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Mill Creek City Council extends City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto’s paid administrative leave

City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto. Photo courtesy of City of Mill Creek.
City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto. Photo courtesy of City of Mill Creek.

By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.

After two closed-door executive sessions, the Mill Creek City Council extended City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto’s paid administrative leave until September 25th with a 6 to 1 vote. Councilmember John Steckler was the lone dissenting vote.

The city council did not discuss their action in the public portion of their August 22, 2018, special meeting and public comments by observers were not allowed.

Polizzotto has been on medical leave, vacation, or paid administrative leave since about the middle of April.

Although there has been no official explanation from the city for her absence, a 627 page public disclosure request response shows Polizzotto had severe bronchitis at the beginning of April, but sometime during the middle of that month members of her leadership team reached out to City Attorney Scott Missall with their concerns about her city credit card use and management style.

A $1 million damage claim against the City of Mill Creek filed by Polizzotto on July 23rd provides additional information. The claim requests damages based on “Breach of contract, violation of due process rights, defamation, and interference with governmental supervision of employees.”

Here is a timeline of events pieced together from the public information request response, Polizzotto’s damage claim, and city council discussions during public meetings:

  • Week of April 10th - Polizzotto’s management team began to communicate their concerns to Missall.
  • April 15th - Polizzotto emailed city council to say she remains “final decision maker” while on sick leave in response to Councilmember Vince Cavaleri’s concern about the city's response to 35th Avenue SE flooding during her absence.
  • April 22nd to 23rd - Missall emailed “Director Concerns” to Mayor Pro Tem Brian Holtzclaw.
  • April 24th - Before scheduled city council meeting Missall and Holtzclaw met with Polizzotto to advise her of complaints. During city council meeting Missall told city council Polizzotto is “under the weather” and not able to attend meeting. City council met with Missall during closed executive session to “discuss the performance of a public employee.”
  • April 26th - City council held special meeting to “discuss potential litigation.” Investigation of whistleblower complaints authorized.
  • Week of May 14th - Investigator Rebecca Dean met with city staff regarding whistleblower complaints.
  • May 26th, June 6th, and June 8th - Dean met with Polizzotto regarding whistleblower complaints.
  • June 8th - City council issued statement drafted by Holtzclaw regarding recent newspaper article. The statement said there has been no investigation of fraud by the Washington State Auditor and the council looks forward to Polizzotto’s return to work.
  • June 12th - Dean reported results of her investigation to city council in closed executive session.
  • June 13th - Polizzotto met with city council in closed executive session to discuss Dean’s investigation.
  • June 19th - City council met with Polizzotto’s leadership team regarding whistleblower complaints in closed executive session. Council subsequently put Polizzotto on 45-day paid administrative leave and appointed Police Chief Greg Elwin acting city manager. Polizzotto learned of this action through news media.
  • June 21st - Former Mill Creek and Bothell City Manager Bob Stowe hired as interim city manager. City allowed Washington State Auditor to release an annual audit report showing Polizzotto spent $1,622 on her city credit card "without clear public purpose" between 2015 and 2017.
  • July 23rd - Polizzotto filed $1 million damages claim against City of Mill Creek. Response due 60 days later.
  • July 27th - City released 627-page public information request response.
  • August 2nd - After closed executive session at special meeting city council extended Polizzotto’s paid administrative leave until August 24th. In open session Missall stated city council has “fiduciary responsibility” and “investigation is ongoing.” In response to many public comments regarding the city council’s seeming inaction, Holtzclaw stated, “We are not cowards.” He went on to say that the city council has a responsibility to deal with this appropriately.
  • August 16th - City released Polizzotto’s damages claim to news media and others.
  • August 22nd - After closed executive session at special meeting city council extended Polizzotto’s paid administrative leave until September 25th.

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Comments

Considering Mill Creek's previous problems with ...

... city managers, I am beginning to believe it is the city with the real problems.  Their history over the past 35 yeas is horrible and I have no found similar problems occurring in other local city comparisons.  Why is that?

Why Is That? My Thoughts

I served on the Mill Creek City Council for 14 months. During this time, it was very obvious that certain members cared more about their future political careers rather than the job at hand. Their service to the community, to do good work for the community, was secondary to their own selfish motives and goals.  Consequently, important decisions that impacted the community were always decided by how they would impact their future political aspirations.  Unfortunately these people put their personal goals ahead of the greater populace.  This city has reached a critical juncture in its history. We need to elect people who respect the important role they play, and to put the populace ahead of their selfish interests.

Why Is That? One more thought

In a City Manager form of government, it is imperative for the Council and Manager to be able to work collaboratively.  Historically this has been a serious problem for both sides and has led to the the ongoing conflicts and the results mentioned.  Personality issues and conflicting management styles can also contribute to problems.

In my tenure on Council, I also witnessed individuals who were on "power trips" obsessed with wanting to be be in control when, in fact, they are policy makers and not in charge of day-to-day operations.  The best Councils have indivduals who respectfully "police" those who attempt to cross the line from policy to administrative work. It is absolutely essential for council members to allow the City Manager to perform the adminsitrative functions.  A City Council is only responsible for setting policies.  Too often, Mill Creek has seen the worst of governance.  This history also is well known and will definitely impact the city's ability to attract good managers.  With the current situation, it will be an uphill battle for the city to recruit quality managerial leaadership.     

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