Council approves contracted social worker; debates reimbursement for police chief search document

 

Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson, bottom right, discusses with councilmembers the matrix of considerations for a contractor vs. an in-house social worker.

Story updated to clarify the amount requested for reimbursement was $337 rather than $307.

The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night agreed with a city staff recommendation to contract with a human services agency to provide a social worker rather than hire an employee to do the work.

Councilmembers also began going through amendments to the city’s just-passed tree code, although ran out of time and agreed to continue the effort at a later date. And they engaged in a sometimes heated discussion — also continued to a later, yet-to-be-determined meeting — about whether Councilmember Vivian Olson should be reimbursed for the $337 she spent to obtain a 67-page court document as part of her research into the background of former police chief candidate Sherman Pruitt.

Regarding the social worker, the council had approved adding the position as part of the $500,000 allocated in the 2021 budget for a new human services department. At the top end of the salary range, the social worker would cost the city an estimated $130,000, which includes benefits. However, while discussing a job description for the position two weeks ago, councilmembers agreed they had not yet landed on whether the position should be a contractor associated with an existing agency or an in-house employee.

On Tuesday night, Edmonds Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson shared with the council a matrix outlining the considerations when comparing the contractor and employee models: service levels, peer/professional support, supervision, cost, liability considerations and organizational culture.

One of the most pressing priorities in establishing a human services program, Hoyson said, is for the city to gather data on the needs and gaps in Edmonds. Contracting with a human services agency to supply a social worker will give the city a year to establish a long-term plan and structure for the program, and at that point the city can determine whether to continue to contract for services or hire an employee, she said. She stressed that the city would be contracting with an individual — an “Edmonds-dedicated person that happens to be under the oversight of a separate human services agency.”

Other advantages of contracting, at least for the short term, include:

– Services can begin very quickly once a contract is executed.

– It will ensuring greater coverage levels — ensuring that someone is available on evenings and weekends.

– The city can tap into the established structure and resources of the agency, with ready access to other social workers and support staff.

– Supervision would be provided by the agency, including review of casework to meet standards.

– Contracting would be less costly than a direct hire, allowing more money to be allocated to the city’s human services program.

– A staff hire would require the city to purchase liability coverage, and that employee’s interactions would be subject to public disclosure. Contracting would transfer the liability to the contracted agency.

– The one potential downside in contracting is that it may take longer for the contractor to become familiar with the city’s “institutional culture and expectations.” However, Hoyson said that can be addressed by ensuring the contractor is on-site at the city for a majority of the work day.

After the presentation and a brief discussion, councilmembers voted 6-0 to move forward with the contracting model. (Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, who was present earlier in the meeting, was absent when this vote was taken.)

The topic of reimbursement requested by Councilmember Olson stems from her decision in early December to request testimony that then-police chief candidate Sheman Pruitt gave during a lawsuit against the City of Arlington, in which Pruitt admitted to past instances of domestic violence. As My Edmonds News previously reported, in those documents Pruitt testified that an arrest warrant was issued against him, then later dropped; he testified that as a member of the Marine Corps, he was served with a military “no contact order” and that his commander had ordered him to 16 weeks of counseling. Eventually, a federal judge dismissed that 2009 lawsuit in a summary judgement, ruling in favor of Arlington.

Concerned that such a lawsuit might be a “red flag” for his hiring by a city, Olson contacted HR Director Hoyson, and said that Hoyson assured her that the city was doing an enhanced background check and that Pruitt was “thoroughly vetted.” However, when Olson was told the city didn’t have the actual court documents for her or other councilmembers to review, she spent $337 of her own money to obtain them.

The council ended up confirming Mayor Mike Nelson’s nomination of Pruitt as police chief on a 4-3 vote Dec. 8. Nelson withdrew his employment offer to Pruitt a week later, based on the fact Pruitt eliminated “relevant details from his application materials” — he forgot to list his application for a Lake Stevens police officer job 10 years earlier.

In late December, Olson submitted a request to then-Council President Fraley-Monillas that she be reimbursed for the court document purchase. Under city policy, the city reimburses its employees and elected or appointed officials “for reasonable expenses incurred conducting city business providing the expenses are prudent and directly related to the individual’s service on behalf of the city.”

