Citizen group renews charges of collusion

Residents: Why was Sean Kelly advised to run for re-election when he knew he’d have to resign?
By Dan Aznoff | Aug 17, 2018

Advice reportedly provided by the city manager and at least one member of the Mill Creek City Council that Sean Kelly should seek re-election last year, and then resign, has reignited charges of voter fraud from an activist group of local residents.

The new evidence surfaced when two former members of the council learned Kelly had been encouraged to run for re-election last November although he had moved out of the city the previous July, and would be ineligible to serve his four-year term.

The fraud charges allege that certain members of the council and City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto wanted Kelly to maintain his position on the council, then resign to allow the council to appoint a person who would be more in line with their priorities.

Former Councilmember Mary Kay Voss leveled her charges of voter fraud at the special City Council meeting on Thursday, Aug. 2. She indicated that Kelly had been urged to run and then resign his seat during a meeting with the city manager and Mayor Pam Pruitt.

Kelly outpolled Carmen Fisher by 1,700 votes in the only contested seat in last year’s election. Former Planning Commissioner Jared Mead captured the seat vacated Donna Michelson. The veteran lawmaker opted not to run for re-election after serving 19 years on the council.

Pruitt and Mayor Pro Tem Brian Holtzclaw both ran unopposed for re-election.

When questioned about the charges compiled by Voss, Fisher tried to remain diplomatic. “This is either voter fraud or just an ugly case of pure ignorance,” she said.

Pruitt denied any knowledge of the conversation. The mayor said she understood that Kelly had sought advice from Polizzotto during a conversation with Mayor Pro Tem Brian Holtzclaw.

The mayor pro tem also denied that he provided the advice, recalling that he was the person who informed Pruitt about Kelly’s plan to move out of Mill Creek into a home in Snohomish.

“We have had our rights as residents of this city violated,” Voss said. “Pam and her cohorts saw an opportunity to rig the system, and they took it.”

Voss said Pruitt provided her advice in an effort to maintain her majority on the council to push through plans for resurfacing roadways and improvements to the stormwater system without the opportunity for public debate or input from the taxpayers.

Kelly resigned his seat on the council after a Snohomish County Superior Court judge ruled he was not eligible to serve. He was forced to return all payments made to him by the city from July until his resignation in December.

Semi-retired businessman John Steckler was appointed to fill the vacant seat on the council in February from a field of 16 applicants.

Pruitt also repudiated allegations that separate interests compete for power on the council. She pointed to the number of unanimous votes over the past several months as evidence that members were only concerned about the future of the city and the welfare of the residents.

Kelly reportedly bought a home in Snohomish in July of 2017 as his primary residence. When confronted by Beacon Publisher Paul Archipley about the question of his residency after a council meeting last fall, Kelly said he understood that he could retain his seat as long as he was a property owner in Mill Creek.

Archipley provided the councilmember with verification of the residency requirement through Snohomish County Elections and Recording Manager Garth Fell in the next edition of The Beacon.

“To serve on the council,” Fell said, “you need to live in the district (you intended to represent), which in this case is the city of Mill Creek.”

Kelly refused to comment on the residency requirements when questioned by The Beacon. He stopped attending council meetings a few weeks later.

The state Attorney General's Office clarified the residency requirements in a response to an inquiry from Didrik Voss:

“When candidates file for office, election officials verify that the candidate lives in the jurisdiction using the person's voter registration address.”

The Washington Legislature approved RCW 29A.08.810-.850 for challenges of a person's voter registration in cases there where is a question about a candidate’s registered voter address on file.

The statute requires the county auditor to make forms available to challenge a voter’s registration. Any registered voter can begin the challenge process within a limited time period, according to the statute.

The two people who could clarify the situation were unavailable for comment. Polizzotto is on paid administrative leave, while Kelly has not returned numerous phone calls and emails requesting his recollection of the conversation.

Fisher filed motions with the Elections Board and the court to have Kelly’s votes disqualified in the weeks following the election in November. When questioned about the latest developments, she told The Beacon, “Secrecy surrounding that situation is making it very difficult to find out all of the necessary facts.”

She remains dedicated to her pursuit of a seat on the council. As an attorney, Fisher offered her legal opinion on the current controversy.

“In my opinion, legal action related to election fraud won’t be timely until the city manager is off of leave, one way or another,” she said.  “Every citizen of Mill Creek has just as much right to pursue the matter as I do.”

The council originally put Polizzotto on 45 days of paid administrative leave in June to review allegations that she used her city-issued credit card for unauthorized purchases of food and alcohol. The council extended the leave one day before it was scheduled to expire on Aug. 3.

Members of the council had hoped to have the city manager’s future determined before the end of the extension on Aug. 24. However, the full council is not scheduled to meet again this month, so any action on Polizzotto presumably will be delayed until at least Tuesday, Sept. 4.

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