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Report on employee complaints about city manager's leadership


Last updated 2/14/2019 at Noon

Following is the report filed by Rebecca Dean at the request of the city of Mill Creek regarding employee compaints against former Mill Creek City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto.

After 17 years as an employment law litigator and advisor, Dean opened her own practice performing workplace investigations. She is a sole practitioner with over 30 years of experience in human resources and employment law. She conducts independent investigations into workplace and employment issues at the request of employers or their counsel. Her recent assignments include performing factual investigations into sexual harassment complaints; gender, age, and race discrimination; violations of corporate ethical standards and policies; retaliation and identity theft.

Although Polizzotto did finally grant an interview to a friendly, supportive publication, the Mill Creek View, she never responded to repeated requests from the Beacon to offer her side of the story during her controversial stint with the city.

Below we offer Dean's final report (excluding redactions and the appendix) so that readers can decide for themselves:






This report summarizes my investigation into, and conclusions regarding, selected complaints regarding City Manager Rebecca C. Polizzotto’s leadership and management made to you in your City Attorney capacity, in accord with the City’s Whistleblowing Policy and Procedures (adopted pursuant to Ch. 42.41 RCW).

Police Chief Greg Elwin, Director of Finance and Administration Peggy Lauerman, Director of Communications and Marketing Joni Kirk, and Director of Human Resources Laura Orlando (collectively “the Reporters”) reported their concerns to you between April 19 and 23, 2018 (Exhs. A, B, C. D). Prior to lodging their reports, the Reporters discussed their concerns and coordinated their formal complaints.

You engaged me to conduct this investigation on May 3, 2018. I (1) reviewed documents, interviewed witnesses, and followed up with witnesses between May 5 and June 8; (2) met with you and Greg Rubstello to discuss my findings in detail on June 11; and (3) met with the City Council in Executive Session on June 12 to give a high-level report of my conclusions. On August 23, 2018, you asked me to prepare a written report.

The Reporters raised a wide variety of issues, both in their initial complaints and in subsequent communications. We agreed that the scope of my investigation would be those complaints bearing upon Polizzotto’s leadership and management and would not include (1) allegations regarding Polizzotto’s alleged abuse of the City’s expense reimbursement programs; or (2) allegations that Polizzotto manipulated City financial results or reporting in order to deceive the City Council. With regard to issues not included in the scope, we agreed that, although they were serious concerns, a complete assessment would overlap with the State Auditor’s investigation and/or would lie outside my expertise.


This was a complex investigation. Although the bulk of this report focuses on the evidence supporting my overall conclusion regarding a difficult work environment, in my assessment, it is important to acknowledge the positive contributions that Polizzotto has made to the City. Nevertheless, I conclude that, although any single incident or decision may be


considered to be minor, the cumulative impact of Polizzotto’s actions and behavior has led to a toxic work environment. With regard to the specific issues:

§ Polizzotto is a micromanager and exercises unusually tight control over executive decision-making. This often takes the form of directions to provide extensive documentation containing granular details and line-editing external communications.

§ Polizzotto provides incomplete or unclear directions, arbitrarily changes direction, denies responsibility for decisions that she has made, and blames others for her decisions.

§ The Reporters assert that Polizzotto intentionally lies about events or earlier statements. I am not persuaded that Polizzotto intentionally lies. Polizzotto does, however, tend to try to shift responsibility to others for her actions or decisions.

§ Polizzotto has lost her temper and berated employees. She uses profanity and derogatory terms to refer to individuals whom she does not like or of whom she does not approve.

§ Polizzotto condescends to employees and at times speaks in a demeaning manner to or about employees and can be insensitive to or unaware of the impact of her behavior upon others.

§ Polizzotto is insensitive to the boundaries between an employee’s work responsibilities and Polizzotto’s personal needs or desires.

§ Employees I interviewed were, to an unusual degree, fearful of retaliation if Polizzotto were to learn that they met with me. The witnesses’ strong and near- unanimous concern about retaliation is, in my judgment, significant in assessing the overall impact of Polizzotto’s leadership and communications style.


I interviewed, in alphabetical order, James Busch (Information Technology Manager), Betsie Devenny (Accountant); Elwin, Jodie Gunderson (Accounting Specialist & passport administrator), Brian Hernandez (former Human Resources Intern), Gina Hortillosa (Director of Public Works & Development Services), Kirk, Lauerman, Kim Mason-Hatt (Public Works & Development Administrative Assistant and AFSCME President), Orlando, Gina Pfister (Executive Assistant and Acting City Clerk), Polizzotto, and Tom Rogers (Director of Community and Economic Development). I asked to interview Police Guild President Jessie Mack, but he did not respond to attempts to schedule an interview.

