Lynnwood official's work with city of Edmonds raises questions
Kimberly Cole works for the Edmonds mayor while sitting on Lynnwood’s City Council, raising concerns about a conflict of interest.
Kimberly Cole says her multiple public roles won’t lead to any conflicts of interest.
“I actually think there would have been more of a potential for a problem when I worked at the county,” Cole said. “This is really a secretarial job.”
But it’s a question that’s being raised around city halls in Lynnwood and Edmonds. The Edmonds human resources director says she’s fielded questions from several people about Cole’s elected position for one city and her job as an assistant for Edmonds Mayor Mike Cooper.
“I think that’s reasonable for people to (ask), ‘How’s that working?’ said Debbi Humann, Edmonds’ human resources director.
Lynnwood City Councilman Ted Hikel also wondered if any lines could be blurred with her positions in the two neighboring cities.
“That is something that I mentioned to the city attorney,” Hikel said. “I was assured that if those situations arise, they will be addressed.”
Cooper said he and Cole spoke to Edmonds city attorney Scott Snyder about potential conflicts of interest. State election rules leave the door open for people to hold multiple elected offices simultaneously as long as those positions don’t overlap constituencies.
“We’re just taking steps to be cautious,” Cooper said.
Part of that, Cole said, includes asking Edmonds’ department heads to be conscious of potential conflicts. “The department heads were notified that any memo, any legal opinion, any correspondence that implicates Lynnwood, I’m to be left out of those,” she said.
Cole worked for Cooper for two years as his legislative aide when he was a Snohomish County councilman. They first met when both ran for the county charter review commission.
She followed Cooper to Edmonds when he was appointed mayor in July. Cole, 31, earns $79,000 working for the city. She took a pay cut from her $83,283.36-a-year job at the county.
Last year, Cole was elected to the Lynnwood City Council. She’s also served on the hospital board that oversees the former Stevens Hospital, which is now called Swedish/Edmonds. In her role as city councilwoman, Cole earns $22,800 a year. For the hospital board, she gets paid $100 a meeting.
At her job in the county, Cole worked closely with constituents and was involved in policy discussions, Cooper said. In Edmonds her role is much more limited, he said.
“She sits in on meetings with me, but it’s much more as my assistant,” he said. “At the county, I might send her to a meeting to represent me.”
When she isn’t serving in her various public roles, Cole attends law school at night and cares for her 6-year-old son.
Cole isn’t alone in combining public jobs with elected positions.
Will Hall, a Snohomish County Council legislative analyst, also serves on the Shoreline City Council. Amy Ockerlander, an executive analyst in Reardon’s office, serves on the Duvall City Council.
And former Edmonds City Councilwoman Deanna Dawson worked in Reardon’s office while serving on the City Council.
Edmonds City Council President Steve Bernheim said he’s not concerned about the potential for conflict of interest in Cole’s multiple roles.
“When it comes to ethics, the choice rests entirely with the person in question,” he said.
Lynnwood City Councilman Jim Smith said Cole’s various public roles don’t worry him.
“There could be times when (there are) conflicts in which she’d have to bow out,” he said.
Hikel has been at odds with Cole at the Lynnwood City Council. Cole voted with the majority last week when the council stripped him of his title as council president.
The potential for conflicts of interest are always present and public employees also holding elected offices is not unusual, said Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.
“That would come up if the hospital district had a matter of business coming up before the city,” said Nixon, who also is chairman of an ethics task force for the city of Kirkland.
Ultimately, Nixon said, it’s up to voters to decide whether they think an elected official’s multiple roles make the official less effective as a public servant.
Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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