Report: No wrongdoing in Everett mayor’s romance with deputy mayor

An attorney hired by the city found no misuse of public funds. Texts between the two last year, however, were not saved on their personal phones.

Cassie Franklin

Cassie Franklin

EVERETT — An investigation into a personal relationship between Everett’s mayor and deputy mayor found no misuse of public money and no violations of city policies.

In February, the Everett City Council met in executive session for nearly an hour before voting unanimously to investigate the “personal relationship” between Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and Deputy Mayor Nick Harper. Franklin was not present at that meeting, which the council attended remotely.

At the time, City Council President Brenda Stonecipher said she hoped and expected the investigation would reveal “no wrongdoing.” The council hired attorney Lisa Marshall with Issaquah-based Kenyon Disend to oversee the investigation by attorney Amy Kangas Alexander of Stokes Lawrence P.S.

The investigation report, obtained through a public records request by The Daily Herald, concluded the evidence did not support any findings of malfeasance.

After the council announced its investigation, Franklin declined to publicly say if she was in a relationship with Harper. But she did tell The Herald about checking with the city’s human resources director if dating an employee violated any law or policy. The report states the director advised against such a relationship when the mayor asked in September. The mayor responded that she only wanted to gather information about the city policies, not advice about “the potential repercussions to her reputation.”

In the report, Franklin confirmed she was “dating” her subordinate.

“We’re not going out to dinner with flowers and roses,” Franklin reportedly told Kangas Alexander. “That’s not what this is. Lunches, drinks, conversations. We have affection for each other. (That’s) a reasonable term, that we are dating. I wouldn’t say, now we’re boyfriend and girlfriend. I would say we’ve developed strong feelings for each other.”

Kangas Alexander also reviewed the city’s Code of Ethics and Employee Rules and Regulations, but did not find any violations. City policy doesn’t require an employee to disclose a romantic relationship with a coworker, nor does the city have a policy on “nepotism,” according to the report.

Franklin became Everett’s first woman elected as mayor in 2017. When she took office, she hired Harper, a former state senator and prominent Democrat who resigned over a decade ago amid rumors of an extramarital affair with a lobbyist in Olympia.

Franklin was reelected in 2021. She separated from her then-husband in July 2022 and filed for divorce in November with the marriage “irretrievably broken,” according to Skagit County court filings.

Harper is married.


Efforts to contact Harper were unsuccessful Wednesday, and his work email had an auto-reply that he is on leave. In the report, Harper told Kangas Alexander that he has taken more time off than normal because the investigation has been “extremely challenging.”

Franklin and Harper began a romantic relationship sometime between September and December, according to the 203-page report by Kangas Alexander. But neither of them gave specifics about when it started, how and how often they communicated, or how and when they spent time together.

“I had a lot of big projects late summer and fall, and we probably just spent more time working together,” Franklin told the attorney. “At some point in the fall, we probably realized that we were developing feelings for each other, something beyond a work relationship.”

Both the mayor and deputy mayor denied “uninvited sexually-oriented verbal or physical conduct,” “any quid-pro-quo element to their relationship” and favoritism, per the investigation.

The mayor is elected to oversee daily operations of the city, including its employees, and implement laws and policies passed by the council. She is set to make over $194,000 this year, plus benefits.

The deputy mayor is a cabinet-level position appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. That position, classified as an executive director in the city’s salary ordinance, makes over $211,000 a year plus benefits.

Under the city’s charter, similar to a constitution, the mayor can appoint and remove all appointive officers and city employees with some caveats. In Everett’s 2023 organization chart, the deputy mayor is directly below the mayor and parallel to executive director positions.

Harper’s pay is set by a salary schedule with steps for his classification as an executive director based on performance and tenure. The mayor didn’t have “direct control” over the step Harper was on, but her performance rating can influence which step he reached, according to the report. Harper has been on the final step since Jan. 1, 2019, and he has received cost of living increases since then except for 2020, the investigation found.

Kangas Alexander wrote that Franklin’s employee reviews for the deputy mayor and executive director were “inconsistent” before last year when she held a group review with all three together.

“I find that Mayor Franklin’s relationship with Mr. Harper did not cause Mayor Franklin to recuse herself from evaluating Mr. Harper’s performance,” Kangas Alexander wrote, but it prompted the mayor to switch to a group evaluation in December 2022 in an effort to avoid impressions of favoritism.

Franklin and Harper traveled together three times for work trips in August and September to Tacoma, North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. Each was related to their duties and they booked separate hotel rooms, according to the report.

In August, they went to Tacoma for the Mayors Innovation Project.

Franklin and Harper went to the Carolinas in late August to study Minor League Baseball stadium development, relevant to the city as it researches building a new ballpark for the Everett AquaSox.