I reviewed the documents listed in the Appendix.

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Polizzotto was selected for the City Manager position following a nationwide search that concluded in April 2015; she stated in my interview with her that she joined the City in June 2015. According to news reports and the biography on the City’s website Polizzotto, a lawyer, joined Mill Creek from a position as a senior assistant state attorney general in the Alaska Attorney General’s office; she also had prior experience in Georgia, and worked her way up to City Manager from police officer; she also held the positions of Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer. She has a master’s degree in public administration.

Polizzotto appointed Elwin as Police Chief in February 2016, Lauerman as Finance Director in May 2016, and Kirk as Director of Communication and Marketing on February 1, 2017. Orlando states that she has worked for the City in a part-time capacity for seven years; her first title was Human Resources Manager; she was subsequently promoted to Director.

The City has about 70 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees. According to Elwin, about half the employees work in the Police Department.

1. Events Prior to January 2017

By way of background, and as context for the issues in this investigation, it is important to note the impact of the controversies in the first 18 months of Polizzotto’s tenure with the City. I did not investigate, and have no opinion regarding, the merits of those controversies. Nevertheless, the witnesses’ perceptions of those events heavily influenced their perspective on Polizzotto’s behavior and leadership, and many criticisms of Polizzotto’s leadership cited events that occurred prior to January 2017. Moreover, the characterizations of Polizzotto’s behavior in this investigation echo the criticisms voiced in late 2016.

More specifically, according to local news reports, in fall 2015, a few months after she started, Polizzotto reorganized the City staffing structure. Orlando stated that between mid- 2015 and late 2016, a large number of employees left the City, including the Police Chief, the City Engineer/Public Works Director, the City Attorney, the City Clerk, senior accounting staff and many others. The Reporters attributed many of the departures to dissatisfaction with Polizzotto’s management.

Several witnesses told me that the first months of Polizzotto’s tenure were also affected by a controversy arising from the pending negotiation of the AFSCME contract. In particular, witnesses criticized Polizzotto’s decision to revise job classifications and descriptions and present the completed revision to the City Council without first conferring with the union about the revisions as had been, they stated, the past practice. During my interviews, some of Reporters stated that Polizzotto’s behavior during the negotiations process was, to summarize, capricious, vindictive, and unnecessarily adversarial.1 According to these

1 During my interview with her, Polizzotto asserted that Elwin was also a subject of criticism during the negotiations, in that the union filed an unfair labor practice charge criticizing his interactions with subordinates during the negotiations.

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witnesses, Polizzotto’s decisions and confrontational approach sidetracked negotiations and unreasonably protracted the contract negotiation process.

The issues became a matter of public controversy in October and November 2016, after the union sent a letter to the City Council protesting Polizzotto’s October 11, 2016 announcement of extensive job classification revisions. In November 2016, at a contentious City Council meeting, Polizzotto’s critics asserted that she was a bully and demanded that the City Council appoint an independent investigator and place Polizzotto on leave pending the investigation. The City Council rejected their demand and voiced strong support for Polizzotto’s leadership and her direction for the City.

Several witnesses praised Polizzotto’s demeanor and professionalism during these City Council meetings. For example, they stated in my interviews with them that after being strongly criticized, Polizzotto made a cogent and persuasive budget presentation. In contrast with their admiration for her professionalism in the Council meeting, several witnesses told me that during the controversy Polizzotto persuaded her leadership team to write a letter of support for her to the City Council. Witnesses differed in their reaction to this situation, with some stating that at the time they supported her but later questioned her direction, and others stating that they did not want to sign the letter at the time but felt they had no choice.

2. Disagreement Regarding Business Decisions

In this investigation, I limit my opinions and conclusions to concerns about management and leadership behaviors. I have not formed, and do not offer, any assessment of the merits of Polizzotto’s business and policy decisions.

More specifically, some of the Reporters’ complaints are rooted in their disagreement with Polizzotto on the merits of certain strategic and policy decisions. They contend that Polizzotto’s decisions are not in the best interests of the City or the public. Although, in my interviews with them, I listened carefully to the Reporters’ and Polizzotto’s contentions about these issues, in my judgment, the City Manager’s responsibility is to make such assessments, and whether they are correct judgments is a matter for the City Council to evaluate.

For example:

§ Elwin and Kirk contend that Polizzotto’s resistance to the formation of a City of Mill Creek Police Foundation is ill-informed, arbitrary and not in the best interests of the City. Polizzotto stated in my interview with her that there are many issues that must be resolved, and questions answered, before the City partners with an entity like a Police Foundation, and formalization of the relationship is not a priority in light of other commitments. Whether a Police Foundation would benefit the City is a policy and/or business decision.

