Mill Creek police chief may be on leave, but city won’t say

The city manager and other officials would not confirm the department head’s employment status.

MILL CREEK — Police Chief Greg Elwin is reportedly on administrative leave, but Mill Creek city officials are not sharing his employment status with the public.

The Daily Herald has for days sought to confirm that Elwin has been put on leave, as was first reported by the Mill Creek Beacon. As of Friday night, officials had not confirmed the fact. However, the city manager referred to Deputy Chief of Police Scott Eastman as “acting chief” in a Friday news release about the department’s vehicle fleet.

Eastman said City Manager Michael Ciaravino appointed him acting police chief on Jan. 17 but would not confirm that Elwin had been placed on administrative leave. Eastman said he was not told how long he would be serving as the head of the department. He referred all other questions to Ciaravino.

“This is a confidential personnel matter and it is not appropriate for the City to comment at this time,” Ciaravino wrote in a Thursday email to The Herald.

Ciaravino did not respond to additional questions.

Mill Creek Mayor Pam Pruitt and Communications and Marketing Coordinator Meredith Cook also did not respond to requests for comment.

Elwin couldn’t be reached.

Uncertainty about the chief’s employment status is the latest sign of municipal trouble in the Snohomish County city of roughly 20,000 people.

In April 2018, the police chief was one of four high-level city officials who highlighted issues with a past city manager’s behavior.

The city cut ties with former City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto in fall 2018 amid allegations that she misused her city credit card and bullied staff. Mill Creek spent nearly $50,0000 on probes that found Polizzotto charged personal expenses on the credit card, manipulated reimbursement files and created a toxic work environment at City Hall.

Polizzotto has denied those conclusions, saying she “did not engage in abusive behavior.”

Another one of the four city officials who complained about Polizzotto’s behavior is following through with a threat to sue Mill Creek.

Former city spokeswoman Joni Kirk alleged she was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for reporting the ex-city manager’s misconduct.

Her lawsuit, filed in Snohomish County Superior Court in December, says the mayor wanted to oust her and three other “whistleblowers.” Pruitt wrote “negative articles” regarding the four of them that were published in local newspapers and addressed them “in an antagonistic manner” during meetings, the lawsuit alleges.

The City Council hired Ciaravino last spring. The new city manager had a “close working relationship” with Pruitt, according to the lawsuit. He informed Kirk of her termination on Aug. 2, the lawsuit says.

Ciaravino said in an email that the city “is not able to comment on ongoing litigation.”

The city previously denied Kirk’s claim that she was wrongfully terminated, saying in a past news release that she “showed poor judgment in the handling of an employment situation, including recording a private meeting on her personal cell phone without consent and failing to disclose the recording to the public records officer when records requests were made.”

Months before her termination, Kirk fired a subordinate in the communications office. When she terminated the employee, she recorded the meeting with him because the city’s human resources manager couldn’t be present, her lawsuit states.

State law requires consent from everyone involved in a private conversation between two or more people before making an electronic recording.

The lawsuit says that she didn’t ask the employee’s permission to record him before she fired him but that she didn’t break the law by recording the meeting. Everett police investigated her actions, and she did not face criminal charges, the lawsuit states.

Kirk filed another lawsuit against Mill Creek in Snohomish County Superior Court last September, alleging that the city’s refusal to provide her with a third-party investigative report, regarding her actions, violated the state Public Records Act.

The two other top city staffers who raised concerns about Polizzotto’s conduct no longer work for the city, according to the wrongful termination lawsuit. One, a human resources director, retired; the other, a finance director, resigned after Ciaravino became city manager “because of a hostile work environment he created for her,” the lawsuit alleges.

Kirk’s lawsuit also says she suffered defamation as a result of public statements that city officials made after her removal. She is being represented by attorney Rodney Moody of Everett.

The legal complaint’s list of demands includes a jury trial, back pay, damages and reinstatement to her position as the city’s communications director.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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