By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.
The Mill Creek City Council has taken the first step in firing City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto by directing City Attorney Scott Missall to draft a resolution “terminating” her contract. However, a majority of the city council still has to vote “yes” on the resolution at their regular October 2, 2018, meeting.
The city council's decision came after a three-hour closed executive session at their September 25th meeting.
The motion made by Councilmember Mike Todd and seconded by Councilmember John Steckler contained three tasks for the city attorney as follows:
1. Draft a resolution terminating Polizzotto’s contract.
2. Extend Polizzotto’s administrative leave until October 2nd.
3. Contact Polizzotto’s attorney about “resolution of this matter.”
The seven city council members voted unanimously to pass the motion.
After receiving these directions from the city council, Missall admonished the city council not to talk with anyone.
He said, “In light of the motion it is actually imperative that you say nothing. No comments can be made to anyone, at any time, for any reason. And if someone asks you a question, politely say ‘I can’t answer your question. No comment.’ That’s my directions to you as your city attorney. Please comply.”
The city council has shared very little information with the public about the reason for Polizzotto’s almost six month absence from her city office. She was placed on formal administrative leave in June after using all of her sick leave and vacation days.
Although the circumstances regarding her absence are unclear, the city council’s decision to place her on administrative leave followed an investigation into her management practices and a state auditor’s report showing her use of a city credit card “where the public purpose could not be determined.”
A majority of the city council still must vote “yes” on October 2nd to terminate Polizzotto’s contract.
Even then, Washington State law requires that Polizzotto be given 30 days notice of her firing. The law goes on to say that she be paid until her removal becomes effective.
It’s apparent that the resolution of the $1 million damage claim against the City of Mill Creek filed by Polizzotto on July 23rd is still being negotiated by Missall and Polizzotto’s attorney.
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.
- September 25th - After closed executive session city council directed city attorney to draft a resolution terminating Polizzotto’s contract, extend Polizzotto’s administrative leave until October 2nd, and to contact Polizzotto’s attorney about “resolution of this matter.”