Due diligence or implied bias? Council divided over $337 reimbursement for police chief records

The Edmonds City Council debates the reimbursement during its March 9, 2021 meeting.

$337 is not a lot of money. But $337 is the flashpoint that ignited an inflammatory and seemingly endless debate in Edmonds City Council.

“I think this was a witch hunt.”

—Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas


“It’s hard to overlook the position of bias.”

–Councilmember Laura Johnson 


“I’ve been slandered tonight, and I’ve been accused of bias and I just want that to be on the record.”

–Councilmember Vivian Olson

The $337 is not the real story. The story is the internal council battle that, for the last several months, has pitted members against one another; much of it focused on the debate over a new police chief.

Police Chief Search

In early December, Councilmember Vivian Olson spent $337 of her own money to get copies of testimony in a federal lawsuit that raised questions about the experience and past behavior of Sherman Pruitt, one of the two candidates for Edmonds chief last year.

She distributed copies to all councilmembers and the mayor just before the confirmation vote on Pruitt. Olson insists she was concerned because the city’s Human Resources department did not have those documents and she felt the council should consider the information before the Pruitt vote.

That never happened. Four councilmembers (Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Susan Paine, Luke Distelhorst and Laura Johnson) claimed the city and the human resources department already knew about and vetted that information and said nothing in the documents prevented Pruitt’s hiring. Three others (Olson, Diane Buckshnis and Kristiana Johnson) said they and human resources did not have the documents until Olson provided them.

In the federal testimony, Pruitt admitted being involved in past incidents of domestic violence. Edmonds police hiring regulations state that “any domestic violence incident,” not just a conviction, is an “automatic disqualifier’ for any officer’ (to be hired).

The council never publicly discussed the documents; a motion to discuss them in executive session failed on a 4-3 vote. In early December, Fraley-Monillas and Mayor Mike Nelson had agreed to move up the confirmation vote by a week, and the Council (4-3) confirmed Pruitt as chief. Just days later, Nelson rescinded the offer. He did not cite the court testimony as a reason for doing so.

March 2021 Council Debate

Federal court invoice

Olson then submitted her $337 invoice to the council to be reimbursed, which is allowed by city code. The debate erupted. Last December, 2020 Council President Fraley-Monillas refused to accept the reimbursement, saying she, as council president, had not authorized the expense  In March, Olson submitted it again. “I don’t find this reasonable or prudent,” said Fraley-Monillas at the March 9 council session. “This is HR work and not the work of a councilmember.” Monillas also said that such background work “was not brought up until the person was chosen to be the first person of color to be Edmonds police chief.”

Olson argued the documents had nothing to do with race but were part of the “due diligence” that any councilmember is entitled to do to vet appointments. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis supported her. Councilmembers “have had many respectful disagreements,” acknowledged Buckshnis, “but there has been precedent, and the (council) finance committee recommended to pay it and move on.”

Councilmember Laura Johnson interjected: “If we were to approve and reimburse this unauthorized expense, it would interfere with the work of trained professionals and we’re dipping into an administrative function; but more importantly, it would set a dangerous precedent with respect to liability.”

Current Council President Susan Paine had also refused to authorize payment. She argued that there had been no prior approval by the council president as required, and that “it is not a part of council’s typical responsibility… this presentation does put the city at a level of liability and risk.”

Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said, “HR knew about this information, but it was not shared” (with some councilmembers). “I really credit Councilmember Olson,” she added, “for doing this research and bringing to the council.”

Councilmember Luke Distelhorst also rejected support for the payment, in part because, “it does include potential liability (for the city) as I understand it”.

Monillas alleged that, “I think this (Olson’s information) has created a lot of issues in the Black community. In my personal opinion, and this is my opinion,” she added, “I think this was a witch hunt. And I don’t mean that it was a ‘witch’ witch hunt as I believe this was looking for problems that could occur.”

Countered Olson, “I object to being painted, as I was by Councilmember Monillas in terms of digging for dirt; when I found this, it seemed like a stone that should be turned over.”

