County investigator of harassment complaints resigns

EVERETT — The in-house attorney who investigated worker complaints for Snohomish County, including a series of sexual-harassment allegations in the planning department, has resigned.

The county’s Equal Employment Opportunity investigator Mark Knudsen submitted a resignation letter Monday.

“I have enjoyed the opportunities working for Snohomish County have provided me,” Knudsen wrote. “I did my best even with the media having made that exceptionally difficult for me these past three and a half months.”

His resignation is scheduled to take effect March 2.

Media reports since January have focused on numerous complaints of sexual harassment at the county’s planning department that resulted in no discipline. Records requests that led to those reports becoming public have been pending since at least November.

Most of the complaints came long before last summer’s termination of former planning director Craig Ladiser after an investigation by an outside attorney determined that he drunkenly exposed himself to a woman who works as building-industry lobbyist. The June incident occurred during a golf tournament hosted by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

The county last month contracted the same attorney who investigated Ladiser, Linda Walton of Seattle-based Perkins Coie, for $12,000 to review the county’s policies and procedures for handling Equal Employment Opportunity complaints. The findings are expected within a week, said Brian Parry, one of County Executive Aaron Reardon’s executive directors.

Knudsen reported to Deputy Executive Mark Soine. The two would meet twice a month to discuss complaints, Parry said.

Though the complaint investigations fall under the executive branch of county government, the County Council has been keeping tabs on the policy and procedure review. Council Chairman Dave Gossett said he learned of Knudsen’s departure Monday directly from Reardon and also received a written notice that circulated among county officials.

“It doesn’t really change anything in terms of the need to look at how we’ve done things in the past, regardless of who is in that position,” Gossett said.

The planning department also is facing a claim for damages over alleged sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination from former human resources manager Debbie McPherson. In a supplemental claim filed during the past month, McPherson increased the amount of compensation she is requesting to $950,000 from $500,000.

Parry, speaking on Reardon’s behalf, said Knudsen’s departure was unexpected.

Knudsen had worked at the county since Jan. 12, 2000. He leaves with a yearly salary of $99,000.

Human Resources director Bridget Clawson will take over Knudsen’s duties, including any open complaints. The County Council would have to approve hiring any replacement because of a countywide hiring freeze.

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