County councilman complains about ‘intolerable’ remarks by Lovick deputy

EVERETT — Snohomish County Council chairman Dave Somers has filed a formal complaint alleging “reprehensible and intolerable” remarks against him and other council members.

In a Nov. 18 letter to Executive John Lovick, Somers accused Deputy Executive Mark Ericks of saying, in a private meeting, that he would kill Councilman Terry Ryan, “If it wasn’t for jail time.”

“This really exceeds what we were subjected to under the Reardon administration,” Somers said Wednesday. “It’s an intolerable, hostile environment. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”

Council members plan to consider hiring an outside attorney to investigate those remarks, and others, as potential workplace harassment.

This is the latest sign of a souring mood in county government. Lovick enjoyed tremendous good will when appointed in 2013 to replace his tainted predecessor, Aaron Reardon, who had a notoriously acrimonious relationship with other elected leaders. Lovick won election to a special one-year term in office Nov. 4 and must run again next year for another four years in office.

“When I voted to appoint you as County Executive, following former Executive Reardon’s resignation, it was my hope and sincerely held belief that county government would finally return to a workplace defined by civility and mutual respect,” Somers wrote.

Lovick could not be reached Wednesday.

Other instances cited in Somers’ letter include alleged remarks from Ericks about Councilman Ken Klein being a “former sandwich maker” for Microsoft employees, a reference to Klein’s previous job on the operations side of a food-services company.

During an executive’s cabinet meeting, for which Somers wasn’t present, the letter also describes Ericks allegedly referring to Ryan as a “terrorist” and reacting with amusement when the newly hired deputy director of the Medical Examiner’s Office, Dan Christman, joked about writing up death certificates for Ryan and Somers. Christman used to work with Ericks at the Bothell Police Department.

Somers said he tried to talk to Lovick about the comments a few weeks ago, but the executive “would not commit to any course of action at all.”

Ericks, for his part, said he suspected politics were in play, but was reluctant “to feed the gossip mill and the rumor mill.”

“It’s all connected and at the root, it’s all about politics,” he said. “Which one of those guys are we going to see on the ballot against John Lovick? That’s the heart of it.”

Ericks said the comments about death certificates did not occur the way they’re characterized in the letter.

The deputy executive said he believes a majority of the council took retaliatory action in the 2015 budget that a divided council passed on Monday — an allegation Somers refutes.

In a 3-2 vote, Somers, Ryan and Klein voted to eliminate Christman’s position at the end of the year, and took away a $17,559 raise that Ericks received earlier in the year. They set Ericks’ salary back to the $171,853 it was at the beginning of 2014. He was one of six managers in Lovick’s administration subject to the council’s rollback.

Council members Brian Sullivan and Stephanie Wright did not support those actions, and voted against the overall budget passed by their three colleagues.

Klein called the remarks described in Somers letter “a textbook case of a hostile work environment and it’s coming from the highest appointed person in the executive’s administration.

“He’s a former law enforcement official and should know better,” he added.

Ericks is a former Bellevue homicide detective, was police chief and city manager in Bothell, and was recruited to be Lovick’s deputy executive while serving as U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Washington.

All of the elected officials mentioned in the letter, with the exception of Klein, are Democrats. Most have supported one another in past campaigns. Ryan and Lovick, however, have a history of disagreements dating back to their time together on the Mill Creek City Council.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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