In September, they joined Economic Alliance Snohomish County on a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. Someone, who saw them during that time, whose name was redacted in the report, told Kangas Alexander “they were just a good team, very professional.”

During four other trips in 2022, Franklin was joined by her executive assistant twice and went alone twice, according to the report.

Four days after returning from D.C., Franklin met with Everett Human Resources Director Kandy Bartlett “to discuss city personnel matters” and ask if a romantic relationship with an employee violated a city policy because she “was developing feelings” for Harper and “felt he was developing feelings” for her.

Bartlett reportedly discouraged Franklin from dating an employee as not a best practice and something that could cause “public perception” problems.

Non-travel expense reports submitted by Franklin and Harper between May 2022 and April 2023 yielded registrations for four events filed by the mayor. The mayor approves the deputy mayor’s expenses, which also are reviewed by the city clerk’s office and can be moved up to the city’s finance director.

Most text messages on city-issued phones reviewed by the attorney between June and February were “brief and professional” and stopped after Jan. 12, according to the report. Some “appeared” to not be related to work, with examples of Franklin texting, “Made it to Suncadia,” and Harper replying, “Thanks for letting me know,” in December.

In light of an allegation that the two were texting each other during a council meeting in November, Franklin told the attorney she did not have text messages saved on her personal phone before Jan. 11. Harper told the attorney he did not have any text messages from November on his personal phone. Kangas Alexander did not review their personal phones, but wrote that they likely delete messages on their personal phones “as a matter of routine.”

In December and January, Franklin told some city employees, including City Attorney David Hall and Executive Director Lori Cummings, about the relationship.

Bartlett and Hall met with Harper on Jan. 19 to ask if the relationship was consensual, which he confirmed, according to the report.

Franklin released a statement Wednesday:

“Throughout this entire process, I have continued to do the important work that our residents and business owners rely upon me to do, including taking important steps to address our public safety challenges, welcoming new jobs and businesses into our city, representing our city regionally and nationally, advocating for additional resources and supporting the work our extraordinary teams do to keep the city running. I look forward to continuing this work as well as working with council to address the serious challenges facing our community.”

The mayor did not respond to requests for an interview.

City Council President Stonecipher also released a statement:

“We are relieved to have validation from an independent investigator that the conduct of those involved was within the boundaries of the city’s existing policies and that no taxpayer funds or city resources were used to further the relationship,” she said late Tuesday. “We entered into this process, knowing that, as elected officials, we had an obligation to taxpayers to investigate the matter, to ensure the City government is operating effectively and lawfully. We fulfilled our duty and we are satisfied with this result.”

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037;; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A few weeks before what could be her final professional UFC fight, Miranda Granger grimaces as she pushes a 45-pound plate up her driveway on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Her daughter Austin, age 11 months, is strapped to her back. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Daily Herald staff wins 5 honors at annual journalism competition

The Herald got one first-place win and four runner-up spots in SPJ’s Northwest Excellence in Journalism contest.

Panelists from different areas of mental health care speak at the Herald Forum about mental health care on Wednesday, May 31, 2023 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At panel, mental health experts brainstorm answers to staff shortages

Workforce shortages, insurance coverage and crisis response were in focus at the Snohomish forum hosted by The Daily Herald.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Report of downed hot air balloon turns up farmer’s tarp near Snohomish

Two 911 callers believed they saw a hot air balloon crash, leading to a major search-and-rescue response. It was a false alarm.

People gather for a color throw at Stanwood and Camano’s first-ever Pride celebration on Saturday, June 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘We’ve at least come a little ways’: Snohomish to host first Pride event

A 10 a.m. parade on First Street will be followed by a pop-up market with 60 vendors, a downtown wine walk, queer cabaret and more.

The site of a former 76 gas station and a handful of century old buildings will be the location for new apartments buildings at the corner of Pacific and Rucker on Wednesday, May 31, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Old gas station demolished for apartments in downtown Everett

A 200-unit apartment complex between three and seven stories tall is proposed at Pacific and Rucker avenues.

Kamiak High School is pictured Friday, July 8, 2022, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Kamiak football coach fired amid sexual misconduct investigation

Police believe Julian Willis, 34, sexually abused the student in portable classrooms on Kamiak High School’s campus.

Police: Marysville man fist-bumped cop, exposing tattoos of wanted robber

The suspect told police he robbed three stores to pay off a drug debt. He’d just been released from federal prison for another armed robbery.

Cat killed, 9 people displaced after duplex fire in Everett

None of the people were injured in the fire reported around 1:15 a.m. in the 11500 block of Meridian Avenue S.

Gabriela Kelpe at her home on Friday, June 2, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Long waits, big bills: Everett mom’s painful search for dental care

When she learned she needed a root canal, Gabriela Kelpe read an infection could go to her unborn baby. But she struggled to get affordable care.

Most Read