Council delays decision on fate of embattled city manager

Polizzotto’s future with city awaits results of investigation
By Dan Aznoff | Aug 03, 2018

The audience communication portion of a special meeting of the Mill Creek City Council turned into Interactive Audience Participation on Thursday when Mayor Pro Tem Brian Holtzclaw defended the council’s decision to extend the paid administrative leave for City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto until Aug. 24.

“We are not cowards,” Holtzclaw shot back at members of the audience who had filled the council chambers demanding that the council terminate the city manager’s contract. “If you knew the information we know…” he said before being cut off by the angry crowd.

The exchange, in the words of one observer, made Holtzclaw sound like an adolescent on the school playground.

“Disgusting,” former City Councilmember Mary Kay Voss shouted from the gallery after the council voted to delay its decision. “You’ve had all the information you needed to fire her since March.”

The extra time will be needed, according to City Attorney Scott Missall, to complete an investigation that began in May into charges brought up by members of the city staff that the city manager was a bully who had created a hostile work environment in City Hall that resulted in the loss of dozens of long-term employees.

Voss was one of nearly a dozen speakers who were given three minutes each to address the council at the special meeting. When she ran out of time, her husband, Didrik Voss, and others in the audience surrendered their allotted time so she could complete her prepared remarks.

She demanded the immediate termination of the city manager, “and not one dime of severance.”

The former lawmaker also called for a vote of no confidence in Mayor Pam Pruitt and the selection of a new mayor when the council came out of its executive session. Once that takes place, Voss said, she would file paperwork to recall the mayor and members of the council who have defended the city manager’s actions.

Voss warned the council that if they failed to take action, she would file charges that the council had violated the Open Meetings Act “at least eight times” since March.

If found in violation, she said, each member of the council could be fined $7,500.

“Take action tonight or get out your checkbooks,” she warned as she left the podium.

Former Recreation Director Pam Olson told the council she was forced out of her job because of the “rude, condescending and demeaning” style of management Polizzotto used to control the workplace.

Two other former councilmembers also addressed the council. Kathy Nielsen was upset with the current lack of transparency in City Hall, while Donna Michelson spoke on a more personal issue. She was irate over Polizzotto‘s use of a vulgar slur to describe her during a meeting with two city directors that was documented by Police Chief Greg Elwin.

Missall said the workplace investigation based on a second whistleblower complaint filed against Polizzotto should be completed soon. The results, he said, will be an important part of the information needed to make a final decision on the city manager’s fate.

Before the council recessed for the night, the audience stood to give members of the city staff a standing ovation for their dedication to maintaining the quality of life in Mill Creek in spite of all the negative distractions created by the city manager.

Concerned citizen Larry Mayer, who lives in The Springs neighborhood, was the first person in a line of residents who signed up to address the council. He credited Polizzotto for hiring “great people” who have done the “heavy lifting” while the city manager has been away from City Hall.

Polizzotto used her own sick time and vacation days since mid-April to cover the first weeks of her time away from the office. The council then placed her on 45 days paid administrative leave on June 19. Last night’s action extended the leave one day before it was set to expire on Friday, Aug. 3.

The council's decision to extend the paid leave means Polizzotto will continue to receive her annual salary of almost $174,000 and the city will be responsible for the $275 per hour for the short-term contract for Interim City Manager Bob Stowe.

Mayer reminded the council that they were “very swift” in writing a letter of support for the city manager when she first came under fire in November of 2016. He suggested the council should use time during its executive session to write a letter of apology to the many employees who had their lives disrupted when they were forced to leave because of the city manager.

He said apologies should also be offered to members of the current city staff and “to the citizens of Mill Creek.”

“We all deserve it.”

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