Fraley-Monillas denied the request.

Then in January, Olson made the same request of new Council President Susan Paine, who also denied the reimbursement. On Tuesday night, Councilmember Diane Buckshnis asked that the issue be discussed under new business. City code states that the council president audits expense claims and signs off on them,  and any denial has the opportunity to come to the full council for review.

During the council discussion that followed, Fraley-Monillas called Olson’s efforts to examine Pruitt’s background “a witch hunt” based solely on the fact that he is African-American. “So frankly I think it (the request) was inappropriate,” she said. Fraley-Monillas and other councilmembers who had originally voted to confirm Pruitt Dec. 8 also said Tuesday night they believed that Olson’s efforts went beyond her role as a councilmember, stating that such work should be left to the city’s human resources professional, who had assured councilmembers he had been properly vetted.

“Ms. Olson wanted to see what this person had done in the past and made the person guilty whether they were or weren’t,” Fraley-Monillas said. “And that’s why I denied it (the reimbursement) because it is not a councilmember’s business. This was the HR Department’s business to take a look.”

Councilmember Laura Johnson said that “it’s hard to overlook the appearance of bias” in Olson’s request, since she didn’t “take the same measures…when were vetting other director positions.”

“I’m not an HR professional, I’m not a legal professional, I don’t have the training required to handle the multitude of considerations when conducting this type of intensive background check, and to the best of my knowledge, neither do any of my fellow councilmembers,” Johnson said.

Laura Johnson also said she was “very concerned that if we were to approve this unauthorized expense, it would not only interfere with the work of trained professionals and we’re dipping into an administrative function but more importantly, I think it would set a dangerous precedence with regard to liabilty concerns.” Councilmember Luke Distelhorst said he also shared the concern about the possible liabilities the city would incur if the expense were approved.

Council President Paine said she denied Olson’s claim because it “was not a part of council’s typical responsibilities, that this function is normally done through the administrative offices. And as it’s been mentioned before…does put the city at a level of liability and risk.”

Councilmembers Kristiana Johnson and Diane Buckshnis, who voted along with Olson against confirming Pruitt Dec. 8  — in part over concerns about the court documents she had uncovered — spoke Tuesday night in support of Olson’s reimbursement request.

Kristiana Johnson then asked City Attorney Jeff Taraday for his thoughts on the matter. While Taraday said he wouldn’t offer a personal opinion on whether the expense should be reimbursed, he called the council confirmation power “very significant,” comparing it to the confirmation power in the U.S. Senate.

“In exercising that power, the council is not required to trust the mayor or the mayor’s staff with regard to nominations that come forward,” Taraday said. “If the council was required to trust the mayor or the mayor’s staff, there would be no point in exercising any confirmation power. You would just give the mayor complete power to make appointments without confirmation, which many cities do.”

In determining whether to vote to confirm, each councilmember is given no guidance on how to vote, the city attorney said. “It’s entirely up to each of your legislative discretion.”

Taraday suggested the question councilmembers should be asking “is not whether you as an individual councilmember would have spent this money or gone to the trouble of acquiring this transcript. That’s not really I don’t think relevant. And similarly I don’t think it’s relevant as to whether you agree that this money was needed to be spent.” Councilmembers can state that the transcript was unnecessary, that they wouldn’t read it, or find it helpful, and that they preferred to rely on the human resources director. “You can believe all those things and still believe that the councilmember requesting the reimbursement was performing her role as a councilmember,” Taraday said.

Regarding the issue of whether approving the reimbursement would leave the city open to liability, “I’m not sure that’s germane to the request unless there’s a criteria that we only reimburse expenses when there’s no risk associated with the expense — and that doesn’t appear to be in the council’s adopted policy,” Taraday said. “The criteria is whether the expenses are prudent and directly related to the individual’s service on behalf of the city.”

After more discussion, the council voted to table the issue until a future meeting.

4th Avenue Cultural Corridor sketches presented at Tuesday night’s meeting.

