Investigation substantiates racial, sexual discrimination allegations against Lynnwood City Councilmember Smith

Jim Smith

An independent investigation has substantiated claims of racial and sexual discrimination that a city employee made against Lynnwood City Councilmember Jim Smith.

In May 2022, the City of Lynnwood hired Haggard & Ganson LLP to conduct a third-party investigation of Smith after receiving two allegations — one of racial and sexual discrimination and another of racial discrimination — from two city staff members. The investigation validated one claim of sexual and racial discrimination against Smith but did not find evidence to support a second racial discrimination allegation.

The findings, which were presented to the city Aug. 8 but made public Friday,  also included an official response from Smith, who denied all claims against him.

Attorney Kathleen Haggard, who oversaw the investigation, concluded that the racial and sexual discrimation claim made against Smith by City Executive Assistant Leah Jensen, a Black woman, was valid.

In Jensen’s written complaints, she alleged that Councilmember Smith asked her for information he was not entitled to, and continued to press for the information after she declined to provide it; attempted to direct Jensen’s work; and obstructed the confirmation of Arra Rael, an LGBTQ+ woman of color, to the City’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission (DEIC), while simultaneously pushing for the confirmation of “a less qualified, straight white male” (Jensen’s complaint characterizes this as “institutionalized racism”).

The second claim against Smith came from City of Lynnwood Race and Social Justice Coordinator Douglas Raiford, a Black man. Haggard said that while she was sympathetic to Raiford’s frustrations with Smith’s behavior, she did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate his accusation of racial discrimination.

According to Raiford, Smith: made unhelpful comments and disrupted DEIC meetings that Raiford and/or Leah Jensen attended or oversaw, made dismissive comments about race and equity work to Raiford, including insinuations that the work was agenda driven; and attempted to change the municipal code to “eliminate applicants of color” from commissions.

Jensen said that Smith’s acts of discrimination have been going on for some time, but escalated at the beginning of 2022 when two seats became vacant on the DEIC. Smith emailed Jensen, looking for a list of recent applications for boards and commissions. Haggard stated it seemed Smith’s primary purpose was to see if Michael Miller, a friend of his, was still on the list. Miller had previously applied to the DEIC in 2021, but was not approved because officials said he did not have “lived experience” that would benefit the commission.

When Miller reapplied in 2022, but was again not nominated for a position, Smith requested an unredacted list of recent DEIC applicants. In requesting the unredacted applications, Smith sent numerous emails to Jensen. When Jensen did not at first comply with Smith’s requests, Haggard said his emails became more demanding in nature. Then, when Jensen eventually stopped responding to Smith’s emails, Haggard said that Smith publicly ridiculed Jensen in five separate council meetings. While Jensen was not directly named, she was present for a few of those meetings and knew Smith was talking about her, Haggard said.

Raiford claimed that Smith also requested the same lists from him, but did not continuously send emails demanding the applications as he did with Jensen.

In addition, both Jensen and Raiford accused Smith of continuing to cause problems at DEIC meetings even after Smith was removed from being the council liaison to the commission. According to the investigation, Smith continued to regularly attend meetings and would roll his eyes and make unwelcome comments.

In an email from an unnamed subject associated with the DEIC, Smith was described as “…oblivious to [and] willfully blind to systemic and institutionalized racism. He did not seem to want to further his knowledge.” The individual summarized Smith’s attitude as, “I’m not racist, so racism must not exist.”

In her findings, Haggard said that “Smith, a white man, treated Jensen, a Black woman, as if she must answer to him, then publicly criticized her when she did not comply. At the same time, he opposed the DEIC confirmation of a woman of color in favor of his preferred candidate, a white male, and he failed to support or add value to the City’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion issues.”

Regarding Raiford’s accusations, Haggard said: “I was not presented with sufficient evidence that Smith treated Raiford in the same dismissive, disrespectful manner that he treated Jensen; that Smith attempted to direct Raiford’s work; or that Smith repeatedly and publicly criticized Raiford’s actions. Accordingly, standing alone, Smith’s outspoken opinion about race and social justice issues does not establish a hostile work environment for Raiford.”