City Attorney Jeff Taraday was asked for his legal opinion. “The council,” he said, “is not required to trust the mayor or the mayor’s staff with recommendations that have come forward.” The issue, Taraday said, is that councilmembers should ask “Not whether you would have spent the money or gone to the trouble to acquire the information. It is not relevant whether you agree that this money needed to be spent.”

Explained Taraday, “It’s clearly money spent in the course of the council member doing their duty,” and that the member requesting reimbursement “is doing so out of good faith.” He also said he is not sure the issue of liability is germane to the reimbursement, that he had “no reason to believe that’s an issue.”

That didn’t resolve a thing. Councilmembers delayed a vote to the April meeting.

April 2021 Council Debate

During the April 20 Council meeting, Fraley-Monillas leveled a new accusation: “Has Pruitt’s information been provided as to the objections he has, to the council?”

Olson shot back: “Pruitt objects to me as a council member being reimbursed?”

Monillas: “He has an objection because he believes Ms. Olson has implied bias and every aspect of what she did had to do with his color.” Then, she told the council, “I know he has spoken with the HR director.”

But City Attorney Taraday tells My Edmonds News that is not so. “The administration has not had any discussions with Mr. Pruitt,” Taraday wrote in an email, “since he was disqualified in December 2020. Furthermore, the city attorney’s office is not aware of any pending threat of litigation from Mr. Pruitt and has not been engaged in any negotiations or other discussions with him.”

So, back to square one. Councilmember Olson believes she is entitled to her $337.  The issue will come back on a future council agenda, but no date has been set.

— By Bob Throndsen

    1. Council member Olson should be reimbursed the money for paying attention and doing her job. This whole issue regarding the Police Chief was very poorly handled by the Mayor and some council members. Edmonds had someone with excellent credentials and experience and who knew the community. Policing is a tough job but our community will not attract the kind of Police Chief it needs unless some council members use a bit of common sense. We do not want to end up like Seattle. This is not about race but quality of your character and due diligence for your community.

    1. Ms. Olson – please find counsel and sue Moliinas as she clearly us acting outside her authority and mind. I am happy to assist finding someone to assist you.

  1. I applaud Councilmember Olson for doing her homework. It takes fortitude to look at the facts and even more to speak up when you are outnumbered. Would someone please explain to me how someone admitting to something under oath in a court of law is not cause for alarm?

  2. There was critical information that we did not have without councilmember Olson. Meanwhile AFM is more interested in being petty then actually doing her job.

    This election is pretty badly needed to get people who will take their position seriously.

    1. I am truly disappointed in our City Council. This was an embarrassing episode in our towns history. City Council President AFM should step down. This is not high school. I don’t know what her motives are but she is not a good representative of our city. The other three members who keep backing her are also very disappointing. Will probably not vote for any of them again.

  3. Yes it sure is. I am shocked by all of this lieing and double talk. Maybe it’s time to clear out the whole bunch since we can only assume who the liars and cheaters are. We must have a council that is trustworthy. We can’t have voting on things changed at last minute….that is called sneaky.
    Maybe it’s time we all know what parties these members support. We can guess a bit. But it sure isn’t bi- partisan…So..we need to know.
    I am not going to mention names this time. Liars know if they are liars, unless they are psychotic. So, you know who you are. We have a pretty good idea. So maybe you should just bow out gracefully, while you still have some respect and dignity left. That is what I would do.

  4. It’s always about the coverup. The race card? How original. There is zero chance I will vote for anyone who doesn’t put the community before their politics. AFM would have been wise to make this go away quickly.

  5. I was so encouraged by the letter Ms. Paine and Ms. Johnson wrote about Save Our Saturdays. I thought it was a good sign that each of them was starting to think independently. I hoped that they were beginning to see how they’ve been used and manipulated by two toxic individuals. I am extremely disappointed in these council members, and I must now conclude that Paine, Johnson and Distelhorst all agree with Fraley-Monillas that violence against women is merely something “silly” men do. To deny Ms. Olsen reimbursement for the information she obtained is offensive. The fact that Mr. Pruitt objects to Ms. Olsen is not a surprise. He’s using intimidation and deflection, and I would submit that it’s because she’s a woman. He brought this on himself when he chose violence; it has NOTHING to do with the color of his skin. The council should be thanking Ms. Olsen, admitting they were wrong putting their support behind someone who is clearing not qualified for the job, and moving on. I guess that’s too much to ask.

