Olson announces return to divided Everett City Council

EVERETT — Everett City Councilman Mark Olson will return to office before a prosecutor decides whether to pursue rape charges against him.

Olson, who is facing pressure from fellow council members to resign, was granted an extended paid leave of absence Sept. 19. He is due back at City Hall today.

Olson, 52, an Everett attorney, did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday. Instead, he e-mailed a written statement, saying he used his time off to re-examine priorities and attend to personal issues.

“I return to the council with a refreshed sense of purpose and am ready to roll-up my sleeves and resume work on behalf of the citizens of Everett,” Olson wrote.

He’s denied allegations that he raped an acquaintance in June at his downtown Everett law office after a night of drinking. Olson admitted sexual contact with the woman, but said it was consensual, according to a police affidavit.

Olson has not been charged with a crime, and prosecutors say it could be weeks before a decision is announced.

Even so, fallout from the councilman’s legal woes has frayed the council.

“The controversy that’s been present for the last few months has been very distracting,” said Councilman Arlan Hatloe, one of Olson’s most outspoken critics. Hatloe previously said Olson should spare the council and city staff further embarrassment and resign.

“If I were in his shoes that’s what I would do,” he said.

In addition to the woman’s rape allegation, a judge recently found that Olson violated an agreement that let him seek treatment instead of prosecution after a 2003 drunken-driving arrest. He’s now under court order to stay sober until 2010. Olson was pulled over at the Tulalip Indian Reservation four years ago after he nearly hit a tribal police officer who had stopped another vehicle, documents show.

Olson’s attorney, Bill Bowman, said Wednesday the Cascade District Court ruling is being appealed, and he is confident it will be overturned.

Olson’s troubles have been a source of discomfort for his City Council colleagues.

After initially expressing disappointment and saying Olson might have violated his oath of office, Council President Brenda Stonecipher and other council members have muted their criticism.

The silence is based in part on the advice of city attorney Ned Johnston, who has said the city charter provides no legal mechanism for council members to take action in a case such as Olson’s.

“We’re just still very constrained by the language in the charter,” Stonecipher said.

Councilman Paul Roberts, who previously said it might be appropriate for Olson to step aside, is now keeping mum.

“I don’t think commenting on it puts us in a better spot,” Roberts said. “You’re not going to get a comment on it from me.”

Roberts was appointed to replace Olson on the Sound Transit’s board of directors last month, just ahead of the transit agency’s final push for Proposition 1 — a $17.8 billion roads and transit measure on the November ballot.

Council members have no authority under the city charter to force a fellow member from office. To lose a seat, a council member would have to be convicted of a felony crime “involving moral turpitude,” violate his oath of office or miss three consecutive meetings without excuse, according to the city charter, the city’s constitution.

The council could censure Olson, and strip him of his committee assignments, and has talked about the possibility of a no-confidence motion, but won’t likely take action, Stone­cipher said.

“We really don’t see any action available to the council. There are constraints,” said Councilman Drew Nielsen. “I have to tread lightly, because of legal advice that council members have gotten from the city attorney.”

Councilman Bob Overstreet, who is retiring this year after three decades in office, also made clear that the city is doing its best to avoid potential litigation.

“We’re limited by charter and state law as to what we can do,” Overstreet said. “Rather than get ourselves into a potential quagmire, we have to let this thing kind of work its course.”

Councilman Ron Gipson, who in September tried to block council approval of Olson’s leave of absence, also declined to weigh in this week.

“It’s up to the courts right now,” he said.

The rape investigation is being handled by Skagit County prosecutor Richard Weyrich. He said Tuesday more investigation is necessary, and it may be two weeks before he makes a decision on whether to file charges.

He declined to say what he asked investigators to examine.

Snohomish County prosecutor Janice Ellis asked Weyrich to oversee the investigation in an effort to avoid any potential conflict of interest. Everett police made a similar request, asking the Washington State Patrol to investigate the allegation against Olson.

Herald Writer Diana Hefley contributed to this report.

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@heraldnet.com.

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