Mill Creek official placed on leave; no explanation given

The council’s move followed an executive session partly about potential legal action against the city.

Rebecca Polizzotto

Rebecca Polizzotto

MILL CREEK — The City Council emerged from a long executive session Tuesday evening and placed city administrator Rebecca Polizzotto on paid administrative leave.

They declined to explain why they took the move, after their recent public support for the city manager.

“I have no comment,” Mayor Pam Pruitt said afterward.

Polizzotto has been absent from work since April, when city officials have said she got sick and took medical leave. Pruitt has said that she has been bringing documents to Polizzotto at home during that time to work on city business.

After placing Polizzotto on leave Tuesday, the council appointed police Chief Greg Elwin as the city’s acting manager, effective immediately, until an interim manager can be found. They signaled interest in contracting with Bob Stowe, a former city manager for Mill Creek and Bothell, for the interim job during Polizzotto’s absence, if he’s available.

All six council members at the meeting voted in support of the actions, which followed an executive session that lasted nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes. There was discussion about whether Polizzotto’s leave should start right away, or next week, to allow her to sign contracts.

The executive session included two separate topics: the performance of an unnamed employee and potential legal action against the city.

Only City Councilman Jared Mead wasn’t present for the special meeting, which replaced the regular meeting scheduled for the following week.

On June 8, a Friday evening, the City Council called an unusual meeting to issue a statement defending Polizzotto from allegations of impropriety. Much of the statement dealt with an article in a weekly newspaper.

“The council looks forward to Ms. Polizzotto being able to return to work soon,” the statement read, in part.

A lawyer with a master’s degree in public administration, Polizzotto worked as an assistant attorney general in Alaska and managed a small city in Georgia before coming to Mill Creek in mid-2015.

She’s the highest-ranking employee for the city of 20,000 with 54 full-time employees, about half within the police department. Another 12 city workers are part time or seasonal.

The city manager draws a yearly base salary of $173,825. The contract also includes a $300 monthly car allowance. She received an extra $16,000 last year that the HR department described as an “employee award.”

Most of the council has stood by Polizzotto since she joined the city, despite numerous clashes with staff. Former city workers have accused her of creating a toxic workplace that drove many of them to leave.

The action against Polizzotto came a day before an exit interview for a yearly state accountability audit. A spokeswoman for the state auditor’s office has characterized the process as a risk-based accountability audit. It’s unclear whether there’s any connection the council’s action and that process.

Auditors last year flagged trouble spots with the city’s bookkeeping. Areas for improvement included the regular use of city funds to buy employee-appreciation gifts such as gift cards, pens and jewelry, a practice that predated the current city manager and continued after her arrival. Auditors noted lax documentation for meal and other credit card purchases, many made by Polizzotto.

Polizzotto at the time defended her spending and said she was working to develop new city policies to avoid confusion.

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

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