§ Kirk asserts that Polizzotto disagreed with and did not follow the direction of the City’s consultant regarding some of the components of the Memorial Day parade. Whether any particular element of the Memorial Day parade was appropriate in light of the City’s goals for this event is, again, a policy and/or business decision.

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Generally, with regard to the management and leadership concerns within the scope of this investigation, I conclude that, although any single incident or decision may be considered to be minor, the cumulative impact of Polizzotto’s actions and behavior have created a toxic work environment.

This was a complex investigation. Although the bulk of this report focuses on the evidence supporting my overall conclusion that Polizzotto created a toxic work environment, in my assessment, it is important to first acknowledge the positive contributions that Polizzotto has made to the City.

With regard to those contributions, Polizzotto and other witnesses provided information showing that Polizzotto implemented changes at the City consistent with good and well-accepted management practices, including development of a values statement, approving a LEMAP review of the police department, sponsoring professional leadership training for the City’s managers, and initiating a structure for regular communications with Directors that included work plans, one-on-one meetings and quarterly reviews. Additionally, in that regard, at the conclusion of my interview with her, Polizzotto gave me a large number of emails in which she gives employees positive feedback for various actions. The inference I draw from that email is that Polizzotto systematically provides kudos to employees in appropriate situations.

Polizzotto stated in my interview with her that, at the City’s union’s request, she started a monthly labor relations meeting directly with the union presidents without the Directors. She stated that these meetings have gone well, have been “positive and upbeat,” and she has received nothing but positive feedback about them. The AFSCME President, however, stated that, while the meetings could be a good practice, and have been “OK,” they have, in reality, been “low on substance” and have not really been useful. Jesse Mack, the Police Guild President, did not respond to efforts to schedule an interview so I was unable to hear his perspective.

I also note that Hortillosa, who joined the City in November 2017, stated in my interview with her that during her seven months with the City she has never experienced any behavior that has caused her concern.

Additionally, several witnesses noted that Polizzotto made positive changes to the City and solved some structural problems, stated that they respect her strategic approach and praised her intelligence and knowledge. They did so, however, with reservations. As one witness stated, Polizzotto’s walk does not meet the talk.

I note that Polizzotto stated in my interview with her that employees perceive her as having high standards. She asserts that employees know that they can come to her to discuss difficult issues. She stated that there were no significant areas of concern with regard to employee perceptions of her leadership. In my assessment, Polizzotto’s understanding of how employees perceive her is mistaken.

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This is because, despite Polizzotto’s positive contributions, the evidence gathered in this investigation supports the Reporters’ concerns about Polizzotto’s leadership and communications style. The Reporters and other witnesses described recent events that coalesce around common themes supporting my overall conclusion. In the remainder of this report, I identify the issues and provide some examples. These are only examples and I have not attempted to describe or analyze every example presented in my witness interviews.2

The first three of the six main issues I discuss are more complex and the behavior itself subtler, and, therefore, more difficult to capture. In my assessment, based upon my witness interviews, these first three issues are the ones that seemed most troubling to the Reporters. The next three issues are behaviors that, in my experience, often give rise to employee complaints about toxic work environments. They are more easily captured. Finally, there is a seventh issue: the witnesses’ strong and near-unanimous concern about retaliation is, in my judgment, significant in assessing the overall impact of Polizzotto’s leadership and communications style.

§ Polizzotto is a micromanager and exercises unusually tight control over executive decision- making. This often takes the form of directions to provide extensive documentation containing granular details and line-editing external communications.

o Polizzotto pointed out in my interview with her that the City is a Council Manager form of government, and she is the sole spokesperson for the staff to the Council. Polizzotto and witnesses agree that she has frequently insisted that City staff immediately report any contact with a City Council member. The stated purpose for controlling staff communications with Council members is to avoid inconsistent direction (e.g., Exh. E). Witnesses nonetheless understood Polizzotto to require that even casual and insubstantial contacts be reported; for example, a brief conversation at the grocery store. Polizzotto asserts that she did not intend staff to report conversations where City business was not discussed. That may have been her intent, but, as Hortillosa stated in my interview with her, Polizzotto clearly stated her direction that Hortillosa should not have any direct interaction with the Council, so Hortillosa has been careful to let Polizzotto know of even

2 In my interview with her, Polizzotto, at my request, commented on each of the Directors. I note that Polizzotto recently hired all of the Directors (but Orlando), yet appears to have quickly soured on them. Polizzotto negatively characterized all of the Directors except Hortillosa and to a lesser degree, Kirk and Orlando, criticized the scope of their prior work experience, identified areas where she believed that they performed poorly or exercised poor judgment, and found fault with their communications with her and external contacts. I do not have an opinion about the merits of Polizzotto’s assessments, and they may well be accurate. (She provided examples that, had I investigated the substance of her concern, indicate that I may well have agreed with her.)