  6. The high school student council should be given a chance to debate and vote on this simple issue of reimbursement. The Edmonds-Woodway student Council would probably be more than happy to do it.
    Record the whole debate. And the resolution. Then give it to our polarized council to learn from it. Take some pointers.
    How I see it? Buckshinis has polarized her little group of conservatives against the more liberal group of AFM. And vice versa.
    Boot out both…..and maybe the mayor. We need a change.

    1. “Maybe” the Mayor”? Surely you are not serious? Not “Maybe”, but First and foremost get rid of Mayor Mike Nelson, Adrienne FM, Luke, and the others that follow them!

  7. The denial of reimbursement to Olson is not logical. Here we have an elected official diligently doing their job by collecting facts that help all Council members to make an informed decision. The squad of 4 (Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Susan Paine, Luke Distelhorst and Laura Johnson) not only refused to use that information to make an informed decision, but also refuse to reimburse the person that has done the work of obtaining that information for them. Instead, they label her due-diligence as “racist” and outside her authority.
    NO, this is SO wrong!!!
    AFM is either lying about Pruitt wanting to deny Olson reimbursement or she is having communication with Pruitt that is inappropriate. Either one is despicable behavior.
    If HR did not do their job by obtaining and sharing the information with the Council, then they didn’t do their job.
    As a voter, I want Council members like Olson that are willing to do the work, conduct research and make hard decisions for our community.
    Please reimburse her expenses.

  8. It is not racist or biased to look into the background of an applicant for police chief. The only person responsible for what is found in that background check is the applicant. It is racist and biased to presume that to get a candidate of color, we have to accept an applicant whose history cannot stand up to a background check.

  9. This continues to be a scab that keeps getting picked off and made worse by members of our city council who are not putting the best interests of the citizens first. It’s clear that council member Olson is entitled to reimbursement – both legally and ethically. To those council members who were concerned about potential legal liability with authorizing reimbursement, the city attorney has nullified that argument by saying, “he is not sure the issue of liability is germane to the reimbursement, that he had “no reason to believe that’s an issue.” So take the L and move on for all of our benefit. There are so many lessons to be learned from this experience for all involved but continuing to feud over $337 is not the way our city will grow and improve.

  10. The role of an effective city council member is listening to constituents and performing due diligence before making decisions. Vivian Olson should be commended for her efforts when information was withheld from her and other council members. As a council member, putting the people of Edmonds first will always be my approach to governance. When I was on the Council, I frequently called my contacts in other cities or organizations for additional information. That information always helped me make better decisions for the citizens of Edmonds. It just so happens that none of it came with a bill attached or I could have been refused too.

    Reimbursing Vivian for this expense should not be a political issue. My opponent was and continues to yield her power and influence as former Council President by denying a valid reimbursement request. Period.

    I pledge to always but the people of Edmonds first and support fellow council members who do the same – regardless of whether or not I agree with them on a specific issue or position. That’s how I operate.

    1. We are lucky to have such a reasonable and qualified candidate running for Edmonds city Council. Thank you for your well articulated comment future councilmember Tibbot.

    2. I’m going to vote for you Neil, but only because I think you are the lesser of two evils at this point. I haven’t forgotten you and Mayor Dave going behind the Council’s back on the Marsh issue. That was a Mayor/Staff power play. You apologized for it and I respect you for that, but the fact remains it happened. Our city government is hopelessly broken and won’t be fixed until the citizens have input to and representation of at least one specific Council Person per geographical district or neighborhood; and the CPs are given some real control and say over personnel decisions. The current model just won’t cut it anymore, in my opinion.

