Civil Service drama continues

The City Council struggled to lead a conversation to determine the next step’s for the city’s Civil Service Commission at Wednesday’s council meeting.

The discussions fell into hostile disagreement at several moments as the legislative body tried to grapple with creating a new judicial process to handle the petition from former Secretary/Chief Examiner Kim Hendrickson to remove two of the commission’s three sitting members.

The volunteer citizen committee responsible for independent oversight of police department hires and employment decisions has been under fire since August when Hendrickson’s independent contract was terminated with the city.

Last week Hendrickson filed an ethic’s complaint and a petition, following the whistleblower’s process in the city’s governance manual. The city does not have a process, however, to remove appointed commissioners from independent bodies such as the CSC, Planning Commission and Salary Commission without reason.

Hendrickson has charged the commissioners with malfeasance in office and dereliction of duty and alleges: violations 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.

Without a process in place Councilor Bob Scales fashioned a proposed process using a combination of the state law which regulates recall for elected officials and the city’s ethic compliant process.

The CSC controversy has become a hot topic in the community circling allegations and opinion in various blogs and email chains. It has become a symbol of community frustration for issues of transparency and trust in the Bainbridge Island Police Department.

Several of the councilors stressed the importance of  making sure that neither the community members or councilors are making judgment decisions about the issue without hearing both sides of the story.

“This is a fact finding process,” said Mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos. “We take very seriously that these are private citizens who have volunteered for over a decade on our commission and we are having a hearing on them. It is very important that a private individual being accused of something has the opportunity to respond and present their side of the story.”

The proposed process will begin with a detailed description of the allegations signed under penalty of perjury by the person making the charge, in this case Hendrickson, and filed with the city clerk. Within 30 days of receiving the petition the city’s hearing examiner will conduct a hearing to determine whether the acts in the charge are factually and legally sufficient to satisfy the criteria for a petition removal.

A hearing will then be held where the commissioner and petitioner may appear with counsel and the facts will be presented with evidence and testimony.

The hearing examiner will then submit findings of fact to the council to determine if the charges in the petition are sufficient. If the hearing examiner determines the charges are insufficient the petition will be dismissed. The decision is final and may not be appealed.

Within 15 days of receiving the findings the City Council will schedule a public hearing to discuss the charges and vote to remove or retain the commissioner.

The proposed process, Hytopoulos said, will be used for any petition related to the city’s three independent commissions. The City Attorney Jack Johnson is currently on vacation and was unable to comment on the proposed process.

“There will be no desire to prolong this because it’s hanging over the heads of the commissioners,” said Hytopoulos. “We need to have a functioning commission should issues come up.”

The council remained clearly divided on the issue, but voted 6-1 to carry forward with the proposal from Scales after consulting with the city’s attorney.

Hendrickson, who spoke at public comment urged the council for a hearing to handle the allegations. Hendrickson said she tried for months to alert the city manger and commission to problems, but was ignored. The petition, she said, was her last resort in a process that failed to resolve the issues that she repeatedly tried to address.

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