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Originally published Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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Lynnwood City Council may seek Mayor Gough's resignation

The Lynnwood City Council on Monday night is scheduled to consider a resolution calling for Mayor Don Gough's resignation over his handling of a former assistant's sexual-discrimination complaint. Meanwhile, the city's police union has passed a unanimous no-confidence vote over Gough's handling of the budget, which could result in cuts of up to 25 percent in the police force next year.

Times Snohomish County reporter

A budget crisis and a leadership crisis are colliding in the City of Lynnwood. At the center of each is Mayor Don Gough.

The City Council on Monday night is scheduled to consider a resolution calling for Gough's resignation over his handling of a former assistant's sexual-discrimination complaint.

And the city police union representing more than 100 officers passed a unanimous no-confidence vote two weeks ago over Gough's handling of the budget, which could result in cuts of up to 25 percent in the city force next year.

The actual villain may be the stubborn recession, which has staggered Lynnwood's once teeming shopping malls and big-box stores and exposed the city's reliance on sales-tax revenues, which are down about $4.6 million annually from a peak in 2007. The city's share of sales and use taxes were down more than 17 percent from 2008 to 2009, compared with a statewide drop of 12.8 percent.

Exacerbating the painful budget choices are the mayor's management style and personality quirks, say City Hall observers and council members. They describe Gough as "command and control," "secretive" and "socially awkward."

The council members said they wouldn't discuss the proposal recommending that Gough resign in advance of Monday's meeting, but they did talk about the budget and Gough's management style.

"We do have a major budget issue, but we also have a leadership issue," said City Councilmember Loren Simmonds, one of three council members who ran against Gough last November. "We really need a more collaborative approach, and Don isn't easy to work with."

Gough didn't respond to requests this week for comment.

Gough was elected in 2005 after serving two terms on the City Council. An attorney by profession, he was seen as a sharp intellect who had mastered the intricacies of city policy and politics. But once in office, he told reporters he was too busy with city business to grant interviews. Some city managers said he alienated staff and former supporters with what they described as a condescending manner.

In March, Gough's former administrative assistant, Stephanie Simpson, reached a $49,500 settlement with the city over what she said was Gough's discriminatory treatment of her as a woman and mother. Simpson, who went to work for Gough in 2006, said that when she told the mayor in 2006 that she was pregnant, he replied, "Well, that was bad planning," Simpson said.

She said he frequently swore at her on the phone. When she made suggestions about city business, he told her, "That's above your pay grade." And when the city advertised for a deputy mayor, he told her not to bother applying, that she wouldn't qualify, Simpson said in a recent interview. She previously worked for the Metropolitan King County Council and also has worked on state legislative election campaigns.

"When I complained to him about the demeaning behavior, it just got worse," she said.

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In settling with Simpson, the city admitted no wrongdoing and Simpson agreed not to sue, according to the settlement agreement. The City Council in April hired an independent investigator to look into Simpson's allegations. The investigation isn't scheduled to be released to the public until Thursday, but the council was briefed on the findings in executive session July 23.

Since then, the council drafted the resolution, released last week, calling for Gough's resignation.

The resolution says that Gough interfered with the impartial evaluation of applicants for a job, treated employees discourteously, interfered with the investigation by contacting witnesses and conducting his own parallel investigation, and left some employees fearful of retaliation if they cooperated with the investigator.

It concludes that if Gough refuses to resign, he should take anger-management and sensitivity training "to assist him in improving his communication style and demeanor when working with City employees."

"If any city director had acted the way Mayor Gough is alleged to have acted, he would have been fired," said Councilmember Jim Smith, a five-time mayoral candidate who lost to Gough in the 2009 election.

Meanwhile, the city also is grappling with its budget woes and who holds responsibility for overly optimistic revenue projections. The faulty projections for 2010 resulted in the council in March adopting new utility taxes and borrowing from its reserves to close a $5 million deficit. For the 2011-12 biennium, it faces a worst-case, $18 million deficit, unless spending cuts and other revenue sources are found, said Finance Manager Patrick Dugan.

Some in city government blame Gough, saying he wasn't open enough.

Lisa Utter, a two-term council member who resigned her seat to run against Gough but lost in the primary, said she entered the race because of Gough's lack of transparency over the city's finances.

But one of Gough's few allies on the council, Ted Hikel, said the council shares the blame. While neighboring Edmonds opened negotiations with its unions, instituted furlough days, cut spending and found new sources of revenue in 2009, the Lynnwood City Council agreed to a 2010 budget that contained no new taxes and no layoffs.

"The council wants to make Don responsible for the extreme financial meltdown of the entire country," Hikel said. "This is the budget they asked for."

And while the city likely will have to reduce spending for 2011, Hikel said it won't make cuts at the expense of public safety.

"There's no way we're going to lay off 25 police officers," he said.

Those reassurances haven't reached the Police Department, where the officers with the least seniority already are applying for jobs in other cities, said Deputy Chief Karen Manser. She said the target cuts of $9 million over the next two years for the department would mean eliminating the narcotics unit, the vice and gang unit and animal control, as well as sharp reductions in jail staffing, clerical support and alternatives to jail such as community service and electronic home monitoring.

She shares the view that Gough hasn't been open about city finances.

"We weren't really included in the process, and that's part of our complaint," Manser said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

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