  11. The insidious attitude on the part of specific council members towards the “reimbursement” (or not) of Vivian Olson clearly displays a lack of integrity and basic comon sense. I and numerous friends and family strongly agree with David Kaufer and Neil Tibbott’s assesments of this truly pathetic scenario noted above. And we intend to provide the maximum support of time, energy and allowable financial support to Neil Tibbotts campaign to oust the former council president and other candidates opposing those council members responsible for this debacle. Our Community deserves competent, productive and meaningful representation. It is time FOR A CHANGE!

  12. Ron, Neil and David said it all. Vivian Olsen took the right action and saved our city from putting a man into place that didn’t have the sense of integrity we as citizens have enjoyed by those who have held the position of Police Chief of Edmonds. He didn’t deserve the position due to his own actions and nothing else.

    The city attorney put the rest of the issue to rest, there is no liability issue. Ms. Olsen did the right thing. Now get her reimbursed.

    Neil Tibbot would be a terrific replacement for the former council president. He’s proven he has a calming demeanor, common sense and a respect for the opinion of the constituency he represents. Let’s get him back on city council and make some progress in our city.

  13. Councilmember Laura Johnson interjected: “If we were to approve and reimburse this unauthorized expense… – but more importantly, it would set a dangerous precedent with respect to liability.” Just an unbiased question – would hiring a potential Police Chief who ” admitted being involved in past incidents of domestic violence ” set an even more dangerous precedent with respect to liability?

  14. I had to read this several times honestly as keeping track of who did or said what was confusing. Reading this just feels like a lot of posturing and infighting within council members. Petty and wanting to be right. $337? Small potatoes. Go with the city attorneys statement.

  15. The simple fact is that Ms. Olsen went beyond her legal City Council function of only advice and consent to the Mayor on personnel issues; and spent her own money to investigate Mr. Pruitt. One can assume she did this because she knew that the Mayor and his staff H.R. person had not done any sort of proper job of vetting Mr. Pruitt for the position of COP which is sort of obvious to the citizens of our town now, thanks to Ms. Olsen. The power structure of Edmonds City Government is slanted toward the Mayor and his Staff and it simply doesn’t work well in terms of citizen representation and input. Elections aren’t ever going to fix this imbalance of power between Mayor, Council and the citizens. Only the names and faces will change; the problems will be eternal.

  16. The need to be “right” or “wrong” about this issue (and $337) isn’t worth the increased division and negative view of our local government. There are greater things and bigger pictures to focus on. Grant the reimbursement and focus on larger issues at hand.

    1. Alicia the refusal to pay keeps the issue alive. I have issues with how the city is being run. Paying the 337 doesn’t change that. The bigger issues depend on what they are and how the mayor and squad approach them. So far I give them a a D+ grade and I don’t have high hopes for improvement. You recently mentioned chipping away. My opinion is that needs to start with those currently in charge.

    2. Ms Crank,
      A distraction? Ms Olson has endured being called a racist, and the Gang of Four has merrily bullied her ever chance they have gotten. A simple clerical issue was the springboard. Paine has stalled the reimbursement for months. The distraction was ignoring the fact that the gang of 4 voted to confirm Mr Pruitts appointment. Then the mayor threw poor Mr Pruitt under the bus. None of it should ever have been made public. Mr Pruitt was used by the Mayor and Council. The reimbursement was indeed a distraction and a deflection by the gang of 4. Right and wrong do, actually make a difference actually. There is a negative view of our local government because they have behaved and acted very poorly, and in my option incompetently. They have earned the negative views. You lost my vote with just this statement. Sorry.

      1. Diane T, this is a great comment from you. “Right and wrong” do make a difference. It is amazing that Alicia does not understand this. Her comment comes off as support for the nastiness of the Gang-of-Four, who have done more damage to Edmonds and the Council collectively than, I believe, has ever been done before. Hopefully all 4 will be serving their last terms in public office. Let’s remember to not replace them with more of the same.

  17. Incredibly, this item (yet again) is not included on the Agenda for next Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

  18. Just a little hypothetical here Ken and everyone, but do you suppose this item would be on the agenda; if Ms. Olsen had her own district to represent and could, in fact, put at least one item on the agenda for each meeting? Might be a whole different vibe to how things, Edmonds, got done.

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