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Civil service controversy continues

The controversy involving the city’s Civil Service Commission was elevated this week after former Secretary/Chief Examiner Kim Hendrickson filed an ethics complaint and a petition to remove two of the commission’s three sitting members.

The commission’s continuing drama was triggered by the termination of Hendrickson’s independent contract with the city in August. Commission Chair David Hand and Commissioner George McKinney. both of whom had resigned earlier in the month and later retracted their resignations, are the subject of the ethics violation and petition for removal.

Hendrickson filed the ethics complaint before the CSC meeting on Friday, Sept. 9, and submitted the petition for removal on Monday. The documents charge the commissioners with malfeasance in office and dereliction of duty and alleges: violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA); acting to limit public access to commission proceedings and information; attempting to manipulate records of commission proceedings, violating rules governing temporary appointments; and putting the city at increased risk for litigation.

The commissioners clearly drew their lines in the sand at Friday’s meeting. The controversy has also split the City Council, which will now be charged with conducting a process to review the allegations, and to make any decisions related to appointing and removing commissioners. The council meeting set for Wednesday was cancelled within hours of the scheduled start time due to a lack of quorum.

The volunteer citizen committee, which is responsible for independent oversight of police department hires and employment decisions, has been under fire since last month.

The prior role of the S/CE was in the form of an “independent contractor” responsible for administrative duties, compliance with commission rules and other BIPD employment tasks including writing job descriptions and administering employment exams.

The heart of the current dispute is over the vote to either retain the S/CE position as an independent contractor or to fill the position with a city employee.

Hendrickson and the third commissioner, Robert Fernandez, claim that a vote was taken involving the proposed change in June and ailed with Commissioners Fernandez and Hand against. At the Aug. 12 meeting, the vote was re-introduced, by commissioner McKinney, and passed with approval from Hand and McKinney.

Hand argues there was no June vote.

“I know how I vote, when I vote and how I vote,” said Hand. “When it is repeated and then again [repeated], in my view, this becomes a deliberate falsehood.”

Commissioner McKinney also took exception with Hendrickson's presentation of the minutes.

“I have concerns about [Hendrickson’s] minute taking,” said McKinney. “What you put down is what you want to hear.”

Councilors Bill Knobloch and Kim Brackett, who attended the meeting contend  there was a vote.

A June vote is pertinent because if a vote was taken and McKinney was on the losing side, then it’s a violation for McKinney to re-introduce the motion according to Robert’s Rules of Order, which govern commission procedures.

On Friday, Hendrickson said she was disturbed by Hand and McKinney’s actions.

“The casual attitude to their duties is completely inappropriate,” said Hendrickson. “There is a new demand for seriousness about rules, particularly about hiring rules when it comes to the BIPD.”

At the direction of Chair Hand, Bauer assigned a city human resources employee to act as interim S/CE until a permanent hire is made. Hendrickson was previously told her contract would end Sept. 30, but Hand delegated her only remaining duty as turning over all records.

“I think the chair feels that he cannot rely on her to perform her duties in the manner in which the commission would like performed,” Bauer said.

Hendrickson and Fernandez remain opposed to the transfer.

Fernandez referenced the Seattle Police Guild v City of Seattle 2004 appellate decision when Seattle’s attempt to transfer commission functions to city personnel was invalidated by the court in a motion he made Friday.

“The motion I made was to shift the administrative duties such as note taking to a city employee, but for the commission to keep its independence by hiring an S/CE to score tests, assist with the employee hiring lists and other responsibilities related to BIPD employment,” said Fernandez.

There was no second to the motion made by Fernandez at Friday’s meeting.

“A S/CE [with] two ‘bosses’ – the city manager and the Civil Service Commission – will be conflicted when there is a divergence between administration and Commission interests,” said Hendrickson in objection to the August vote.

Hendrickson said the debate over the S/CE position deserves public scrutiny, but was discussed out of the public eye.

According to the ethics violation, the trouble started when commissioners met with Bauer and City Attorney Jack Johnson behind closed doors in a commission meeting without public notification. Bauer declined to address the allegations because it is the council and ethic’s committee’s role to decide on the issues.

Bauer requested the meeting to respond to a letter sent by Hendrickson requesting the resources necessary for the commission to adhere to CSC rules and state law, including office space and outside legal counsel.

At the meeting, Bauer raised her concerns with city compliance, including Hendrickson’s role as an “independent contractor.”

Bauer said she was concerned about the legal status of a contractor with access to City Hall, budget impacts for outside attorney services and issues with personnel records kept at a person’s home.

Bauer said there can be significant consequences for treating a contractor as a city employee, yet she was uncomfortable with public records being kept at home.

Bauer queried 15 other cities, all of which stated they handle the S/CE position internally. Bauer said her conversations over commission organization ended at that time.

Hendrickson remains confident about her role.

“What is important is that my contract was terminated without cause, and it occurred – coincidentally or not – after I expressed concerns to the city manager and commissioners about commission operations,” said Hendrickson. “I have an obligation, as the S/CE, to make sure commission rules are followed.”

The council and city’s ethics committee are now charged with deciphering the facts.

The council voted 4-2 vote as a show of public support for the CSC’s decision in August.

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