By Mina Williams Herald writer
EDMONDS — The City Council censured one of its own Nov. 1 after meeting for two hours behind closed doors in an executive session.
According to the resolution approved by the council, Councilman D.J. Wilson acted inappropriately as a mediator in a personnel dispute between the city and Kimberly Cole, Mayor Mike Cooper’s executive assistant.
Wilson had a personal and professional relationship with Cole that should have precluded him from brokering a contract in September obligating the city to pay Cole $65,000 and a year of health insurance for her resignation, the resolution stated. That deal was eventually voided by the council.
A censure carries no legal weight; it is simply a public reprimand.
Meanwhile, at press time, an independent investigator is looking into Cole’s workplace harassment charges. Cole remains on paid administrative leave.
Wilson claims that the censure was legally flawed. He said that it was Cooper who asked him to mediate the deal and his actions were authorized by Sharon Cates of The Lighthouse Group, the city’s attorney. He insisted that he was not acting on behalf of council but as a private person.
Councilman Steve Bernheim countered that prior to the vote voiding the city’s deal with Cole, Wilson disclosed his relationship with Cole. What Wilson failed to inform council and the public was that he had mediated the agreement between the city and Cole. Wilson also voted to void the deal that he helped broker.
The exact nature of Wilson’s ties with Cole were not made clear in the public portion of the Nov. 1 meeting. However, a memo dated Oct. 2 chronicles his actions. Wilson wrote that leading up to his intervention, Cooper would often solicit Wilson’s perspective as a council member on issues surrounding Cole and that Cole had also solicited his advice regarding her employment situation.
“Mayor Cooper would often ask me to communicate with Ms. Cole in person to ‘calm her down,’” Wilson wrote. He claimed that Cole was aware that Cooper solicited his feedback and she would request that he speak to the mayor to “make him understand” the legal liability of his inaction, saying Cooper was not adequately addressing her claims of harassment and a hostile work environment.
Those claims were made after the authenticity of Cole’s time sheets was questioned by then-Human Relations Director Debi Humann. In late September Cooper fired Humann, saying he did not trust she could do her job. Humann made a complaint against the city Oct. 13 that is still pending.
On Sept. 22 Wilson said that Cooper asked him to talk to Cole again. “(Cooper) said (Cole) was being ‘completely irrational and is totally over the top.’”
Wilson and Cole set a meeting where Cole detailed her $3 million claim against the city.
Wilson wrote that he “was obliged to” intercede when asked. “Without an HR director, without a high level of trust in the city attorney and without the reliable trust of some of the city directors, I believe Mayor Cooper felt he had few places to turn for help in this matter.”
Wilson asked several times for a public hearing over the course of the public deliberation Nov. 1.
“We held five public hearings to ban plastic bags. I think I should at least get one,” Wilson said.
Cole, a Lynnwood city councilwoman, is a longtime friend and political ally of Cooper. She worked for him when he served on the Snohomish County Council. When he became mayor last year, Cooper hired her to be his executive assistant.