Paid leave for embattled city extended one more month

Council votes 6-1 in hopes investigation into charges against Polizzotto can be completed
By Dan Aznoff | Aug 23, 2018

Members of the Mill Creek City Council approved a second extension to the administrative leave for City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto on Wednesday night to provide time to complete the investigation into a second whistleblower complaint filed against the city’s top administrator.

The council met behind closed doors in executive session for more than two hours before approving the extension to the paid extension until Sept. 25. Mayor Pam Pruitt explained to the residents who remained in the council chambers that the decision came on the advice of City Attorney Scott M. Missall.

The newest member of the council, John Steckler, cast the only dissenting vote in the 6-1 decision.

"Obviously, we had some disagreement on how to proceed. That'll almost always happen when you ask seven people to agree on an issue," Steckler said with a smile. "The important thing is that every member of the City Council wants what's best for Mill Creek."

The end goal, said Steckler, is what's best for the city.

The councilmember who was appointed in February said he could not go into detail why he opposed the proposal to grant a second extension to the administrative leave approved by the council, but emphasized that he respects why his colleagues who voted to add another month to the paid leave.

"The longer this takes, the more frustrating it is for members of the council as well as the residents who look to us for leadership," Steckler said. "We are in the middle of a process that includes a great deal of data collection.

"We'll get there. That I can promise."

Councilmember Jared Mead explained he is legally barred from discussing what went on during the executive session, but said he is also frustrated with the pace of the procedure.

“It sucks that the process is so slow, but that’s the way things operate in the public sector,” Mead told The Beacon. “It is my fiduciary responsibility to do what is best for the residents of Mill Creek and sometimes that means making a difficult decision that I know some people will initially be unhappy with.

“We must be certain that matters are handled properly and above water."

Former Councilmember Donna Michelson echoed Mead’s frustration.

“I am surprised and disappointed that we are still in a holding pattern. I would have expected a decision by this time,” Michelson said. “Without a decision, the city, in such a fractured state, cannot begin to move forward and try to heal.

“This incident is such a disaster for Mill Creek's reputation."

Wednesday night’s vote came less than a week after Polizzotto flied suit against the city seeking $1 million in damages for being “treated unfairly” by the council, department directors and staff in City Hall. The city has 60 days from the day the suit was filed to settle or reject the claim.

The claim, filed by Everett attorney Joel P. Nichols on behalf of the city manager, cited breach of contract, violation of due process, defamation and interference with supervising employees.

Examine issues

The controversy with the city manager dates back to her last day in the office in mid-April when she used her own sick leave and vacation days to stay home recovering from what Pruitt described as a respiratory infection. The council placed Polizzotto on 45-days of paid administrative leave to “examine issues” on June 19, then extended that leave one day before it was set to expire on Aug. 3.

The investigation into the city manager stems from the second complaint filed by employees in City Hall this past April that described her management style as being responsible for more than 30 members of the city staff to either take early retirement or find other employment.

The second complaint included written statements from the police chief, human services director, finance director and communications director. The note written by Human Resource Director Laura Orlando described the city manager as “disrespectful, verbally abusive and purposely intimidating.

“It was the clearest example of a workplace bully that I have ever seen.”

More charges surfaced this spring after the annual review of city expenses conducted by the state Auditor disclosed uncovered questionable use of the credit card issued to Polizzotto.

The unusual expenses included expensive meals and room service at conferences where food was supposedly provided as well as the purchase of alcohol in violation of city policy.

The first complaint citing her style of management less than one year after Polizzotto was hired in 2015.

Not so fast

Retired attorney Carolyn Drake of Mill Creek said the city should be prepared to pay for its actions.

“Rebecca Polizzotto has a valid tort complaint for a hostile work environment as well as breach of contract,” Drake said. “She's not playing.  She's an exceedingly skilled litigator, and the city isn't likely to prevail.

“This is going to be an exceedingly expensive lesson for Mill Creek.”

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