In other business, the council also heard more about possible concepts for development of the 4th Avenue Cultural Corridor, a stretch of roadway from Main Street to the Edmonds Center for the Arts. The public was surveyed on preferred concepts last year, and councilmembers talked more about those ideas. However, councilmembers agreed that they wanted more time to review the ideas, and staff agreed to return at a future time for more discussion and council direction. You can review the staff presentation — including survey results — here.

You can view a video recording of the council meeting at this link.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

 

 

 

18 Replies to “Council approves contracted social worker; debates reimbursement for police chief search document”

  1. I think it a good idea for City Council to refer to MRSC’s Mayor and Councilmember Handbook, specifically Chapter 6: The job of a councilmember. Councilmembers should not be uncertain about the relationship between City Staff and City Council. City Staff, including Human Resources, does not work for the City Council. City Council itself has a staff of one person, the Executive assistant to council. See ECC 2.03.010.

    For years I have pointed out the problem of false, misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete information provided to City Council in front of decisions. For example, see my Public Comments documented in the July 21, 2020 City Council Meeting Minutes. I continue to encourage City Council to provide citizens more information about the tool of reconsideration to fight back against the provision of false, misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete information to City Council.

    I have also pushed for the keeping of a record of what is represented to City Council in Executive Session.

    Based on my Public Comments and numerous emails to Councilmembers on this topic, I cannot imagine a scenario where an Edmonds Councilmember would not be aware that they need to be on alert for false, misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete information in front of their votes. I believe City Council has a duty to consider whether they have been provided false, misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete information. When they believe such may have taken place, I believe it very reasonable for a councilmember to seek the information they were not provided.

    At the 1:36:36 mark of last night’s meeting, councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas stated the following:
    “I believe that Council isn’t responsible to find these issues out. I think that HR is responsible to find these issues.”

    I disagree. I think Council is very responsible to seek complete information prior to a vote.

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    1. I support Vivan Olson’s request for reimbursement of research expenses related to the Police Chief confirmation process. It is the responsibility of the City Council members to confirm or deny confirmation and that requires knowledge of the issue to be voted upon. If a staff person is not responsible to provide that information, then it is the responsibility of the Council member to do their homework and that should NOT be their financial responsibility. Why would a Council member continue in a responsible manner if they are penalized for it. Would you expect reimbursement for an essential expense to do your job?
      I find AFM’s response to this request offensive and inappropriate.

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    2. RCW 40.16.030: Offering false instrument for filing or record.
      [Search domain app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=40.16.030] https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=40.16.030
      Every person who shall knowingly procure or offer any false or forged instrument to be filed, registered, or recorded in any public office, which instrument, if genuine, might be filed, registered or recorded in such office under any law of this state or of the United States, is guilty of a class C felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in a state correctional facility for not more than five years, or by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars, or by both.

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  2. It is unfortunate that the basis for denying reimbursement to Council Member Olson seems to be that she was correct, and those who voted against her were wrong, and now she is being punished for proving they were wrong. Will none of the four council members who were wrong take the high road and admit their error and do the right thing?

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    1. Tom – those members are too worried about the City taking on risk and liabilities! What risk? What liabilities? Does that even make sense in this context? According to the City attorney – no, no it doesn’t. Apparently doing the job of a City Council is just too risky for some of our council members.

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      1. Nathan,
        To the best of my knowledge, none of our current Councilmembers holds a law degree. Yet, they opined during last evening’s Council meeting about the potential legal repercussions of reimbursing a fellow Councilmember for obtaining information directly relevant to the wisdom of voting to confirm a new chief of police. It isn’t clear where they received their legal advice—it doesn’t appear that advice came from our city attorney. At a minimum, the Councilmembers should disclose the source of the legal advice they relied on to support their positions. And if they received no such legal advice, they should retract their statements about legal liability.

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  3. This is just another example of how our strong mayor/weak council system simply doesn’t work very well for all the citizens and facilitating the real transparency of government actions. The mayoral position is simply too powerful and the need for the staff to please the mayor ends up being a never ending malignant growth; messing up the entire process as the council tries to make educated financial decisions in the best interest of all the people. When the independent council people ask the truly tough questions, the mayor and his favored pals on the council simply tell the truth seekers to “buzz off.” It’s totally broken and not fixable as it stands.

