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Mill Creek City Council may face yet another search for a city manager

Mill Creek City Council as of February 2018. Photo courtesy of City of Mill Creek.
Mill Creek City Council as of February 2018. Photo courtesy of City of Mill Creek.

By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.

A number of current city councilmembers have experience putting city managers on administrative leave. They still haven’t explained their reasoning for putting previous City Manager Ken Armstrong on administrative leave before terminating his employment just before Thanksgiving in 2014 after two years on the job.

City Manger Rebecca Polizzotto lasted three years before the city council put her on administrative leave on June 19, 2018, and engaged Bob Stowe as interim city manager for up to three months on a temporary personal services contract.

The council hasn’t explained their reasoning this time either, but according to a number of city staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity, during her tenure Polizzotto created a hostile work environment and lost the support of senior staff that she herself had hired.

These same sources said the city council paid an employment attorney to investigate Polizzotto’s management practices. These sources went on to say the city council received the investigation’s findings in a June 13th special meeting closed to the public.

Unlike Armstrong’s situation, the city council has not yet started a public process to terminate Polizzotto’s employment in conjunction with putting her on administrative leave. However, at their June 19th meeting they did ask City Attorney Scott Missal to hire a lawyer.

Polizzotto’s employment contract requires the city to pay her six months salary if she is terminated for any reason other than “cause,” which among other things includes misconduct against the interests of the city, any fraudulent act, and any violation of the International City/County Management Code of Ethics.

After Polizzotto was placed on administrative leave, the city council allowed the Washington State Auditor’s Office to release a report showing about $1,000 of charges that Polizzotto made on her city credit card in 2017 without itemized receipts. According to the June 21st report, a detailed review showed some of these charges were for “alcohol and meals where the public purpose could not be determined.”

The report went on to say, “Because the card assigned to the City Manager had the highest dollar volume lacking detailed support, we expanded our testing of this card and reviewed 52 additional purchases occurring between 2015 and 2017.”

The auditor found Polizzotto made a total of $1,622 in purchases “with unclear public purpose” during this period of time.

The auditor’s report did not judge whether or not Polizzotto misused the city credit card. However the auditor’s finding was, “The City lacked adequate internal controls and monitoring over credit card disbursements, placing public resources at risk of loss or misappropriation.”

This is the second time the Washington State Auditor’s Office advised the Mill Creek City Council to strengthen internal controls. The auditor’s March 2017 report was very similar.

The city council adopted a new business expense policy on March 27, 2018. It’s unclear whether this action was taken as a result of the auditor’s March 2017 report, or because word got out that the subsequent report would show the same problem.

What is clear is that at some point the city council needs to decide whether or not Polizzotto returns to work and who will be city manager if she doesn’t.

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