For purposes of this investigation, however, the starkly negative tone of her critique supports witness perceptions that Polizzotto believes that she is smarter than the City’s employees and, more significantly, does not bother to hide her opinion.

It is possible that Polizzotto may have been trying to suggest that at least one of the Reporters lodged their report because their performance has been inadequate. In my assessment, the Reporters are genuine and sincere in their concerns about Polizzotto’s leadership and did not lodge their reports because they believed that they were on the edge of being disciplined or fired.

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casual and non-substantive contacts. The inference I draw is that Polizzotto’s directive has been unequivocal.

o Witnesses reported that Polizzotto insisted that executives advise Pfister if they were going to be away from their offices. Although, again, this may have been well-intentioned in order to facilitate communication in an emergency, witnesses interpreted Polizzotto’s direction to apply to even short absences and found it oppressive and unnecessary. Witnesses reported that this became a joke, and some executives called Pfister to report trips to the restroom.

o Polizzotto reviews and line-edits most external communications and some internal documents authored by staff. Polizzotto sees this exercise as quality control, and states that she edits different types of documents for different reasons. In my experience, it is uncommon for the chief executive of an organization to wordsmith documents at this level of detail.

o Most significantly, Polizzotto gets involved with every decision at even the most granular level and retained control of decisions during absences due to illness (e.g., Exh. F) (highlighting in original as provided). Hortillosa observed that Polizzotto usually asks for a lot of information and details. Hortillosa notes that she seeks such information about details that are “small potatoes” and not at a City Manager level; for example, the fine details of an agreement concerning a City parking lot with 20 stalls. Hortillosa has adapted to Polizzotto’s style by anticipating her requests and preparing for them.

Similarly, Kirk stated in my interview with her that, in April, Polizzotto, who was upset about the upcoming Memorial Day Parade, demanded the exact stage dimensions, even though it was the same stage that had been used for years and the dimensions did not affect the parade flow and were irrelevant to the location.

Elwin stated that early in his days at the City, Polizzotto visited the Police Department every day and involved herself in operational decisions, such as assignments and scheduling, although she did not continue to be that intrusive as time went on. She also required Elwin to submit all training requests, but they would get lost or delayed because she did not sign and approve them on a timely basis.

o This pattern can be seen in email communications regarding the status of various items of City business following the April 2018 commencement of Polizzotto’s extended leave of absence. Her May 14, 2018 email is replete with requests for detailed analyses, historical summaries, reviews with individual Directors or the leadership team that require her presence, and personal meetings with external contacts and entities. (There are several other examples in the documents I reviewed.) Polizzotto’s deep involvement in the minutiae of City operations is obvious from the face of her email. (Exh. G.)

Similarly, on or around June 4, the Directors responded to a request from a Council member regarding matters at the City which were on hold during Polizzotto’s absence (Exh. H). In my interview with Polizzotto, I asked her to

respond by identifying any inaccuracies in the statement. Polizzotto stated that the statement was accurate but incomplete, in that the Directors were empowered to make those decisions. Polizzotto offered to respond in writing, and I asked her to choose the two issues she considered to be most important. She reiterated her statement that the Directors were empowered to make decisions (Exh. I). In my assessment, given Polizzotto’s tight control over decisions prior to and during the earlier period of her leave, her assertion that Directors have the authority to act in her absence is not credible.

§ Polizzotto provides incomplete or unclear directions, arbitrarily changes direction, denies responsibility for decisions that she has made, and blames others for her decisions.

This section of the report reviews, in detail, three examples of situations that, in my assessment, support the Reporters’ contentions regarding Polizzotto’s lack of clarity, changes in direction, and/or deflection of responsibility to others: (1) management of former employee performance issues; (2) unfulfilled promises to Brian Hernandez, a Human Resources intern; and (3) planning for the Party in the Parks program.


is a former City employee. After the Parks and Recreation Director left in 2016, Polizzotto asked to serve in an acting capacity. Polizzotto stated that he did a good job, and she was grateful for his efforts. According to Kirk, Polizzotto later told her that had expected to move up to that position in a regular capacity.

Polizzotto, however, hired Kirk as the Director of Communications and Marketing in February 2017; the Parks and Recreation function was folded into Kirk’s department.

