Stories differ in Lynnwood mayor investigation

LYNNWOOD — The latest salvo in the aftermath of an investigation into Mayor Don Gough’s dealings with his former top assistant comes from an unlikely source: the consultant herself.

Lead investigator Kris Cappel of the Seabold Group this past week fired back at Gough’s lawyer’s version of what happened during the five-month investigation into the work relationship between the mayor and Stephanie Simpson, his former executive assistant.

Councilman Jim Smith read Cappel’s letter aloud during Monday’s City Council meeting.

In a three-page letter to City Attorney Rosemary A. Larson, Cappel responded to what she wrote were “key factual errors” about the investigation contained in a Sept. 13 letter written by Gough’s lawyer, Sidney J. Strong of Seattle.

“It is not our general practice to respond to these types of letters,” Cappel wrote. “However, in this instance, we would be remiss if we did not address the inaccurate allegations that are contained in the letter regarding how the investigation was conducted.”

Simpson in February accused Gough of harassing and belittling her as a working mother as well as retaliating against her for seeking a promotion. In mid-March, she reached a $49,500 severance agreement, agreed not to sue and worked from home until she left the city June 1.

The city made a report of that investigation public Aug. 12.

Seabold found no evidence to support Simpson’s allegations that she was passed up for a promotion because of her gender. Its investigation also was inconclusive as to whether Gough harbored a bias against women. It concluded that Gough repeatedly attempted to interfere with the investigation, allegedly using his job to intimidate and pressure witnesses against him.

Based on the investigation, the City Council in August called for Gough to resign and changed the city’s employment policies and practices to require virtually all hiring, promotion or disciplinary action be submitted for review and confirmation by the council.

Strong’s letter was Gough’s first public response to the investigation’s conclusions.

In an e-mail to The Herald late Tuesday, Gough wrote, “I stand by Mr. Strong’s letter.”

Cappel focused most of her comments on Strong’s account of what occurred during interactions she had with Gough on May 27 and 28.

Her investigation alleged that Gough showed up at the city’s human resources office to search for information May 28, even though he’d been told Seabold would be using the offices for interviews with employees.

In his letter, Strong asserted that Cappel knew Gough would show up because he mentioned it during the interview the day before. “By coincidence the interviewer was at the HR department at the same time,” Strong’s letter said. He also alleged that Cappel, in a second interview with Gough May 27, demanded that “any documentation Mr. Gough had, or could get, needed to be provided immediately, in order for the report to be completed.”

Cappel alleged in her response that events didn’t happen that way.

“Contrary to Mr. Strong’s repeated representations, I was not informed on May 27 that Mayor Gough planned to visit or work from HR’s offices on Friday, May 28, 2010,” Cappel wrote. “If I had known of his intentions, I would have attempted to persuade Mr. Gough not to work at that location or I would have changed the location of the previously scheduled interviews, as I was ultimately compelled to do the next day when I became aware of Mayor Gough’s presence in the office.”

Cappel also took issue with Strong’s claim that investigators demanded the mayor find documents supporting his side of the story immediately.

“Rather, at the conclusion of Mayor Gough’s interview on May 27, 2010, I asked Mayor Gough to provide me with copies of his calendar and relevant email communications he referenced during his interview, neither of which required Mayor Gough to go to HR,” her letter said.

Katherine Weber, assistant city attorney, said the city’s law firm, Inslee Best Dozie &Ryder PS, did not ask Cappel to write a letter in response to Strong.

“That follow-up letter is her response for information purposes but it does not alter the findings set forth in the original report,” she said. “Any additional information is certainly noted but it doesn’t change the report, nor does it require any further action on the part of the city with respect to Ms. Simpson’s allegation. We do consider that investigation to be concluded.”

Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429; ohalpert@heraldnet.com

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