Council agrees to extend Lawless’ acting police chief appointment during national search

Councilmember Vivian Olson, bottom row at right, speaks during Tuesday’s council meeting.

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— Sauk Suiattle Tribal Chief Sherman Pruitt — but that offer — approved by the city council on a 4-3 vote — was withdrawn after discrepancies were discovered.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 After Nelson rescinded Pruitt’s job offer, he said he would conduct yet another search.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

27 Replies to “Council agrees to extend Lawless’ acting police chief appointment during national search”

  1. The City’s website indicates the following Public Record Request was made yesterday:

    Reference No:
    R001243-011921

    Create Date:
    1/19/2021 12:15:41 PM

    Requestor:
    Sherman Pruitt

    Public Record Desired:
    I would like to request for any and all documents pertaining to City Council Members when they are elected into the position as a City Council Member to include the oath of office and the confidentiality documents. Thank you!

    Status:
    Assigned

    The Oath of Office documents have been provided but not the “confidentiality documents”.

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  2. Personally I want to thank Jim Lawless for his dedication to this City and the citizens of Edmonds. His integrity, strength and ability to rise above this corrupt marginalization is inspiring and I will forever be grateful to him for being a role model to all of us. Thank you, Jim, for being a realist and handling all this stress and shameful behaviors. As Michelle Obama said “when they go low, we go high”.

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  3. Chief Lawless, thank you. Thank you for being willing to extend, despite this goat rope.

    Ms. Paine, perhaps this next go-around you can include “best-fit, and best-qualified,” with your “best intentions.”

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    1. Interesting to see Susan Paine’s codependency which helps enable the mayor’s irresponsibility concerning the Chief’s appointment.

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  4. Thanks, Diane, Well said. And I commend Councilmember Olson as well for calling out the false narrative. There are matters that we need to deal with in our own little home town that are not driven in the least by some national narrative, but rather dissatisfaction with what appear to be bad decisions right here at home. And I would like to think we can deal with those and call those what they are – bad decisions – without blaming some larger issue or national discourse. On this one, it is sure hard not to feel some sense of small town loss by not having Jim Lawless as a candidate and having a DC firm (where everything works like a well-oiled machine, right?) come in and show us how to make things work. *sigh*

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  5. Conclusion of Councilmember Adrienne Fraley Monillas’ Council Comments, starting at the 2:34:50 minute mark of last night’s City Council Meeting:

    “That being said Mr. Mayor, I appreciate your video that you put out. I think there’s a lot of unethical behavior to roll around, particularly on this Council. And, I think that what you did to explain to people what you were thinking I think is an important thing for the citizens to understand and I thank you for it. And, some will like it, some will not like it. You know, it’s based on a whole lot of issues. Maybe some of them are based on personal views of perhaps where citizens lie when it comes to voting. But I do appreciate you putting it out and giving the citizens an opportunity to hear why you did what you did or why you are moving the way you are. So anyway, thank you very much.”

    No details were provided about unethical behavior.

    Earlier, Councilmember Luke Distelhorst had asked the HR Director about the time frame for the police chief search, something one could argue was not on the agenda. Mayor Nelson did nothing. Immediately after that, Councilmember Diane Buckshnis asked about the budget for the search and Mayor Nelson immediately cut her off, saying such was not on the agenda. Nobody had requested a Point of Order, so it is uncertain what caused the Mayor to act.

    I submitted public comment yesterday related to the 6-month extension of the acting appointment, pointing out that such is not allowed by our City Code. On a night where Council discussed a Code of Conduct that includes ensuring that all meeting participants feel welcome, nobody mentioned that public comment specific to the item being considered had been submitted.

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  6. Thank you to Council Member Olsen for her strong comments made at last night’s CC meeting. It is apparently a closed case for the Mayor, select Council members and HR Director, or so they hope. This apparent deceptiveness cannot just be given a “pass.” Olsen is correct- it is not about a few getting “their way,” but about ensuring an ethical process, and for the Mayor to simply lay it at the feet of a few people who are demanding transparency is, in my opinion, cowardly and/or elitist.
    We have not been given a full account of what happened and we have every right to demand it. If we cannot hold our local leaders accountable for what clearly appears to be unethical behavior, who can we? The Mayor continues to unfairly deflect, sowing division within our community.
    We demand to know: who was at fault?
    Did the HR Director act independently to hold back relevant disqualifying information from the Mayor and Council? If so, she needs to be removed from her position.
    At what point did the Mayor know of the disqualifying information? He must come clean.
    Were there others on the council who knew and withheld the disqualifying information?
    Why hasn’t Council member AFM apologized for her disparaging and inaccurate comments made about our city in a very public way? Does she feel she is beyond reproach? Did she operate in accordance with the council’s Code of Ethics?
    We will not stop asking questions until we know the full truth of this matter.
    Because, this is important!
    Those who did act in bad faith must take accountability for any unethical behavior, err in judgement, or just plain ineptitude because their constituents deserve the truth and will continue to demand it.
    Thanks to MEN for their diligent work.