Kirk states that she had identified substantial concerns about performance by mid-2017. According to Kirk, after substantial resistance, she persuaded Polizzotto to permit her to place on a performance improvement plan; the plan was finalized in August 2017. performance did not improve.

Kirk was ready to move forward with termination in January 2018 but asserts that Polizzotto asked her to hold off. In February, at Polizzotto’s request, the City hired a special events manager to assist with parade work and remove these projects from his plate.

Nevertheless, in February 2018, at the end of the six-month review period, had not met his goals, and Kirk was again ready to terminate his employment. , however, complained to Polizzotto about Kirk. Polizzotto asserts that criticized Kirk because, from his perspective, Kirk did not allow employees to have fun at work but expected employees to

keep their heads down and focus on tasks.

Following her discussion with , Polizzotto’s support for Kirk’s employment decision wavered. In that regard, according to Kirk, Polizzotto wanted to extend PIP for another six months, with some financial penalties. Polizzotto then changed direction again and insisted that they do a



performance “reset.” Kirk explains that in a discussion on February 15, Polizzotto stated that she felt that had expected to be promoted but Polizzotto went a different direction, the organization had changed,

was working to catch up, and in light of changing expectations he should, in effect, be given another chance to succeed.

Polizzotto acknowledges that Kirk’s assessment of performance was accurate, but nevertheless (at least partially) attributed his failures to a “personality conflict.” In my assessment, given Kirk’s detailed analysis of

failure to meet concrete goals, attributing his failure to a personality conflict supports Kirk’s assessment that Polizzotto changed direction because of her personal sense of obligation to for his prior performance.

According to Polizzotto, the decision to do the performance reset was made jointly with Kirk because Kirk acknowledged that there were “mitigating factors” affecting performance and Kirk stated that she did not feel comfortable moving forward with termination, an assertion that Kirk vehemently denies. I find Kirk more credible than Polizzotto in this regard based upon Kirk’s solid and consistent documentation of performance.

On February 20, 2018, Polizzotto gave Kirk her performance evaluation. Polizzotto rated her highly but stated that she had not met expectations for coaching and mentoring, in that communications with staff needed to be about more than whether they failed or succeeded at assigned tasks. In my interview with her, Polizzotto stated that she encouraged Kirk not to hold people accountable at the expense of having fun in their jobs and asked her to engage in more bonding activities with her staff. This critique appears to be based primarily upon complaints.3

On February 27, in accord with normal practice, Polizzotto presented

with his 10-year service award at a City Council meeting. Polizzotto effusively praised in the meeting. The next day, Kirk issued a routine press release regarding 10-year award; the press release echoed Polizzotto’s comments at the City Council meeting.

Unfortunately, three weeks later, offended a community leader, was placed on administrative leave, and resigned pursuant to a separation agreement.

Polizzotto blamed Kirk for sending out the press release and then required that all press releases be channeled through Polizzotto, even though the release was sent after the performance reset and was consistent with Polizzotto’s public praise for at the City Council meeting.

o Hernandez is a former police officer who had returned to school, obtained an advanced degree, and changed careers. Following completion of his master’s degree, he worked as a Human Resources intern. Hernandez stated that in fall 2017, while Orlando was on leave of absence, he filled for Orlando’s during

3 I note, however, that Polizzotto stated that another employee voiced a similar observation.

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her leave of absence. He states that he agreed to work in an unpaid role in exchange for Polizzotto’s promises of advanced training. Hernandez states that he regrets never asking for written confirmation of Polizzotto’s commitment, because the promised training never materialized.

Upon Orlando’s return, the City began searching for a Human Resources Specialist. Hernandez reports that, during that time, Polizzotto led him to believe that the position was his, in that Polizzotto told him that the “job was his to lose.” Hernandez had no expectation that he would be in a position to move into a Director’s role when Orlando retired. It was his impression that the City intended to create a Specialist position and then recruit a Director.

When the City opened a competitive hiring process for the Specialist position, Hernandez applied, but the City hired another candidate. Hernandez states that he has no quarrel with that decision, as the candidate selected had more experience.

According to Polizzotto, she merely encouraged Hernandez to apply for the position; however, in my assessment, she is attempting to put a positive spin on her actions.

I find Hernandez more credible than Polizzotto. He no longer has any connection to the City, or interest in the current complaints, and he spoke neutrally of experience with Polizzotto based on his personal observations without apparent influence from others.

