EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said there’s no evidence that his top deputy threatened or harassed county councilmen.
Lovick made the announcement Thursday after performing his own fact-finding inquiry into comments made by Deputy Executive Mark Ericks this fall during closed-door meetings.
He was responding to a formal complaint that council Chairman Dave Somers filed Nov. 18, accusing Ericks of having said he would kill Councilman Terry Ryan “if it wasn’t for jail time.” Somers also recounted an episode in which Ericks allegedly laughed when another manager joked about drawing up death certificates for Somers and Ryan.
“What I’ve determined is that no threats were made,” Lovick said. “I’ve interviewed a lot of people at the meeting and no threats were made.”
Lovick said he performed the inquiry according to a procedure recommended by the county’s human resources director, who also was present when some of the comments were made. In all, he said, he talked to about a dozen people. Citing personnel issues, he declined to discuss any discipline that may have been meted out.
“I’ve had a long conversation with my deputy executive and I’m satisfied,” he said. “We’ve had some heart-to-heart conversations and we’re going to pledge to do everything we can to work with the County Council.”
If Lovick was hoping council members would be satisfied, he might be in for disappointment.
“I don’t think his response is even responsive to my letter,” Somers said. “My letter outlines a number of issues that go beyond the veiled threats.”
Somers said Lovick’s conclusion didn’t match what council members and their staff had heard about the remarks.
“I’m really surprised,” he said. “This is not consistent with what we’ve heard from a number of people.”
In Somers’ complaint letter, he describes meeting with Ericks one-on-one in September. The council chairman remembered the deputy executive saying something about killing Ryan, “If it wasn’t for jail time.” During the same meeting, Ericks also allegedly referred to Councilman Ken Klein as being a “former sandwich maker” for Microsoft employees, a reference to Klein’s previous job on the operations side of a food-services company.
Also recounted in the letter is an executive’s cabinet meeting in October, at which Somers wasn’t present. Other county employees reported overhearing Ericks refer to Ryan as a “terrorist” and reacting with amusement when the newly hired deputy director of the Medical Examiner’s Office, Dan Christman, offered to write up death certificates for Ryan and Somers. Christman used to work with Ericks at the Bothell Police Department and started his county job in early September.
Ericks has worked in law enforcement for more than 40 years. He was serving as the presidentially appointed U.S. marshal for the Western District of Washington in mid-2013 when Lovick recruited him to be the county’s top administrator.
Lovick is a retired state trooper and former county sheriff.
Somers said he wrote the formal complaint only after Lovick failed to “commit to any course of action” about the behavior.
Council members are exploring the idea of hiring an outside attorney to investigate Ericks’ remarks as potential workplace harassment. They’re likely to take up a proposed contract, with a proposed $15,000 maximum, at their regular meeting scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday, Somers said.
“I believe the independent investigation is more important than ever,” he said.
The tension between the executive’s administration and most council members also has created a rift, leaving the council split 3-2 on several contentious votes. Somers, Ryan and Klein typically wind up on one side of the vote, versus council members Stephanie Wright and Brian Sullivan on the other.
Wright and Sullivan have regularly supported Lovick’s positions.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, the County Council divided along those lines when it passed a 2015 budget. The council budget made significant changes to the spending plan Lovick recommended in September.
Lovick has until Dec. 12 to sign or veto the budget.
Similar splits occurred in February, when a council majority voted to extend the amount of time the auditor’s office would remain under the county auditor, instead of the executive. Lovick later vetoed that decision and now has authority over the tech department.
With the exception of Klein, all of the council members are Democrats, as is Lovick.
Lovick, Sullivan and Ericks all served together as Democrats in the state House of Representatives.
Lovick was appointed executive in 2013 and won election to a special one-year term in office Nov. 4. He must run again next year for another four years in office. Ericks has accused council members of challenging Lovick to make the executive more vulnerable during next year’s election. Somers, Ryan and Klein have said that isn’t true.