The Edmonds City Council during its Tuesday night business meeting unanimously extended the appointment of Acting Police Chief Jim Lawless for an additional six months while the city conducts a new national search for a police chief.
A long-time assistant chief, Lawless was appointed acting chief a year ago. Without the council’s action, his appointment would have expired Jan. 22. During a previous search, Lawless was one of two finalists for the permanent chief position that Mayor Mike Nelson ultimately offered to another candidate — Sauk Suiattle Tribal Chief Sherman Pruitt — but that offer — approved by the city council on a 4-3 vote — was withdrawn after discrepancies were discovered. Lawless announced last Thursday, Jan. 14, that he wouldn’t be applying again.
During the 12 months since Lawless’ acting chief appointment, Nelson started one national search, then — after that search was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic — stated that he intended to hire Lawless without a search. But the Edmonds City Council rejected that idea, so Nelson conducted a second search that produced two finalists: Lawless and Pruitt. After Nelson rescinded Pruitt’s job offer, he said he would conduct yet another search.
The mayor released a six-minute video on the Edmonds City Government Facebook page Jan. 14 announcing that the city has selected the Washington, D.C.-based International Association of Chiefs of Police to conduct the search. Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson told the council Tuesday night that the search process is estimated to take five months.
The cost of the search or how it is being funded has not yet been disclosed. During council discussion prior to voting on the contract extension, Councilmember Diane Buckshnis asked the mayor whether money was being carried over from the 2020 budget to pay for the new search.
“Councilmember, that is not an item on the agenda for discussion tonight,” Nelson replied, adding he was following Roberts Rules of Order in the matter.
Noting that the enquiry came from a citizen, Buckshnis replied that she would instead send an email requesting an answer.
Some councilmembers offered thanks to Lawless and members of the police department for their ongoing work despite the uncertainty surrounding the police chief leadership — and for the acting chief’s willingness to stay on in his role while the search is conducted.
“I just want to extend a lot of appreciation from the community to Acting Chief Lawless for taking that on,” said Councilmember Vivian Olson.
” I really do appreciate his (Lawless’) dedication to Edmonds and the work that he does,” added Council President Susan Paine.
Neill Hoyson also told the council that when she brings an employment contract back to the council, she would like to include a step increase in Lawless’ pay — which councilmembers supported.
The council spent the rest of the meeting wordsmithing proposed amendments to the draft Council Code of Conduct, then voted unanimously to place the code on next week’s consent agenda for approval.
The council also interviewed Richard Chung for appointment to a vacancy on the Edmonds Arts Commission, then confirmed him as part of the meeting’s consent agenda.
Late in the meeting, during council comments, Councilmember Olson — who had raised early concerns about domestic violence incidents in Pruitt’s background — offered a sharply-worded rebuke to Mayor Nelson’s statements during his Jan. 14 Facebook video, which comparing citizens’ angst over the police chief selection to the “dangerous divisiveness and polarization sweeping our nation.”
“The mayor expressed anger at the public’s anger…saying this is how far some people will go when they don’t get their way,” Olson said. “The public is not angry because they didnt get their way, Mr. Mayor, and with all due respect, they are angry that you wanted your way so badly that you are willing to suspend good judgment, violate six of the seven points in our code of ethics, and put our public safety at risk to get it. There is danger in false narratives and I feel the need to disrupt this one before it’s repeated over and over and eventually believed.”
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas countered that she appreciated the mayor’s message, as it explained the mayor’s thinking on the police chief search.
Paine agreed, adding that the selection of a new police chief “is an important decision.”
“I just want to remind everyone that we are all working with the best intentions and that’s something that’s very important for all of us to remember,” Paine added.
— By Teresa Wippel