Angry and disappointed residents criticized Medina City Council members Monday at their first meeting since Police Chief Jeffrey Chen.
About 10 local residents took their turns at the microphone during the council’s public comment period after a procedural gaffe that had them up in arms.
Marianne Jones, Chen’s attorney, spoke first, presenting the council with a petition signed by about 100 Medina and Hunts Point residents requesting that Chen be reinstated and that City Manager Donna Hanson be dismissed. The petition has also been posted online for residents to sign.
Hanson fired Chen on April 27 after an investigation that cited instances of alleged dishonesty, abuse of position and improper access of city resources.
Jones said later in a phone interview that Chen is seeking a settlement with the city that would include his reinstatement and changed conditions with regard to his direct supervision by Hanson. Jones said she’s drafting a letter that will give the city 60 days notice to come to an agreement with Chen or he intends to file a lawsuit against the city and Councilman Mark Nelson.
A suit would likely include claims of civil rights violations, discrimination, negligence and whistleblower retaliation, Jones said. She said most difficult for Chen is the way the city went about its investigation and subsequent firing, making it difficult for the longtime police officer to find other employment. Jones says Nelson would likely be named because Chen claims he interfered with Chen's attempts to find another position before his termination.
Nelson could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Heated Emotions When Comments Cut Short
Following Jones and one other speaker, Medina Mayor Bret Jordan asked for any final comments, so he asked the city’s legal representative, Kari Sand, to reiterate the Washington code, RCW 35A.13.120, which states that the council may not direct the city manager to appoint or remove any person to his or her post.
After Sand recited the code, another person moved toward the microphone, but Jordan said the comment period was over, and the crowd erupted in anger, saying Jordan’s microphone apparently was not turned on and they didn’t hear him calling for last comments. There was no motion by the council to end the comment period. Matt Kochel, a member of the Medina Parks Board, refused to give a parks update unless the floor was reopened for comments.
Faced with an angry constituency, the council relented and reopened the public comment period, after which a number of residents lined up to speak, including Kochel.
“I’m ashamed of all of you,” he said. “Chief Chen is the most honorable guy I know and I’m disgusted.”
Other residents likewise expressed disappointment or anger at the city’s firing of Chen, and accused the council members of hiding behind process. A few expressed sympathy with the council being in a difficult position, but nearly all also said they believed the matter was poorly handled.
City Manager Hanson declined to comment on the matter or the public remarks made at the meeting. She did say that the city plans to work with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) to find a replacement for Chen. She reported to the council that the work will cost about $2,000 plus an estimated 60 hours of WASPC staff time at $50 an hour. She said the city hopes to begin the process as early as next week, which will include identifying traits and characteristics of the ideal candidate, advertisement and recruitment, review of applications, identification and interviews of finalists, coordination of a forum for the public to meet the candidates, and a final interview.
In the interim, is the city’s acting police chief.