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  7. I found it ironic (again from a fiscal standpoint) that the question was asked about the cost – and the Mayor shut that one down immediatly. Time has a cost. The discussion about the pay raise (much deserved) was a cost as well, and I would think that opened the door for other discussions on cost. Would be interesting again, to see, the cost of the new search.

    As far as the public records request goes – it will be interesting to see what comes out of that. To AFM’s comments, same stuff different day. There is always someone to blame.

    I do have to say it was interesting to hear the discussions on the Code of Ethics or Conduct. There was actual cohesion in the discussion. The pencil whipping got to be a bit much, but hell, I guess that is what is necessary in some cases.

    On another note, it was a great inauguration speech this morning – onward and upward!

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  8. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is time to consider why the majority of the Council and certainly the Mayor are so afraid of any debate on the issues. Why are the Majority dead set on not letting any other views be even discussed? If their agendas are worthy, surely they can withstand vigorous debate. The Mayor and Fraley Monillias will show up for any camera that appears. They will speak in the stead of marginalized groups, assuming they can speak for, and with a louder voice, than can those folks on their own. They assume they are welcome, even when the marginalized might rather not be a photo op. This is a small city. The City government has been terrible, and riddled with nonsense for years and years. Nelson didn’t get elected because he is great, he was elected because there were no good choices. He is very much enjoying power he doesn’t have but is happy to assume he does. He has fired the finance director, taken an NDA and never explained it. He threw Mr Pruitt under the bus after using him as he did.
    If policy requires that other voices be squelched, then it is not a policy worth having. We just got done seeing this play out on a national level. It works, but not for long and not without damage. And to those council members in the Majority, time to grow up and realize that even City politics is hard work, mostly boring. Your agendas may or may not work, but sidestepping open debate is never a good policy. You cannot cry good intentions and then not even listen to the minority, that is not good intentions by definition.

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  9. This whole thing is beyond sad and disgusting. I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel totally disrespected by the Mayor and most of the Council as their constituent. Just as I predicted earlier, Pruitt will sue; Edmonds will settle out of court with poor legal council; and the mayor and council will waste more funds in an unnecessary national search for a new chief. All of which could have been prevented with a little common sense and good management by our elected officials and HR staff. I support any and all efforts to scrap this mess of a city government and try something new. When you give one individual 90% of the trump cards, it just doesn’t work. Too much temptation to dominate with little need to listen to good advice.

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  10. Could someone please explain what we would need to do if we wanted to recall the mayor? And also relate who would be mayor if the recall was successful?

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  11. I hope when the city council and the miserable mayor waste the tax payers money on a nationwide search for a police chief, they say no white qualified male need apply. We are only looking for a minority. Is this not reverse discrimination? Has anyone noticed the dedication of Chief Lawless? He has been pushed and pulled by a mayor who cannot make a good decision. Thank you Chief Lawless for staying, and guiding the police department through this difficult year. My hopes that this matter would be resolved ended last night. Tacoma replaced their police chief in 3 months They promoted their assistant chief. After a year of poor decisions by our mayor, we still do not have a chief. Now it will be many more months and the costs will be in the thousands. We will then end up with a police chief that knows nothing of our fine city. We can only hope we don’t end up like Seattle. Who has been ruined by their city council and mayor.

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  12. Thank you to Councilmember Olsen for her continued courage and commitment to the truth in this matter. She spoke for much of our community when voicing her reaction to the mayor’s earlier video statement:
    “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 didn’t 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.” Good leaders attempt to listen and learn from their skeptics and critics, hard as that may be, rather than angrily dismiss them as partisan opposition. There is clearly a need for much more listening and far less dismissing in this administration’s reaction to the bi-partisan community uproar over this police chief issue – especially from a mayor who prioritized communications and transparency as campaign issues.