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  4. As a former teacher, it is mind-boggling to me that any Council member would be discouraged from or chastised for seeking information beyond what is supplied by city staff. Seeking as much information as possible should be the norm of informed decision-making, not the exception. I also hope that no city staff person would feel threatened or disrespected by a Council member conducting additional research but would recognize that our city benefits when decisions are made based on the fullest and most accurate information possible.

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  5. I so agree with all of these previous comments. I watched the meeting last night and was absolutely appalled at the comments made by several of the council members, but most especially the slanderous and accusatory remarks made by Ms. Fraley-Monillas. I am embarrassed that she represents Edmonds in any way. There was so much justification behind the remarks of others, sour grapes for being called to account. I think the city attorney and Ms. Buckshins presented a clear path forward. The only “witch hunt” going on is being led by AFM and the other three….Paine, Johnson and Distelhorst are hiding behind a false narrative of fear of liability, accusations of racism, all because they were proved wrong. It was so offensive and they should all be ashamed of themselves. They are very poor representatives of Edmonds.

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  6. More disgusting race baiting untrue statements by Ms. Frayley-Monilles. She is an embarrassment to Edmonds. The vote was just to punish Olson for revealing the incompetence in the Mayor’s vetting process. City Attorney made it clear Council acts independent of Mayor when vetting candidates for confirmation and are free to seek out information about candidates independently. This gang of left wing nuts need to go.

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  7. So let me see if I have this right. Council Member Fraley-Monillas, you are accusing Council Member Olson of engaging in a “witch hunt” that was racially based when she sought out a public record that contained admissions of past domestic violence by your police chief candidate? And then Council Member Lora Johnson, you accuse Council Member Olson of an appearance of bias in her actions, asking where she had taken similar measure with vetting other director positions? And Council Member Distelhorst and Council Member Paine, the two of you are now concerned about the liability of the City should the expense be approved? Have I got all this right? Let me remind you that the four of you – Fraley-Monillas, Lora Johnson, Distelhorst, and Paine – went ahead anyway and confirmed a police chief candidate who had not one – but two – self admitted admissions of domestic violence in the official court record that Council Member Olson procured as part of her due diligence. The reason she had to do that was because the mayor and human resources director failed miserably in their jobs of vetting a police chief candidate. And the four of you – Fraley-Monillas, Lora Johnson, Distelhorst, and Paine – at Mayor Nelson’s behest went ahead and confirmed a police chief candidate with admitted domestic violence incidents in his background. And Council Member Lora Johnson if there were pertinent background issues in cases of other director positions, wouldn’t the prudent thing be to thoroughly vet those issues as well? How can you possibly deny domestic violence in the background of any law enforcement officer?
    More to follow in next post below —-

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  8. continued from above post –

    No, Council Member Olson was not on a witch hunt. She did the due diligence that the four of you either failed to do or were willing to overlook in the quest to confirm the mayor’s police chief candidate. Council Member Olson should not only reimbursed her $337, she should be applauded for following through with her due diligence. Council Members Olson’s actions exemplify risk management for the city by bringing to light background issues in a police chief candidate that never should have been confirmed. The four of you- Fraley-Monillas, Lora Johnson, Distlehorst, and Paine – and Mayor Nelson failed miserably in your obligations as elected officials to uphold your Oath of Office and to look after the management interests of the City of Edmonds.

    As a registered nurse who worked in emergency rooms and intensive care units I witnessed first hand the tragedy of domestic violence. The victims of domestic violence are not only men and women, they include children who are often caught in the middle and suffer immediate physical harm but also long term psychological damage. I find the actions of you four Council Members – Fraley-Monillas, Lora Johnson, Distlehorst, Paine, and Mayor Nelson – unconscionable, hypocritical, and completely lacking in your responsibility to our city and ALL – men, women, and children – the people you were elected to serve.

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  9. Saying this knowing they can’t, won’t and dont deny it…
    Fraley-Monillas is a racist.
    Luke Distelhorst is a racist.
    Mike Nelson is a racist.
    Laura Johnson is a racist.