You can read the full report of Haggard’s findings here.

The Lynnwood City Council is on its summer recess until Sept. 6. According to Lynnwood Assistant City Administrator Julie Moore, the council will decide on any actions in response to the investigation when it reconvenes.

— By Lauren Reichenbach

  1. I have known Jim Smith for over 25 years and have always found him to treat everyone with equal respect and truthful in every way. These accusations are a complete fabrication and without merit. Too often these days it seems that if we do not get exactly what WE want then we use the race or gender factor as a means to force the issue.

    1. It does not help Smith’s case when the people coming to his defense are gaslighting the experiences of Black community members. Why are you discrediting the evidence provided in the 31-page report and claiming that it is fabricated? Perhaps you have never engaged with Smith outside of a homogenous social circle, but listening and observing Smith during city council meetings provides evidence of racism and sexism that is only further by the report. Smith lacks critical understanding of institutional racism with “Smith’s tendency to claim that his childhood residency in Hawaii or Asia gave him an understanding of what it is like to be a minority” (page 17 of the report).

  2. “Haggard said that ‘Smith, a white man, treated Jensen, a Black woman, as if she must answer to him, then publicly criticized her when she did not comply.’

    As a city employee, Doesn’t Haggard answer to the city council, who represent the voters of the city she works for? Smith’s job includes providing oversight of city business for the people of the city he represents directly. It appears to me from this article that Smith, in requesting the names of all applicants, was doing important oversight work – investigating whether the DEIC was truly working in an equitable manner as it claims to be the purpose of its existence. If a city employee is immune from public criticism, we have a serious problem if we are going to address ongoing issues. No article I’ve seen so far explained exactly how Smith’s actions went from legitimate oversight to sexual and racial discrimination.

  3. Shane, I’ve read the 17 page report. I can definitely see frustration on the part of Council member Smith and his inability to receive the information he requested. I’m not sure why, as a council member, he couldn’t get up to date information. But I don’t fault him for trying. However, I do not see any evidence in this report of discriminatory action against the Mayor’s Executive Assistant. She seems to have been caught in the middle of a power struggle between the Mayor and the Council. But there’s no real evidence in this report that her color or gender was involved. Smith’s referencing of his childhood as a minority in the South Pacific may be a ham-fisted attempt to identify with those who have experienced racial oppression, but I don’t see how this is indicative of institutional racist thinking. I know we have a difference of opinion here, but I strongly suspect his disagreement with you is political and not race-based.

  4. What scares me the most is that there are folks here feeling like council is entitled to information that was already given them bi-anually and is not up to their discretion as they and lynnwood staff are NOT the same. Especially when it comes off as harrassy
    Rick and Martin are trying to gaslight folks of color trying to equate Smiths childhood experience in the South Pacific. Like sweetie, how do you think that white child got there in the first place?? Surely not from centuries of colonialism and trauma to the indigenous people of that land… definitley not.
    obviously his lack of understanding how actual minorities are systematically oppressed and how he engages in furthering that oppression is lost on Smith and Rick who obviously supports Smiths gross behavior. Also yall are not mentioning he actually admitted to SURVEILLANCE and not collaboration with the DEIC, which is creepy as hell even more when no other commission is receiving surveillance.

    Smith has cut off more female CMs and city staffers in council meetings and working sessions than he has any male CM or staffer. He also makes comments about commissioner’s appearance when the person in front of him is young and feminine presenting. It’s gross. It’s sexist. He isn’t the only CM doing this.

    My favorite is Martin saying he knows Smith for 25 years and seen “nothing”, so it means you have been associating with this nasty behavior for 25 years with no additional thought to his actions? Laughable yhat you are not embarrassed right now….so you got a 30 page report confirming this and still can’t do a double take? Like are you not an adult? Are you all just stuck in your current mindset and can’t process evidence?

    Ooof the attempted gaslighting

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