Debi Humann trial, Day 8

Updated at 8:30 p.m.Thursday, Nov. 6

Posted at 2 p.m.

We’re back in court for Day 8 of the Debi Humann civil trial against the City of Edmonds and former Mayor Mike Cooper.

Since we started the day at 1 p.m. (only half-day trial today) City of Edmonds defense attorney Jayne Freeman has been aggressively cross-examining plaintiff  Humann on the the stand.

Check back later for updates.

Updated at 2:45 p.m.

Debi Humann is still on the stand being cross-examined. Among the questions asked by Freeman were whether Humann took City of Edmonds files in addition to her personal belongings after she was fired by Cooper on Sept. 22, 2011. Humann said she did not; she only took her own personal notes.

Freeman also asked Humann whether she had confided in Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan about the “confidential” state auditor’s investigation and the fact that Courtney Craft from state auditor’s office had threatened legal action against her — said she could be arrested — if she didn’t participate in the investigation after she was fired by Cooper.  Humann said the reason she chose to confide in Compaan rather than the city attorney was “just because he deals with the law and because he might have more knowledge than me.”

Humann reiterated her belief that the Edmonds City Council was retaliating against her for her whistleblower complaint. Freeman went through each one of the councilmembers individually, asking: “You understand there were six different people who cast their votes?” While Humann said she couldn’t say what was in the  individual minds of each councilmember, “All I know is, I feel the vote was against me.”

Updated at 8:30 p.m.

Because of shortened day in court, there wasn’t much time for updating during the trial, so here is a summary of the remaining cross-examination that occurred Thursday:

Freeman asked Humann why she assumed that Cooper terminated her because of her cooperation with the state auditor over the whistle blower complaint related to Kim Cole’s timesheets, since she was not the only city employee that was asked to provide the auditor with information. Humann said it was not her job to survey what requests had been made of other employees related to the audit investigation, but that she believes that her cooperation with the auditor played a role in her firing.

Under questioning, Humann confirmed that she was hopeful that after Mayor Dave Earling defeated Cooper in the 2011 general election, Earling would find a way to bring her back as HR Director, or even as HR manager or HR assistant. Humann said she would have accepted a lower-level position, adding “It would have been nice to have a job.”

Freeman noted Earling testified that after taking office, he assessed the situation related to the City Council eliminating the HR Director position, and he felt there wasn’t a need for a full-time HR director. In addition, Freeman said, during the past three years, the Edmonds City Council has made no effort to re-fund the position

Freeman also pointed out that before then-Mayor Gary Haakenson promoted Humann from HR manager to director, the HR director job had been left vacant for four years. She also noted that even if Mayor Earling proposed reinstatement of the HR position, “you had no way of knowing if the city council would vote for it.”

She also questioned Humann’s earlier statement that her plan to stay at the City of Edmonds working at her director-level pay scale until retirement age in 2023, “assumes that at no point that the city council would never vote to eliminate or change the funding for that position.”

“You are asking the jury to have the city give you several hundred thousand dollars” for lost wages, Freeman said, when it’s possible that the city council could have eliminated the position at a later date.

“I think I would have worked there until normal retirement,” Humann countered. “I believe that I had not been terminated, I would still be in that job.”

Under questioning, Humann confirmed that she believes that while “I’m not sure if Mayor Earling made that decision (to not bring back the HR position) on his own,” she assumed that his decision not to lobby for her reinstatement was related to her whistle blower complaint and the Kim Cole controversy.

Freeman took issue with Humann’s claims that as a result of Cooper’s statements in the press, she wasn’t able to find a job in human resources. The city’s defense attorney showed the jury Humann’s log of all the jobs she applied for, from Oct. 6, 2011 until she began working as a business agent for the Teamsters in March 2012.

Humann confirmed that she did have two job offers right away but she did not take them: One was for same Teamsters job she now holds – she said she didn’t accept it at the time because she wasn’t ready to tae a job that wasn’t specifically in the human resources field. The other represented a significant pay cut and that was a concern since she had a child in college, she said.

Freeman asked Humann if she thought that it was possible she did not get job interviews because she didn’t have a college degree, noting that many of the jobs on Humann’s log required at least a bachelor’s. Humann replied that for many of the jobs, it was possible to substitute experience and background for some of required education and she believed that her 12 years in HR “would have value.”

Noting that Humann had said that she planned to stay in Edmonds until retirement and wasn’t applying for other jobs, Freeman then showed Humann and the jury three separate cover letters that she written for job openings – at Amazon, Landau and Associates, and Sound Transit – from April through July 2010. Humann said she didn’t recall writing any of them and since the letters themselves weren’t signed, Judge Marsha Pechman allowed them into evidence only to prove that Humann was thinking of applying for jobs, rather than actually applying for them.

Freeman asked if it were true that Humann had complained for some time “you didn’t like working for the City of Edmonds and you wanted to leave.”

“I think there are always good days and bad days on jobs,” Humann replied.

Freeman then asked if it were true that Humann had complained about her job to City Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, who replied “that government work wasn’t for everybody” and that Humann might want to consider leaving.

“You told her that you couldn’t leave because you didn’t have a degree and couldn’t make that level of money anywhere else?” Freeman asked Humann.

“I don’t believe I said that to her,” Humann replied.

After Freeman finished her cross examination, it was John Kugler’s turn. Kugler, who is representing ex-Mayor Cooper, started out by focusing on the job duties and performance of the mayor’s executive assistant, and confirmed with Humann that Cooper “never disputed that Ms. Cole was not in the office,” but that she was working full time on projects that he assigned to her.

Kugler asked Humann, “The mayor has authority to authorize employees working a flexible schedule, isn’t that true?” Humann replied that the only flex schedule followed at the city “were people who had evening meetings and then came in later the next morning.”

Humann said, “I don’t believe that (flex time) was ever explained or suggested (by Cooper) as a reason as to why she (Cole) wasn’t in the office.”

Under further questioning, Humann said she believes that city policy indicates “the majority of jobs are Monday through Friday, 8 to 5.” When shown a copy of the actual personnel policy that states “departments are allowed to establish regular work schedules including alternatives such as flex time…subject to the mayor’s approval,” Humann replied that “flextime does not mean not coming into the office.”

Kruger turned to Cooper’s statement issued to the press after Humann was fired that stated Cooper had no confidence in Humann’s ability to work with him – noting that the statement covered the general working relationship rather than the issue of Kim Cole’s work schedule and timesheets. Humann disagreed, stating that she believed that she and the mayor had a good working relationship outside of the Kim Cole issue.

Regarding Cooper’s statement to the press that Humann said ruined her reputation, Kruger noted that the statement was issued only after My Edmonds News asked him for a comment on Humann’s firing. Kruger then pointed out that Humann sent out her own press release after she was fired, stating her side of the story.

“It was the only ability I had to defend some of the allegations in the press,” Humann said.

Court is not in session on Friday and there also is no trial next Tuesday due to Veterans Day, a federal holiday.

When court resume Monday, Nov. 10, the following were mentioned as possible witnesses for the defense: Sharon Cates and Jeff Taraday from the Lighthouse Law Group, City HR manager Mary Ann Hardie; current Edmonds City Councilmembers Lora Petso, Diane Buckshnis and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, and former Councilmember Steve Bernheim.

— Reported by Teresa Wippel


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.