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EDMONDS BEACON YOUR HOMETOWN NEWSPAPER

www.edmondsbeacon.com

806 5th Street, Mukilteo, WA 98275

IN THIS BEACON

Cultural plan moves forward Here’s Sigar’s ducky column E-W joins 3A Wesco league Advance care planning time

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Volume XXIX Number 13 Jan. 16, 2014

‘LES MIZ’

BEAST MODE

Village Theatre production is a winner

Edmonds Seahawks fans are ready to rumble Sunday

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Finance director resigns Cites City Council ‘conflict, disrespect’ BY PAUL ARCHIPLEY PUBLISHER @ YOURBEACON . NET

fter just six months on the job, A Edmonds Finance Director Roger Neumaier has tendered his resignation,

effective Jan. 31. In his resignation letter to Mayor Dave Earling, Neumaier cited “some very aggressive behavior from BY PAUL ARCHIPLEY certain Council PUBLISHER @ YOURBEACON . NET members� as a contributing oger Neumaier expected factor in his decision. He his job with the City of did not identify Edmonds would be his last those councilin public service. He just members. didn’t think it would be so But he said the atmosphere short. is one of Hired in June 2013 as “conflict and the City’s finance director – disrespect� after nearly 10 years as the that needs to Snohomish County finance be addressed before the director – Neumaier City hires his decided the challenge of replacement. working with some elected “I am not the officials here wasn’t worth only City emthe stress. ployee who has wrestled with On Dec. 30, he resigned, micromanageeffective Jan. 31. ment and lack In an interview with The of respect Beacon, Neumaier said from certain he wasn’t angry, and he City Council members,� see PRAISES page 12 he said in his letter. “At times, I have been amazed at this lack of civility to, and respect for, staff, directors, the Mayor and even one another. “This behavior is demeaning to and undermines the governmental process.� In his resignation letter, Neumaier suggested the City consider contracting with an organizational consultant to review “the issues that have caused this turnover.� “Such a review could help the Council understand how they can achieve their policy objectives without the level of

Director praises his co-workers; encourages healing

Beacon photo by Paul Archipley Lynn and Ron Heitritter stand outside the Mobile Medical Clinic at the Edmonds United Methodist Church. The couple oversee a volunteer workforce that provides free healthcare each Tuesday in Edmonds.

Free mobile clinic brings health care to those in need BY PAUL ARCHIPLEY PUBLISHER @ YOURBEACON . NET

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ictor, a Russian immigrant newly arrived in America, was effusive in his praise for the Mobile Medical Clinic. Speaking in broken English, he said, “This clinic helped me too much, too much.� Pointing to clinic operators Ron and Lynn Heitritter he said, “Very good, very good.� But just saying so wasn’t enough for the enthusiastic Russian, so he picked up the

accordian he had brought with him to his doctor’s appointment and played a lovely folk song for the couple. “Just one of the perks of the job,� Ron Heitritter laughed. The Heitritters gladly accept such tokens of gratitude from the clients they see, but don’t expect anything, including payment. The Mobile Medical Clinic, a branch of the Puget Sound Christian Clinic, is free. Lynn Heitritter, the Edmonds Site Coordinator, and her husband Ron, the wearer

Let’s Talk‌

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couple of years ago, as elected officials and City staff were trying to adjust to a new financial reality, as in cutting $1.5M from last year’s General Fund Budget, I was very focused on communicating with you to explain some tough circumstances. I, along with City Directors, wrote a series of columns, and I delivered a State of the City Speech in early 2012 which seemed to do a good job of explaining this reality and penetrate the message. Although the City produces a quarterly newsletter, and I prepare an occasional column for print and on-line news, my New Year’s Resolution is to communicate with our citizens, community organizations and business community on a more consistent basis. I have given direction to staff and we will follow up in a number of ways, some of them new. As I

of many hats, bring a mobile clinic to the Edmonds United Methodist Church each Tuesday to offer free medical assistance to those in need. They schedule appointments during the same hours the Edmonds Food Bank is operating, although they have discovered their patients aren’t necessarily the same people who visit the food bank, who often have Medicaid or Medicare coverage. Rather, the people who come to the see

