Edmonds mayor’s aide will stay on paid leave at least until investigation finished

EDMONDS — Five weeks after trying to depart as the mayor’s chief aide, Kimberly Cole continues receiving a paycheck from the city of Edmonds.

And she may do so for the foreseeable future.

Cole is on paid administrative leave during an investigation into her claim that the actions of other employees created a hostile work environment at City Hall.

She will earn her $79,000-a-year salary at least until the probe is finished, city officials said. In Cole’s absence, the city hired Michael Heavey as a temporary employee in the mayor’s office and will pay him $27.41 an hour with no benefits through Nov. 28.

Mayor Mike Cooper said he thinks the outside investigator hired by the city will be done with his work by the end of next month.

“It’s just a matter of them getting through the interviews,” he said. “I fully anticipate that well before the results of the election are certified the investigation will be complete.”

Whether Cooper will be in a position of dealing with the findings will be decided in the election. He’s in a tough race against opponent Dave Earling and questions about Cole’s tenure and the investigation are on the minds of voters. Typically, a new mayor is sworn in on Jan. 1, but, since Cooper was appointed, whoever wins the election will be sworn in Nov. 29.

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.

On Sept. 21, Cooper sent Cole home after she expressed concerns about her personal safety at work.

“In order to protect you from unwelcome intimidation regarding a personnel matter I am placing you on paid administrative leave,” he wrote her in an email.

Moments later she responded.

“I have been anxious about even going to our floors restroom at this point, opting instead to go downstairs,” she wrote. “The volume of hostility is such that this is probably best.”

Public records show over the next two days she, Cooper and attorneys for her and the city worked on variations of a deal to let Cole resign and receive a lump sum settlement.

On Sept. 22, Cole resigned and signed a version which had a $65,000 payment. A day later, she signed an agreement beefed up with language from city lawyers that provided an $84,000 payment — the equivalent of a year’s salary plus benefits.

But Oct. 4, the City Council — including Councilman D.J. Wilson who helped facilitate earlier negotiations with Cole — voted to rescind the deal. That action effectively reinstated Cole.

After that happened, the focus shifted to the investigation Kirkland attorney Jim Webber began last week. Its extent is not clear.

Cole initially voiced her concerns to Cooper then “backed it up with an email” followed by a letter from her attorney to the city’s attorney, the mayor said. “She made a complaint under our personnel policies.”

James Spencer, Cole’s attorney, said there is a history of her expressing concerns to city officials but no official written complaint has been filed.

“We’re obviously interested in seeing where the investigation goes and taking steps from there,” he said.

He said it’s “speculative” as to whether Cole will pursue legal action.

“Ms. Cole has a history of service to the community. She’s not interested in milking the city,” he said. “She wants to serve. Unfortunately, under the circumstances right now, she can’t do that.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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