Mill Creek City Council defends city manager's extended absence

City employees' concerns about her leadership not addressed
By Dan Aznoff | Jun 12, 2018

Members of the Mill Creek City Council on Friday issued a statement in support of City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto while she remains out of the office dealing with a prolonged respiratory infection.

However, the council failed to address charges from members of the city staff that Polizzotto’s style of management had created a “hostile workplace.”

The council held a special meeting Friday night, June 8, to approve a unified statement to dispute allegations in an article posted online by The Beacon that detailed the city manager’s six-week absence from City Hall.

The one-page statement approved during the abbreviated meeting was written and read into the record by Mayor Pro Tem Brian Holtzclaw. He emphasized the city manager is not under investigation, and expressed hope Polizzotto would be able to return to work soon.

The statement concluded with a declaration the council would not be available to the press for any additional comments on the situation.

Councilmember John Steckler said the operation of the city has not been delayed by the city manager’s extended absence. Mayor Pam Pruitt agreed, adding that she has been shuttling paperwork between City Hall and Polizzotto’s home when signatures are required.

“Nothing is on hold, as far as I know,” Councilmember Steckler said prior to the June 5 council meeting. “We are still filling potholes on 35th Avenue SE, still moving ahead with permits for the Sweetwater development, and working to create new parks.”

Directors and managers in City Hall disagree, saying there is a seven-page list of items that cannot be addressed without action by the city’s chief executive. One of those projects is the $800,000 contract approved by council for new turf and improved lighting at Mill Creek Sports Park.

Fire Contract

Despite the absence of a chief operating officer, some city business has been completed. Allegations that Polizzotto had not signed a revised contract with Fire District 7 for the purchase of the fire station near City Hall were proven false.

Fire District spokesperson Heather Chadwick said the signing was delayed by minor changes in the purchase agreement that had been approved by the council and the district board.

The council statement issued a week ago didn’t address the unexplained postponements that have delayed the release of findings from a regularly-scheduled financial audit.

Kathleen Cooper, Director of Communications, told The Beacon they are working to schedule a meeting with city officials following an audit of the city conducted by the Office of the Washington State Auditor.

Cooper said the bulk of their work has been concluded, but the audit wouldn’t be complete until the city had a chance to respond to the work.

The “hostile workplace” charges stem from the second of two whistleblower complaints filed against the city manager over the past 18 months. According to members of the senior staff, the majority of the 30 individuals who left the city since Polizzotto was hired in 2015 went out in search of a position that would encourage the growth of their career as well as nourish their personal life.

Four of the 30 individuals who are no longer employed by Mill Creek since Polizzotto became city manager listed their reason for leaving as retirement, four others listed “dissatisfaction,” two resigned in lieu of termination, eight others left for another job, two were terminated for “Policy Violation or Misconduct” and one cited medical reasons.

One high-ranking former department head said Polizzotto refused his letter of resignation and actually dictated the version that she would accept. The revised letter, he said, included misleading statements that enhanced the role of the city manager as well as the mood of employees in City Hall.

Former City Clerk Kelly Chelin said her letter of resignation was published in a local newspaper without her permission. A rebuttal written by the city manager ran above the letter.

Former Councilmember Donna Michelson, a veteran of nearly two decades on the council, said she has always believed that personnel letters were private and should remain in an employee’s file.

According to an administrator from a city in King County, it is highly unusual for a city or any public agency to operate for more than a few days without at least an interim administrator to run the routine administrative operations.

Michelson echoed those comments when she described the situation in Mill Creek as “unprecedented.”

“Things come up over the course of six weeks,” Michelson concluded. “Polizzotto’s absence has raised more questions about who is making the day-to-day decisions at City Hall.”

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