Snohomish County Council: Sullivan accuses Somers of ‘character assassination’

EVERETT — Snohomish County Councilman Brian Sullivan fired off a strongly worded letter Friday accusing Council chairman Dave Somers of “character assassination” and arrogance.

The missive blames Somers for contributing to a rancorous atmosphere among the county’s elected leaders and what’s become a dysfunctional budget process. Sullivan wrote that the conduct “can only be explained as purely for political gain.”

It follows Executive John Lovick’s decision Wednesday to veto the budget that Somers and two other council members passed on a 3-2 vote. Sullivan was on the losing end.

“The budget process has always presented difficult choices that requires compromises and civility between the Council and Executive’s office,” Sullivan wrote. “We have seen the exact opposite from you, Chair Somers.”

Sullivan’s letter is the latest salvo in a war of words and legislative actions that has split the council into two factions. Sullivan and Councilwoman Stephanie Wright consistently support Lovick. Somers, along with Councilmen Terry Ryan and Ken Klein, have clashed with the executive’s administration.

Klein, the lone Republican on the council, defended Somers’ leadership during the budget process. He said he felt included and called Sullivan’s accusations “totally inconsistent with reality.”

“With me, Dave has been nothing but forthright and honest,” Klein said Friday. “We obviously don’t agree on everything, but at least my ideas were heard.”

Lovick faces another re-election campaign next year, and there’s speculation in his camp that Somers or other council members may be angling to challenge him for the job.

Sullivan’s letter addressed a spat between a majority of council and the Deputy Executive Mark Ericks.

He criticized Somers for voting to spend $15,000 on a private attorney who will investigate comments Ericks allegedly made during private meetings.

“In 35 years I have had disagreements, been yelled and screamed at,” Sullivan wrote. “You got in my face three months ago and yelled profanities at me, but rather than call the police or conduct an investigation, I chose to stand up and walk away.”

Somers, Ryan and Klein believe the comments Ericks reportedly made were hostile and threatening toward them.

Sullivan also took exception to Somers’ votes to eliminate pay raises and jobs in next year’s budget, especially the recently hired deputy director of the Medical Examiner’s Office. Dan Christman, hired to bring fresh leadership to the troubled morgue, reportedly joked in a meeting about issuing death certificates for Somers and Ryan.

“This is punitive and an abuse of power,” Sullivan wrote.

All five council members are scheduled at 10:30 a.m. Monday to sit down and respond to Lovick’s budget veto. First, they’ll discuss an override. That’s extremely unlikely to happen, because it requires four votes. Neither Sullivan nor Wright appear inclined to now support the 2015 budget that a council majority passed before Thanksgiving.

If the council and executive can’t come to agreement on the budget by the end of the year, county operations could go into partial shutdown.

Meanwhile, the council has postponed a decision originally scheduled Monday about reappointing John Koster as county ombudsman. Lovick, a Democrat, hired the former longtime Republican councilman last year. He recently asked that the council not renew Koster’s contract because of anti-union statements he made in a fundraising letter for the Freedom Foundation, a conservative Olympia think tank.

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

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