Due diligence or implicit bias? Council split reimbursement of $ 337 for Chiefs of Police files

Edmonds City Council debates the refund at its March 9, 2021 meeting.

$ 337 is not a lot of money. But $ 337 is the flash point that sparked an incendiary and seemingly endless debate in Edmonds City Council.

“I think it was a witch hunt.”

—Board member Adrienne Fraley-Monillas

“It’s hard to ignore the position of bias. “

–Board member Laura Johnson

“I was slandered tonight, and I was accused of bias and I just want this on record.”

–Member of the board Vivian Olson

The $ 337 is not the real story. The story is the internal battle of the council which, over the past several months, has pitted members against each other; much of it focused on the debate over a new police chief.

Police chief search

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

She distributed copies to all council members 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 these documents and she felt council should review the information before the Pruitt vote.

It never happened. Four council members (Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Susan Paine, Luke Distelhorst and Laura Johnson) claimed the city and the human resources department were already aware and verified this information and said nothing in the documents no ‘prevented the hiring of Pruitt. Three others (Olson, Diane Buckshnis and Kristiana Johnson) said they and HR did not have the documents until Olson provided them.

In federal testimony, Pruitt admitted to being involved in previous incidents of domestic violence. Edmonds State of Police Hiring Regulations that “any incident of domestic violence”, not just a conviction, is “automatic disqualification” for any officer “(to be hired).

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

March 2021 Council debate

Federal Court invoice

Olson then submitted his bill for $ 337 to council for reimbursement, which is allowed by the city code. The debate broke out. Last December, board chair Fraley-Monillas refused to accept the reimbursement, saying she, as board chair, had not authorized the expense. In March, Olson submitted her again. “I don’t find this reasonable or prudent,” Fraley-Monillas said at the March 9 council session. “It’s an HR job and not the job of a board member.” Monillas also said that such background work “has not been addressed until the person has been chosen to be the first person of color to be Chief of Police in Edmonds.”

Olson argued that the documents had nothing to do with race but were part of the “due diligence” any board member is entitled to do to vet nominations. Councilor Diane Buckshnis supported her. Council members “had a lot of respectful disagreements,” Buckshnis admitted, “but there was a precedent, and the finance committee (of the council) recommended paying it off and moving on.”

Board member Laura Johnson added, “If we were to approve and reimburse this unauthorized expense, it would interfere with the work of qualified professionals and we dive into an administrative function; but more importantly, it would set a dangerous precedent for accountability.

Current board chair Susan Paine also refused to authorize the payment. She argued that there had been no prior approval from the chairman of the board as required, and that “this is not part of the typical board responsibility… this presentation puts the city at a level of responsibility and of risk ”.

Board member Kristiana Johnson said, “HR was aware of this information, but it was not shared” (with some board members). “I really thank board member Olson,” she added, “for doing this research and bringing to the board.”

Council member Luke Distelhorst also rejected support for the payment, in part because “it includes a potential liability (for the city) as I understand it”.

Monillas alleged that “I think that (Olson’s information) created a lot of trouble in the black community. In my opinion, and this is my opinion, ”she added,“ I think it was a witch hunt. And I don’t mean it was a “witch” witch hunt, because I think it looked for any issues that might arise. “

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

City attorney Jeff Taraday has been asked to provide his legal opinion. “The council,” he said, “is not required to trust the mayor or his staff with the recommendations that have been made. The problem, Taraday said, is that council members should ask “not whether you would have spent the money or bothered to get the information.” It doesn’t matter whether you agree that this money had to be spent.

Taraday explained, “This is clearly money spent on the work of the board member” and the member requesting reimbursement “is doing so in good faith.” He also said he was not sure the liability issue was related to the reimbursement, that he had “no reason to believe this was a problem”.

It didn’t solve anything. Council members deferred a vote to the April meeting.

April 2021 Council debate

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

Olson replied, “Puitt is opposed to my being reimbursed as a board member?”

Monillas: “He has an objection because he thinks Ms. Olson has an implicit bias and that every aspect of what she did had to do with her color.” Then she told the board, “I know he spoke with the director of human resources.”

But City Attorney Taraday says My Edmonds News This is not the case. “The administration has not had any discussions with Mr. Pruitt,” Taraday wrote in an email, “since he was disqualified in December 2020. Additionally, the city attorney’s office is not aware of any threat of prosecution of Mr. Pruitt and not engaged in negotiations or other discussions with him.

So, back to square one. Board member Olson thinks she’s entitled to her $ 337. The matter will return to a future council agenda, but no date has been set.

– By Bob Throndsen

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