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mentioned in my column two weeks ago, we will have a column every two weeks to The Beacon and My Edmonds News written by me, one of my Directors or on occasion, a guest columnist. Also, the City will host, and I will present, a State of the City Speech a little earlier this year at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, this time at the Edmonds Theater; this event is open to the public, so please put the date on your calendar. Last year we had a full house at the Driftwood Theater and we recorded the speech so others BY DAVE EARLING could see and hear the message on the City’s MAYOR OF EDMONDS government channel and website. Following the State of the City Speech, we will conduct quarterly Town Hall Meetings, moving locations

MAYOR’S COLUMN

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EARLING page 10

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see

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conflict and disrespect that has occurred.” Councilmembers expressed concern and disappointment about Neumaier’s decision. Some said that they, too, had witnessed instances of disrespect toward staff. “I was surprised by the news, but I was not, unfortunately, surprised by the letter that followed it,” Councilmember Strom Peterson said. He said he had talked to others on the council about “a certain lack of respect and trust when staff members make a presentation.” “When that becomes the norm rather than the exception, this is what it leads to.” Peterson said the City could have trouble finding qualified candidates because of such incidents. Citing a limited pool of qualified candidates and an improving job market, Peterson said people concerned about their careers and their family’s welfare might be disinclined to gamble on a job here. “It doesn’t speak well of us, and now that we’re in the market, I don’t think we’ll have a whole lot of people knocking down our doors for this job,” he said. Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said she had

www.edmondsbeacon.com witnessed some “disturbing” confrontations, including a finance committee meeting that she described as “pretty bloody.” “I was very disturbed at his resignation,” she said. “I had been witness to some issues, but I didn’t realize it had gotten to a point that he felt the only way out for him was to leave.” As a long-time government employee herself, Fraley-Monillas said the state did a good job of bringing in consultants to help improve communication and identify goals and responsibilities. She said it would be helpful here, too. “As a council, you’re passionate at times, and heated, but there’s got to be a respectful way to deal with each other,” she said. Councilmember Kristiana Johnson was surprised, and saddened, by the news as well. While she wasn’t aware of the issues Neumaier cited, she said, “We need to improve our relationships with city staff. If the finance director says he’s leaving because of the council, then we need to address that. “It’s a hard message to hear, and I think that out of every bad situation there are lessons to be learned. And I hope that we can learn from this experience.” Council President Diane Buckshnis, also surprised by Neumaier’s decision, said she appreciated his willingness to

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praised everyone he worked with, from Mayor Dave Earling to co-directors at City Hall to other staff and, yes, even the City Council. But the lack of civility he experienced and cited in his letter of resignation is an issue that has permeated the political landscape from Washington, D.C. to Edmonds, Wash. “We’ve all seen how politics has become brutal, nonconstructive,” Neumaier said. “There’s a lot of distrust. It’s unfortunate, because I don’t think it’s thought out. “If you accuse someone of being untrustworthy, it’s a serious statement.” He said he has talked to people in other cities who are experiencing similar communication breakdowns. Neumaier said interactions with councilmembers was only one of the challenges work with council. “He had an open door policy and spent time with Ms. Petso and I in order for us to be able to reconcile the ‘old format of projections’ to the ‘new format,’” Buckshnis said. “I really thought we had turned the corner and was looking forward to a very productive year.” Like the other councilmembers, Buckshnis praised Neumaier’s work during his short stint in Edmonds, particularly on the annual budget. And that’s how Councilmember Lora Petso said she’d like him to be remembered. “The budget he put together for us this year was exciting,” Petso said, “a forward-looking budget.