According to Kirk, in March 2018, she obtained Polizzotto’s approval to move forward with a “Party in the Parks” program consisting of three events at different parks to replace the Children’s Concert Series, provided Kirk could obtain sponsorship funds to purchase a trailer for equipment. Kirk’s initial recommendation stated that the purpose for the function was to (1) add new events based on the City’s new mission, vision, and goals; (2) enable the Parks and Recreation Board members to engage with the community about the parks; and (3) set a forum for the Council members to obtain constituent feedback in an informal setting (Exh. J).

According to Kirk, most of the preparatory work was complete by late April or early May 2018, including obtaining quotes for purchase of the trailer and funds to cover the cost. At Polizzotto’s request, Kirk verified with Lauerman that there were no audit issues associated with the purchase (Exh. K p.9-10).

Polizzotto did not, however, approve the trailer purchase. In response to Kirk’s April request for approval, Polizzotto, who was on leave at this point, responded by asking for a detailed event budget, including an analysis of how much would be offset by sponsorships and an analysis of the cost of the trailer and all associated costs, as well as signed copies of the sponsorship agreement (Id. p.8-9). Kirk provided her with all available information.

Polizzotto then asserted in a lengthy email that she wanted to re-evaluate whether to move forward with the program in light of limitations on Kirk’s time due to short staffing because of departure, the need to use

sponsorship funds for other events, and other issues, including the possibility that the Council might want to launch a communications initiative on the strategic plan, which, according to Polizzotto, should precede any community input on the capital plan. Polizzotto asserted that the Party in the Parks concerts might not be the best way to obtain community feedback (Id. p.4-5).

Kirk perceived Polizzotto’s lengthy email as a devious way of criticizing her capability and leadership to the Council because Polizzotto included matters unrelated to the Party in the Parks issue and then, without copying Kirk, forwarded the email to Mayor Pam Pruitt (Exh L). Based on the content of the email and Pruitt’s back channel email to the City Council, I agree.

Moreover, Kirk asserts that the email was based upon several false premises, in that, as she pointed out to Polizzotto, Kirk’s time was not needed for the events Polizzotto described in the email she forwarded to the Council, the Party in the Parks had already been publicized, and the only remaining expense was the trailer, which would not require any expenditure of City funds as the trailer was specifically covered by a sponsorship (Exh. K p.3).

Polizzotto then asserted that the primary goal of the Party in the Parks event series was to obtain feedback from the public on capital improvements and budget processes. She insisted that the strategic plan and capital improvement plan needed to be further along, so they could generate questionnaires. Polizzotto wanted to delay the event until late July or early August after she returned from medical leave (Id. p.2). Kirk consulted with her staff and moved the June event to September (Id. p.1).

§ The Reporters assert that Polizzotto intentionally lies about events or earlier statements.

I am not persuaded that Polizzotto intentionally lies.4 Polizzotto does, however, tend to try to shift responsibility to others for her actions or decisions. For example:

o With regard to in March, after had offended the community leader and was on leave of absence, Polizzotto criticized Kirk for sending out the February 28 press release. When Kirk sent the press release, however, Polizzotto had already directed the performance evaluation “reset “and it was issued the day after Polizzotto publicly praised at a City Council meeting while presenting his 10-year award.

o Similarly, as noted above, in my assessment, Polizzotto’s attribution to Kirk of the decision to “reset” PIP is an attempt to attribute Polizzotto’s decision to Kirk, thus characterizing a unilateral decision as a consensus where none existed.

4 In that regard, I have carefully reviewed some of the communications staff members so characterize, and in my judgment, Polizzotto’s characterization of her earlier statement is reasonable. For example, a witness stated that Polizzotto mischaracterized her unequivocal approval of Kirk’s department organization as “tentatively approved” in Polizzotto’s May 14 email to the City Council. I agree with Polizzotto’s description, however, in that Polizzotto’s April 20 approval was subject to creation of job descriptions and review with the union.

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o Decisions that staff members believed that Polizzotto unequivocally approved are later characterized under different circumstances as “tentatively approved.”

For example, on March 27, Polizzotto told Kirk that she had approved purchase of the trailer for the Party in the Parks subject to confirmation of sponsorships to cover the costs; this changed to tentative approval in May, accompanied by a demand for extensive and granular analysis of the sponsorship funding and agreements (see Exh. K).

o Elwin attempted to persuade Polizzotto to create a position for a non- commissioned supervisor/confidential executive assistant (Exh. M). Elwin asserts that Polizzotto insisted that, instead, he make a lateral hire for an administrative sergeant.

In my interview with her, however, Polizzotto asserted that she had not insisted on hiring a sergeant; she asked for a LEAN analysis based upon the training provided to the Directors and she and Elwin had brainstormed about various options. This is a theme repeated in her May 14, 2018 email to the City Council (Exh. G).

