “certain of the communications and comments at issue may be construed as rude or uncivil; and such conduct may violate a city employment policy if committed by an employee. But as Councilmembers are not employees, this investigation did not address whether there was any violation of any of the City’s employment policies.”

Both councilmembers took the findings “very personally, especially Plunkett,” Humann said, adding that soon after Plunkett started sending “a lot of public records requests – it was pretty intense.” The requests went on for three months “and then blew over,” she said. Humann said that she was “very uncomfortable” about Plunkett’s actions and it did her cross her mind that she might lose her job, “but I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was doing my job.”

Updated at 12:45 p.m.:

The rest of the morning’s testimony was highlighted by some emotional moments on the witness stand as Humann described how much she loved her job in the city where she raised her children, and that she intended to retire at age 65, get her retirement benefits and “live to 110.” Humann said she did apply for a couple of other HR jobs in Seattle but in both cases withdrew during the interview process as she decided that the jobs weren’t the right fit for her. In addition, she noted that she liked living close to home, noting that her Edmonds job was a four-mile commute, and under questioning from her attorney indicated that she did not like commuting due to a medical condition – macular degeneration — which makes driving at night difficult.

She said she was proud of her consistently good performance reviews under former Mayor Haakenson, that she had never received any type of review from Cooper and that the Cooper had given her no discipline, no warnings about her performance and had shared no complaints about her ability to keep confidences.

She counteracted testimony by Cooper that she was angry when meeting with him about Cole’s time sheets in September 2011, stating ” I was certainly direct, I was certainly tense, I was getting very tired of talking about this topic,” But she said, “I did not yell at him. I didn’t storm into the office, I did not throw papers on the table.”

At first, Humann said, she really thought Cole “was using him (Cooper) and he wasn’t aware that she wasn’t there (in the office), then added  “I probably have a different opinion sitting here today.”

Humann broke down on the stand when she described Sept. 22, 2011 — the day she was fired. She relayed that she had come into work as usual and was sitting at her desk when Cooper knocked on her door and invited her to meet in the HR conference room. In the room was Sharon Cates, an attorney with the Lighthouse Law Group, which is the contracted firm serving as city attorney, and interim Finance Director Jim Tarte. Cooper “read a prepared script and told me I was terminated, that he no longer had confidence in me, couldn’t work with me and then he asked Sharon Cates to walk me out of the building,” Humann said, with tears streaming down her face.

Humann was able to put some personal items in a box and then Cates walked her to elevator. Employees who learned what had happened gathered around the elevator and “it got kind of intense pretty quickly,” Humann said. The employees got in the elevator with Cates and Humann — “all yelling at Sharon” — and walked Humann to her car.  Humann said she then put her items in her car and turned to Cates, who was crying. “I put my arms around Sharon and told her it was going to be OK, I told everyone to stop yelling at her,” Humann said. She then left the city parking garage, drove up a couple of blocks, pulled into a parking lot and cried.

With a son in college, Humann said she was overwhelmed by fear and worry, but she also said she was angry. “I hadn’t done anything wrong,” she said. “Had I not done what I had done, with Kim Coles’ time sheets, I should have been fired.

“I did my job. And I thought, How can this happen? How can this happen?”

The court broke for lunch at noon. We expect cross-examination of Humann this afternoon.

Updated at 2:45 p.m.

We are taking our afternoon recess, shortly after the Jayne Freeman,defense attorney for the City of Edmonds, began her cross-examination of Humann.

Prior to the cross-examination. Humann talked about the devastating effect of seeing all the news coverage about the trial and how the quotes from Cooper painted her in a negative light. She talked about how she continued to attend Edmonds City Council meetings even after she was fired, hoping she would eventually get her job back. And she described how shocked she was when the City Council in November 2011 decided to eliminate the HR director position altogether, which Humann believes was proposed by Michael Plunkett in direct retaliation for initiating the investigation into the Lorenzo Hines harassment complaint.

Updated at 4:05 p.m.
Further cross-examination of Humann by Freeman included questioning related to Humann’s promotion from HR manager to director, done in 2008 by former Mayor Gary Haakenson without City Council approval. Humann also testified that her job duties essentially did not change after she was promoted but she did receive a salary increase from $7,400 to $8,900 month.

In addition, related to Cooper’s decision to give Cole paid time off for vacation shortly after she was hired, Humann confirmed that other City of Edmonds employees had received vacation time prior to working for the city for six months. The difference was that those arrangements were made as part of a formal offer letter and no such letter was done for Cole.

The judge announced that trial will be a half day tomorrow, Thursday, starting at 1 p.m. going until 4:30 p.m. Among the witnesses who could be called are Lighthouse Law Group attorneys Jeff Taraday and Sharon Cates, and former interim City of Edmonds Finance Director Jim Tarte.

— Reported by Teresa Wippel

 

  1. I certainly relate to Debi and how she feels about her treatment from others. Since her termination in 2011 with the City, the Edmonds Chamber has lost 4 people since 2012 some under similar circumstances.

    I guess that doing your job and what’s “right” doesn’t always mean you will be allowed to keep doing it and that’s a shame! And to add salt to the wound it’s like being shunned from the community.

    This type of thing is happening way to often and not just in Edmonds. The old adage – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is truly missing into today’s world.

    I hope we can teach and show the younger future generations that thinking about others helps everyone.

  2. Thank you for this detailed reporting of a sad incident in the administration of Edmonds city that also reflects on the dysfunctionality of the City Council. Although I recognize the defense has yet to make it’s case, I wish Debi Humann well and hope she received all that she is asking for. We need more employees of her integrity, not fewer. The politicians ought to be ashamed of themselves for how she was treated.

  3. This has always been an “odd” case, and i think that the previous Mayor Cooper was protecting Cole too much, and paid a price for it in many ways including this trial.I listened to his testimony when he was on the stand and he seemed to be still in denial about doing the wrong thing to Debi Humann, he really messed up and can’t admit to his wrong actions.

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