    If any of the above denies this, I fully recant this comment and will pay for Vivian Olson’s cost out of my own pocket.

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  10. On-site social worker? People needing to speak with a Social Worker about something confidential is less likely to utilize City of Edmonds City Buildings, and ask to see the social worker. It would be liking wearing a sign for all to see. Edmonds can play innocent but numerous people who could use the service won’t go. A more anonymous building used for many purposes would be more practical. Also for client contact info, Edmonds government email address and phone number, not a good idea, but the agency, (one would hope Edmonds is working with the well established programs of Snohomish County) will guide in boundaries. The City still does not need a human services department and may cause more harm than good. At least it is contracting out! Even the current Human Services Manager position, duties, reporting, work, contacting, etc. is at great liable risk for the City.

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  11. Checks and balances. That’s the system we live in, and thankfully so. The City Council has an obligation to hold the mayor and city staff accountable. To fulfill this obligation, at times they need to verify what the administration tells them and not take it just at face value. Hence, what council member Olsen did was what we expect all our council members to do; trust but verify. So it’s well within her duties to have taken a proactive approach and should not only be reimbursed for her expenses but commended for her action. With so many important issues that we face, it’s hard to imagine the City Council taking precious time to debate this as opposed to working on what matters.

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  12. With so many speaking out, maybe there is hope for Edmonds Politics. Edmonds Citizens have been putting their necks outs for decades (and longer) trying for gov’t balance. It is refreshing to see new names and the regulars speaking for Council Members’ due diligence.

    It is possible for Edmonds’ Staff to present accurate, timely, thorough (available to date), information to Council Members. Staff could empower Council to review well organized, referenced and prioritized recommendations.

    In the past years, Council has been highly professional in not publicly criticizing Staff’s presentations. Council has given hours if not multiple meetings on portions of presentations, when Council could have sent the presentations back for more work. There is an ongoing theme by Staff, with an explanation of, it will hold something up if it isn’t passed now.

    The Mayors have not been holding Staff accountable for a necessary level of professionalism for the Councils’ packets and presentations. The Council has been stuck because the Mayor holds the Council at bay from Staff Performance. The Mayoral position is often working with the heads of the departments to push through Staff’s Presentations.

    When L. Johnson, Paine and then Distelhorst came on, adding to Monillas, the other City Councilors were to refrain from upsetting the Staff. Monillas made it quite clear she would handle workloads with the Counselors’ assistant.

    This is when the new wave of Council code of conduct would began. Monillas repeatedly stated Counsel Peers would have majority vote. Even “Agreeing to Disagree” was considered inappropriate conduct.

    Many citizens don’t read all the comments. Maybe drum up conversation as to if they read MEN. Kindly get your voices out in additional ways. With this Wacky Weather, Who Knows… Maybe Edmonds can change for the better

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  13. As an attorney, I advised and defended municipal governments across the state for 45 years, including the City of Edmonds. I can think of no basis for liability concerns for Council Members or the City of Edmonds for the Council to reimburse Council Member Olson for obtaining a transcript of a public trial involving Mr. Pruitt. These are public proceedings and his sworn testimony as a witness in the trial of his and his wife’s lawsuit against Arlington police department and the current Arlington Police Chief. For unknown reasons Mayor Nelson, his HR director and Council Member Frayley-Monilles did not want the testimony regarding Mr. Pruitt’s domestic violence history to be made public. They found someone they deemed to be racially desired and ignored or failed to reveal the troubling facts exposed in his trial testimony given under oath on penalty of perjury.
    Bravo to Council Member Olson for her courage to seek out and put these facts in the record. Shame on the Gang of Four ( Fralley-Monilles, Distelhorst, Johnson and Paine) for their false allegations of racism and meritless concerns about liability in their denial of reimbursement to Council Member Olson for bringing forth the truth. Thank God she had the courage to do so.

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  14. Residents of Edmonds, please do not let this matter of reimbursement for pertinent documents be pushed to the side and forgotten as the majority of Council would like to have happen. Councilmember Olson was simply doing her job to make sure she had all the facts before making a decision. Trust but verify. That’s what I want in someone who serves on council. Don’t you? Please speak up tonight at the council meeting.

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