Elwin asserts that this is not accurate. Elwin explains that the Directors had not received training sufficient to prepare a LEAN analysis, but only an introduction to LEAN concepts in a training session on February 18, 2018. At the time, moreover, she did not ask for a LEAN analysis. In short, what Polizzotto sees as a brainstorming exercise appeared to Elwin as unilateral imposition of Polizzotto’s preferences without regard for his analysis and needs.5 I find Elwin credible on this point. He made detailed contemporaneous notes of their discussion. In this regard, Elwin’s concerns echo Kirk’s — Polizzotto in effect rewrites history and mischaracterizes what occurred in prior discussions.

§ Polizzotto has lost her temper and berated employees. She uses profanity and derogatory terms to refer to individuals whom she does not like or of whom she does not approve.

o On April 3, 2018, Elwin and Polizzotto met regarding a press release issued by the person trying to form the Police Foundation. Polizzotto was furious because, she explained in my interview with her, she believed Elwin had deceived her. Elwin disputes the substance of her concern. I have no opinion about whether Elwin or Polizzotto is correct about the merits of Elwin’s responsibility for the release of the announcement. This is because, regardless of the merits, Polizzotto’s behavior was inconsistent with modern expectations for manager corrections of a subordinate.

More specifically, Polizzotto’s voice was very loud, at what Elwin considered to be near maximum volume. Elwin asserted that her face and neck were bright red and she swore at him. Polizzotto acknowledges that the discussion

5 I have no opinion about the merits of the staffing decision.

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was heated. She asserts that she does not remember if she swore at him but acknowledges that it was possible that she did.

Polizzotto asserts that she and Elwin are friends, and that, as a former cop, they talk to each other as cops often do, and use profanity in that context. Elwin has a different perspective than Polizzotto on the depth of their friendship. Regardless, swearing at a subordinate in a heated discussion regarding a perceived performance failure is, in my judgment and experience, inappropriate.

o Witnesses report that if there is a disagreement between Polizzotto and a staff member, Polizzotto raises her voice and becomes visibly “worked up” (to use the description of one witness). Polizzotto, who has a naturally loud voice, raises it even further, her throat and cheeks redden, and her tone and wording becomes pointed and quite personal, using such phrases as, “You need to . . . and, “You’re not managing . . .”. Witnesses state that they feel like they have been attacked.

For example, with regard to the Memorial Day Parade, Kirk and the City’s consultant met to discuss the participants in the parade. The consultant recommended that the City exclude certain activities that had been present in the 2017 Memorial Day parade because he believed that they were inconsistent with the parade’s theme, which was intended to honor veterans and their military service. Polizzotto had a different view based upon the City Council’s preferences. According to Kirk, Polizzotto was visibly angered and spoke disrespectfully to the consultant. According to Polizzotto, however, she was taken aback by the consultant’s attitude, in that he made statements such as “I will not allow” and “the Council is not permitted . . .”.

Kirk states that following the meeting, Polizzotto berated her for 30 minutes, criticizing the consultant and demanding additional work to satisfy her concern that there had been insufficient outreach to potential parade participants, even though Kirk had already sent a press release inviting community participation. Another witness confirmed the heated way in in which Polizzotto addressed Kirk.

o Witnesses report that even when Polizzotto is meeting with a staff member in her office with the door closed, she can be heard outside the office berating the staff member with a raised voice and an intense tone.

o Several witnesses reported that Polizzotto uses derogatory terms, such as “fucking bitch,” “lazy,” “idiot,” and “whiners” to refer to persons whom she does not like or with whom she is angry or at odds.

§ Polizzotto condescends to employees and at times speaks in a demeaning manner to or about employees and can be insensitive to or unaware of the impact of her behavior upon others.

o The Reporters asserted that Polizzotto’s treatment of Orlando is the most striking recent example of behavior of this type.




Orlando returned from a leave of absence in November 2017. According to Orlando, upon her return, Polizzotto advised her that she would no longer be a member of the City leadership team. Orlando states that Polizzotto told her that she wanted to reduce the burden and stress of additional meetings on Orlando because of her part-time status, but Polizzotto did not ask Orlando about whether Orlando felt that the leadership team meeting was, in fact, stressful or burdensome. Polizzotto states that she does not recall Orlando’s reaction to the decision.

Although Polizzotto asserts that the decision to reduce the size of the leadership team was a joint decision with which the other Directors agreed, the other Directors stated in my interviews with them that they were concerned about excluding Orlando.

Subsequently, Polizzotto did not consistently include Orlando in other Director-level opportunities, such as the February 2018 LEAN training, even though Orlando had LEAN experience in her job responsibilities prior to joining the City. Orlando states that she volunteered to help, but Polizzotto declined without explanation.