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clinic are new arrivals to the U.S., don’t have proper documents or otherwise fall through the system’s cracks. Ever-increasing numbers of immigrants come in – from Russia and other Eastern European countries, the Mideast, Africa and, of course, Latin America. Their first refugee from Syria recently came to the clinic. People are seen by appointment only, in part because they have to schedule interpreters to assist in communication. Since the clinic opened a little over two years ago, it has steadily increased its services. The clinic’s medical team sees and treats a range of ailments – asthma, hypertension, high cholesterol, skin infections and diabetes. It also offers pap

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January 16, 2014 he faced; negative emails from citizens also became common. “I got some serious emails, very aggressive,” he said. “I chose not to respond.” While he was impressed by citizen involvement in Edmonds, he said too often the most vocal among them weren’t knowledgeable about the issues they raised. “The enthusiasm of citizen critics is unfortunate and generally not based on a whole lot of understanding,” Neumaier said. And he emphasized that he didn’t take the vitriol personally, noting he was just one employee at City Hall who has experienced negative interactions while trying to do their jobs. “This is a very competent set of directors,” he said of other department heads. “They have difficult jobs to do.

“And it’s difficult to move forward when their competence is questioned.” Neumaier hopes his departure will be viewed as an opportunity to address an issue that has been a long time coming. “There’s a behavioral culture that has evolved,” he said. “But in an organization like the City Council, if it takes a look at this, it springs an opportunity to improve the process. “We have an opportunity to raise the level of how we operate.” Neumaier said he is retiring from public service, and leaves Edmonds content that its financial outlook, at least, is positive. “The budget process was a good process,” he said. “They’ve done a good job of management here. As a result, the city is in good financial shape.” And that, perhaps, will be Roger Neumaier’s legacy.

“I’d prefer he was remembered for that than the departure.” His departure will be just the latest of many exits from that particular post. Neumaier noted that the Finance Director position has been somewhat of a “revolving door at the City.” Officials said there have been seven in the last 11 years, six of them in the past four. Lorenzo Hines, now the Finance Director for the City of Lynnwood, left Edmonds following a similarly rocky relationship with some on the council. During Hines’ employment, he complained that interactions with Buckshnis and then-Councilmember Michael Plunkett had grown increasingly hostile. After Hines filed a formal, writ-

ten complaint, the City hired a law firm to investigate whether there were any instances of discrimination. John Chun of the Summit Law Group reported in January 2011 that, while there was no evidence of discrimination in violation of state or federal law, he concluded: “Granted, certain of the communications and comments at issue may be construed as rude or uncivil; and such conduct may violate City employment policy if committed by an employee. “But as the Councilmembers are not employees, this investigation did not address whether there was any violation of any of the City’s employment policies.”

smears and other women-specific services. This past fall they started offering sports physicals for students at an area high school. One young man, an emancipated minor who otherwise probably would have dropped out of school, took advantage of the free physical and turned into his team’s top scorer this season. The clinic also has added a supervising psychologist for mental health services. The interpreters are vital, to avoid misunderstandings that could be dangerous. Victor the accordian player, for example, is known at the clinic as Victor “Egg.” That’s because a nurse who was about to give him a vaccination asked him if he was allergic to eggs. (Eggs are used to make

vaccines.) “Oh, yes!” Victor said. “You’re allergic to eggs?” the nurse repeated. “Oh, yes!” Victor repeated. “I eat lots and lots of eggs!” With the launch of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the clinic has added an onsite person to help clients sign up for insurance. But the Heitritters don’t expect to see any decline in need in the near future. Lynn, who has a nursing background and a PhD. in Family Social Science, and Ron, a retired 747 pilot, aren’t typical retirees. When Ron quit piloting for the airlines, his bucket list included a wish to fly relief supplies to refugees in the Third World. Six months out of each year, the Edmonds couple headed to Africa to do just that. Then, one day, they received a present from one of their kids – a sonogram of their first future grandchild. So the Heitritters have traded those trips to Africa to spend time with their family. But the clinic takes up much of the rest of their time. “I’m the extrovert,” Lynn said. She is the face of the clinic, working up to 70 hours a week lining up and training volunteers, scheduling patient appointments, coordinating workloads and other tasks. “But he does everything behind the scenes. Although he’s a retired 747 captain, I’m pretty sure God called on him to drive a truck.” Consequently, Ron drives the truck, is a driver for other clinics, delivers paperwork and otherwise helps where he’s needed. It works, the couple said, because they’re in it together. “We’re doing what we want to do,” Ron said. Clients are so thankful, they often ask how they can repay the couple. They offer to clean the Heitritters’ home for free, or the church. But no thanks are necessary. The couple will, however, accept the occasional accordian solo.

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