By a 6-1 vote, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night confirmed the appointment of Susan McLaughlin as the city’s new development services director. And during two separate votes later in the meeting, the council was split 3-3 on whether it should censure Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas on charges she violated the council’s code of conduct related to incidents in August and September. (A majority vote is required and Fraley-Monillas was prohibited from voting, so both measures failed.)
McLaughlin — an Edmonds resident — was appointed after a spirited debate during which some councilmembers expressed concern over the speed with which her confirmation vote was brought to the council, with very little public notice. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis also said she had heard from residents concerned that the employment agreement for McLaughlin, an urban planning manager with the City of Seattle’s Department of Transportation, included an $8,000 bonus in lieu of moving expenses, in addition to her $167,524 salary.
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson made a motion to postpone the vote a week, to allow more time to consider McLaughlin’s appoinment. Council President Susan Paine noted that there was a need for urgency, as McLaughlin had another job offer she was considering. Johnson’s motion failed on a 1-6 vote.
Buckshnis also made a motion to hold a separate council vote on the $8,000 bonus, but that measure also failed 3-4.
In the end, the council confirmed McLaughlin 6-1, with Kristiana Johnson voting no. Councilmember Vivian Olson said she believed that McLaughlin would be a good fit for Edmonds, citing her communications skills and her “predisposition to collaboration.”
Speaking briefly after she was confirmed, McLaughlin said that she appreciated the passion councilmembers expressed during their deliberations and also the desire of Edmonds residents to learn more about her. “I look forward to reaching out to those people, I look forward to connecting with the residents, that’s what I’m really excited to do,” she said.
McLaughlin begins her job Nov. 15.
The censure process included two complaints brought against Fraley-Monillas. In reading the complaints, Councilmember Olson noted that she knew her actions would be branded as politically motivated. (Fraley-Monillas is running for re-election to a fourth council term and the ballots will be mailed later this week.) However, she added that she had been attempting to get the council to address the issue for several weeks before it was placed on Tuesday night’s agenda.
Olson read two complaints, each of which were subject to a censure vote by the council, alleging that Fraley-Monillas’ actions violated the council’s own code of conduct. The first involved an incident in which Fraley-Monillas was observed on camera during a virtual Aug. 24 council meeting drinking wine, “and appeared to be drunk,” Olson said. The second involved a Sept. 7 council meeting, during which Fraley-Monillas was accused of flashing a “loser” sign at a constituent who was making a public comment critical of the councilmember.
The day after the wine-drinking incident, Fraley-Monillas had explained that she had a dental issue and “was in an extreme amount of pain” during the meeting, adding that she had had wine with dinner and absent-mindedly took a sip of it during an Aug. 24 council vote, which was captured on camera. She went into more detail about those dental issues on Tuesday night, adding that due to longstanding issues with her teeth since her premature birth in the 1950s, she faces ongoing problems.
The council, which frequently has been divided into opposing camps on many votes during the past year, did not stray from that pattern Tuesday night. Councilmember Laura Johnson started off by admitting that she was at first “embarrassed and angry” with Fraley-Monillas’ behavior but felt differently after she learned about the councilmember’s level of dental pain. She also said she was concerned the councilmember felt the need to attend the meeting even when she was “experiencing a health crisis,” adding that councilmembers should be prioritizing their well-being over meeting attendance.
Laura Johnson then went on to relate that this concern goes beyond Councilmember Fraley-Monillas, and extended to a health crisis that Councilmember Kristiana Johnson experienced in fall 2020, when she had reportedly “suffered multiple strokes” and was having short-term memory issues that at times disrupted council meetings. This information, Laura Johnson said, had been reported to the news media but they chose not to use it, even though they have publicly reported on Fraley-Monillas’ issues.
Kristiana Johnson is also seeking re-election in November.
“So why, if not for political reasons, is one councilmember being given some privacy during a months-long crisis and yet another is skewered,” Laura Johnson asked. “Tonight my vote will be for grace and understanding, which I wish we had led with.”
Councilmember Luke Distelhorst said that following the wine-drinking incident, he had spoken to Councilmember Fraley-Monillas and “expressed my displeasure and disappointment” in her actions, and made it clear that such actions would not be tolerated by any councilmembers going forward.
Council President Paine said that the dental emergency “could have happened to any one of us and the opportunity to have stayed away from the council meeting is something that the councilmember decided not to do out of loyalty to her work.”
Paine also pointed out that a public apology was part of the censure request and stated that Fraley-Monillas had apologized to the council and mayor, as well as the public, in articles in both My Edmonds News Aug. 25 and the Everett Herald Aug. 28. However, Olson noted that neither of those articles included an apology to the public, but instead the articles cited the email apology Fraley-Monillas had sent to councilmembers and the mayor.
In addition, Paine said it was important to recognize that councilmembers shouldn’t be attending council meetings if they are experiencing a health emergency.
Councilmember Buckshnis said Fraley-Monillas’ actions were “not an acceptable behavior” and they should be sanctioned.
Later in the meeting, Laura Johnson said that while councilmembers reported being embarassed about Fraley-Monillas’ behavior, “being embarrassed should never take priority over somebody’s health.” In fact, she said that the behavior against Fraley-Monillas “has been bullying. And to demand that a councilmember needs to apologize for their actions during a health crisis, why are we treating one councilmember different from another?”
Fraley-Monillas also thanked her fellow councilmembers who had expressed concern about her health. “I appreciate most of you,” she said.
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said that censure “is not about a person, whether we like them or not, it’s about your code of conduct.”
The vote on the censure related to the wine-drinking incident was 3-3, with Fraley-Monillas unable to vote under Roberts Rules of Order. (L. Johnson, Paine and Distelhorst were opposed and Olson, Buckshnis and K. Johnson were in favor.)
The second complaint was related to an email from a resident who said that Fraley-Monillas flashed a “loser” sign at her when she made a comment during the Sept. 7 council meeting.
In response, Fraley-Monillas said that she used to teach sign language and she was actually using an “L” sign for listen, meaning “I can’t hear you,” rather than a loser sign.
“I believe that Ms. Olson is using this for political gain,” Fraley-Monillas said. “This isn’t about whether I’m signing or what I’m saying, it’s about her need to control the council.”
Olson said that Fraley-Monillas’ assertion “is not supported by the video recording of the Sept. 7 meeting itself,” and also isn’t supported by an email exchange she had with the councilmember two days after the incident. In addition, she said, the council has not seen the councilmember using sign language during meetings, prior to the gesture in question.
Councilmembers Distelhorst and Laura Johnson said they reviewed the video of the meeting and couldn’t definitively determine whether a loser sign was used. Council President Paine said that Fraley-Monillas uses many hand gestures when she speaks and she doesn’t believe a loser gesture was displayed.
As the council was debating the second charge, Councilmember Fraley-Monillas declared a point of order to single out Councilmember Kristiana Johnson, who had her camera off for part of the meeting but then turned it on while in a reclining position. “You’ve got a councilmember laying on a bed looking like they can’t get up and function, and nobody’s saying a dang thing,” Fraley-Monillas said.
The second motion for censure also failed on a 3-3 vote, with the same groups of three voting for and against.
With either vote, the mayor could have broken the tie but declined to do so.
In other business, the council approved a final bond ordinance for refinancing and restructuring some of the city’s bond debt, as well as issuing new bonds. The bonding — approved by the council in August — is aimed at saving the city money, providing short-term cash relief for the Edmonds Public Facilities District that runs the Edmonds Center for the Arts (ECA), and funding a maintenance backlog in city buildings.
— By Teresa Wippel