Devenny, an Accountant, had been assisting the Human Resources staff with implementation of a payroll system. Orlando and Lauerman had some concerns about the quality of her work in this area. They had multiple discussions with Polizzotto about the issue. From their perspective, Polizzotto imposed unreasonable barriers to taking formal corrective action. From Polizzotto’s perspective, she was assuring that Lauerman and Orlando followed appropriate progressive disciplinary processes.

Lauerman and Orlando scheduled a meeting with Devenny to discuss their concerns. According to Lauerman, Polizzotto asked if she should be present during the meeting, and Lauerman told her it was not necessary. While they were meeting, however, Polizzotto dropped in. According to Lauerman and Orlando, Polizzotto took over the meeting, and proceeded to question Devenny in an intense manner about whether she had received sufficient training and coaching to succeed with the task.

Orlando and Lauerman stated in my interviews with them that the way in which Polizzotto asked the questions was intended to, and had the effect of, undermining and embarrassing Orlando. Orlando was close to tears during the meeting.

Polizzotto, however, states that “she was just trying to get a feel for the employee.” She also stated that she was trying to assure that Devenny was treated fairly.

Devenny, however, stated in my interview with her that it appeared that Polizzotto’s comments were directed at Orlando.


o Witnesses reported that Polizzotto, in general, frequently condescends to and treats others in a demeaning manner. For example, witnesses reported if a staff member disagrees with her, she has made comments such as, “Do I have to pull out the organization chart and show where I am and where you are?”

Several witnesses commented that Polizzotto will invite comment in meetings, but if a staff member provides contrary input, she will reject it in cutting terms. I note that this perception of Polizzotto’s behavior in leadership and staff meetings is not universal, in that Hortillosa describes Polizzotto as straightforward, in that she solicits input but speaks her mind in a professional manner and stands her ground.

Witnesses also reported that Polizzotto calls out of her office for staff members when she wants to talk to them, raising her voice far above her normal range, to the degree that citizens at the counter look up in surprise. While this may have been typical executive behavior 30 years ago, it is not consistent with modern expectations for a respectful workplace.

§ Polizzotto is insensitive to the boundaries between an employee’s work responsibilities and Polizzotto’s personal needs or desires.

o Witnesses reported that Polizzotto calls out of her office and asks Pfister or Gunderson to bring her a spoon for her yogurt, rather than walking the short distance to the employee break room to get her own spoon. Again, this is not consistent with modern expectations for a respectful workplace.

o Polizzotto has asked Pfister to perform personal tasks, such as assisting her daughter with her daughter’s science project and homework, both during and after work hours.

o Polizzotto has Pfister pick up lunch for her. Polizzotto has directed Pfister to pick up items from separate locations for the same lunch.

o Polizzotto has asked Pfister, Elwin and Lauerman to drive her to the airport and to perform personal errands. Although Polizzotto asserts that she uses the driving time to the airport to get caught up on City business, she has not advised the affected employees to submit reimbursement requests for the mileage when they use their own vehicles.

o The witnesses I interviewed had varying reactions to these requests. Elwin, for example, states that he did not mind helping Polizzotto by checking on her sister or taking her sister to the hospital. Other witnesses asserted that they felt that these requests imposed upon them, and they did not feel that they were in a position to refuse.

Polizzotto, however, has the perception that at least some of the affected employees were her personal friends and offered to perform such tasks in that capacity. Her perception of the depth of the friendship differs from the witnesses’ perceptions. For example, Polizzotto stated in my interview with her that Lauerman enjoyed activities with Polizzotto, Polizzotto’s daughter and

Confidential 15

Polizzotto’s daughter’s school, Lauerman (at least in retrospect) views these activities as a burden.

§ Employees I interviewed were, to an unusual degree, fearful of retaliation if Polizzotto were to learn that they met with me.

The witnesses’ strong and near-unanimous concern about retaliation is, in my judgment, significant in assessing the overall impact of Polizzotto’s leadership and communication style. Many witnesses with whom I met (some of them quite reluctantly) asserted that they believed that Polizzotto could and would find a way to discharge or, at minimum, disadvantage them because of this investigation. In my experience, this is not an uncommon statement during investigation. What was unusual, however, was the consistency and intensity of the witnesses’ suspicions. The witnesses’ concerns were based on two factors: (1)their observations of, and concerns about, Polizzotto’s treatment of employees during her first 18 to 20 months with the City; and (2) their perceptions of Polizzotto’s statements about departing employees, some former City Council members, and the City’s unions, which they perceived as derogatory and vindictive.


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