Lynnwood mayor tried to interfere with investigation, report suggests

LYNNWOOD — Mayor Don Gough repeatedly attempted to interfere with an investigation into his treatment of city employees, allegedly using his job to pressure and intimidate potential witnesses against him, a newly released report suggests.

The conduct was severe and frequent enough that the Seabold Group devoted an entire section of their report to the mayor’s alleged behavior.

“Several incidents came to the attention of the investigator during the investigation that called into question the Mayor’s credibility,” the report said. “These incidents raised concerns for the investigator to say the very least. In Seabold Group’s collective experience, if employees accused of wrongdoing had engaged in the same or similar behavior as Mayor Gough did in this investigation, there likely would have been serious disciplinary consequences.”

At one point, Gough in essence started his own investigation where he shared his recollections with witnesses and questioned their memories.

“To the extent that a witness may have had a recollection inconsistent with or that outright contradicted the Mayor’s, it placed the witness in an extremely vulnerable position, and had the potential of tainting the reliability of those witnesses’ previous and future statements in the investigation, as well as the Mayor’s statements,” the report said.

The city released the report this afternoon, six months after the probe began. The report’s findings played a big role in the City Council’s decision Monday to seek his resignation.

The report had been kept secret for 10 days to give the mayor a chance to ask a court to block its release. The city placed a link on its website to the report, but it’s not working.

The City Council voted 6-1 this week to call for Gough to step down based on the investigation’s findings. Although they don’t have the authority to force the mayor out of office, council members voted to require sweeping changes to the city’s employment policies and practices to require virtually all hiring, promotion or disciplinary action under Gough’s control to be submitted for review and confirmation by the council.

Although investigators spoke with 37 different witnesses, completing some 50 interviews, the findings largely focus on Gough’s treatment of his former top assistant,Stephanie Simpson.

The council ordered the investigation in April after Simpson alleged sexual discrimination. She was paid $49,500 severance and three months’ benefits and agreed to leave her job and not sue the city.

An administrative law judge in a ruling on unemployment benefits for Simpson wrote last week that evidence shows Gough treats some female employees inappropriately and with contempt. He said Gough “verbally attacks them and demeans them.”

Five top-level female City Hall employees in a letter to the City Council this week said working under Gough has become intolerable. They said they’ve been subjected to “hostile and harassment-based working environment.”

Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429; ohalpert@heraldnet.com.

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