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