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      1. I was referring to the mayor’s comment, blaming any objection to his actions on the national political environment. It is pretty clear that local citizens of all backgrounds are expressing themselves, independent of national politics. We have some great comments here and none of them promote deflection. The mayor’s words are intended to end the conversation. We are heading toward mass censorship in the country and Edmonds needs to resist that weak minded impulse.

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        1. My question is the Mayor going to thank the Citizens of Edmonds for not burning down stuff and breaking windows for not being progressive enough – seems that the expectation of mass riots and alt-right disruption (not downplaying the horrible attack on the Nation’s Seat of Government by these groups) did not play out as planned – instead, it was leftist extremism that reared its ugly head in Seattle and Portland.

          Political pandering to either side of the spectrum is dangerous and generally unsuccessful in our Democracy. Not highlighting the failures of both extremes to bring about change is just as bad.

          I am glad that I live in a town where vibrant debate can take place with limited vitriol and divisive speech in the conversation – and I think we all should continue to step back, look at where we live, and continue the dialogue followed by fiscally responsible actions.

          Both Portland and Seattle extreme activists rioted, and albeit limited at best – I am glad that is not what we stand for (on either side of the spectrum) in Edmonds.

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        2. Thanks for the explanation, Glen. In my opinion, there has been a “dangerous divisiveness and polarization sweeping our nation”, and, again my opinion, it has become worse because our former president nurtured and “fanned the flames” of that divide (probably goes without saying that I am NOT a Trump supporter). That said, I agree with you, Glen: what Mayor Nelson and Ms. Fraley-Monillas (both of whom I voted for) are missing is that it is not Trump supporters alone who are upset about how our city government is being operated, nor is it Trump supporters alone who want them both out of office. They are tone deaf to what people are saying and they’ve dug into their narrative, taking a few impressionable (I’m being generous) council members down the path with them. Nelson will not resign, and neither will Fraley-Monillas; neither is capable of resigning. Deflection appears to be their go-to communication-ending style, and each is convinced they have done nothing wrong. It is always, and will always be someone else’s fault, which, to me, sounds disturbingly familiar to someone who recently boarded a big helicopter headed to Florida.

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  13. I can’t believe the media and other hateful people have pitted neighbor against neighbor and they’re getting away with it. We’re the same people we were five years ago. This is an incredibly nice town and I have no intention of being dragged into this game that’s being played.

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    1. Glen, I hope the reference to neighbors being pitted against one another wasn’t sparked by my comment. What I meant to convey is that even though we have a difference of opinion on who we’d like to have as our president, we are in agreement about our current mayor and council. It was not my intention to discount the opinion of anyone else, just speak for myself. If my words seemed disrespectful, I apologize. And another thing we agree on: this IS an incredibly nice town!

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      1. Annon,
        No apology necessary. There are an endless number of views and I hope we can all move past defining or being defined by one being on the planet. I can’t figure out how this happened. No one figure should have this much influence. It seems every topic is centered around someone who is seldom involved. Concerning the mayor, he would have done himself and us a huge service by simply saying he made a mistake and his handling of the search process treated everyone involved unfairly.

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  14. Excuse me, but why would Chief Lawless need to reapply? He was a qualified candidate and selected for the job, only to have the offer withdrawn. He has acted for over a year in good faith, meeting the requirements of the job. Why is this position being reopened. Offer him the position and get on with it. I think there are already enough potential lawsuits that Edmonds can’t afford another wasteful Nationwide search. We are a small community in a large Metropolitan area that has spent over a year on filling this position, wasted untold amounts of money, created an incredible amount of ill will and still can’t make an appointment. Who are we? Really. I can’t believe this mess.

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    1. I hope we figure out who we are pretty quick. I agree Edmonds can do it…but we are going to need to be more respectful of others opinions and make lots of compromises…for the well being of ALL in Edmonds.

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  15. The Edmonds city council E-mails and text messages on the COP position between council members and the mayor and his staff are starting to be released under the public records act. They were requested in early December and are slowly being released over the next 3 weeks. Many are blacked out by the city attorney. Go to the city of Edmonds government page and then the city clerk, click on public record archives link. as we say follow the money or in this case follow the e-mail trail.
    https://edmondswa.mycusthelp.com/WEBAPP/_rs/(S(at2xtmvfucq3dba53toaeoxv))/supporthome.aspx
    Fred Gouge

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