Mill Creek fires city manager after ‘difficult’ months

The council approved a separation agreement Tuesday. Details were not immediately disclosed.

Rebecca Polizzotto

Rebecca Polizzotto

MILL CREEK — The Mill Creek City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to end city manager Rebecca Polizzotto’s employment, effective immediately.

The decision by the seven council members also authorized a separation agreement with Polizzotto, who has been on leave since June. The details of that agreement were not yet made available.

The reaction in council chambers was muted. Mayor Pam Pruitt, alone among her council colleagues, offered words of praise for Polizzotto, specifically her work on the city budget and tourism promotion.

“It is unfortunate Mrs. Polizzotto will not be part of our city government in the future so she could build on her many past successes achieved here,” Pruitt said.

Councilman Mark Bond thanked staff for confronting “unique challenges” during the past few years. As Bond spoke, he looked in the direction of city employees who had filed internal complaints this spring about Polizzotto’s treatment of staff, among other concerns.

Polizzotto was not present.

The City Council voted unanimously last week to draft paperwork to terminate Polizzotto and to vote on it this week. After the earlier meeting, city attorney Scott Missall ordered council members not to speak about the matter publicly. During Tuesday’s meeting, Missall said that over the past week, he had spoken to Polizzotto’s attorneys and reached an agreement about ending her employment.

The city issued a news release afterward.

“The council acknowledges that the last several months have been extremely difficult because it has not been able to share information with the public regarding the personnel matter related to its former city manager,” the statement read, in part. “The council has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of the city and disclosing personnel information or acting before its processes are followed, would put the city’s financial resources at substantial risk, and would not follow the appropriate and recommended legal course of action.”

Polizzotto started working for the city in 2015. As complaints about her conduct surfaced, she defended herself by saying she was taking necessary steps to reform the culture of the relatively young city, founded in 1983.

Polizzotto, 53, has been absent from City Hall since April, on sick leave and later working from home. She has said she was battling severe bronchitis.

Her troubles escalated this spring.

In April, four high-level employees —the city’s police chief, the human resources director, the finance director and the communications director— filed whistleblower complaints about Polizzotto. Missall has hired an outside investigator to look into their concerns, according to city documents released under state public disclosure laws. Little has been said publicly about that investigation.

In June, the State Auditor’s Office released a report that flagged questionable meal and alcohol expenses on Polizzotto’s city credit card. That came out two days after the City Council placed her on leave. From 2015 through 2017, the auditor highlighted $269 in alcohol charges, which are never allowed as a public expense under state law, as well as $955 for meals with no obvious public purpose.

The city manager for the city of about 20,000 people earns a yearly base salary of about $174,000, almost as much as Gov. Jay Inslee.

Polizzotto in July filed a $1 million damage claim against the city, alleging breach of contract, violation of due process rights, defamation and interference with her supervision of employees.

Mill Creek has a pattern of forcing its city managers to resign. Polizzotto’s immediate predecessor, Ken Armstrong, resigned in early 2015, more than a month after the City Council passed a resolution about ending his contract.

Bob Stowe, a former city manager for Mill Creek, has been filling the job on an interim basis. The council plans to start work immediately to find a permanent city manager.

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

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