MILL CREEK — Mayor Pam Pruitt abruptly resigned Monday after more than six years at the helm of a city that has long shown signs of underlying turmoil.
Pruitt told her fellow City Council members in a letter that she is retiring — effective immediately — to “focus on friends, family and helping those in need.”
“I’ve missed spending time with my friends and family,” Pruitt wrote in the letter, dated Monday, which she provided to The Daily Herald. “I’ve had all the right excuses: I’m busy, I have a conflict, etc. That’s over.”
The move comes just days after City Finance Director Jeff Balentine ended his tenure at Mill Creek less than five months into the job, citing “philosophical differences” with city leadership.
Mayor Pro Tem Brian Holtzclaw will assume the role as mayor as the council begins the process of appointing a new council member to the vacant seat, the city said in a news release.
“We offer Mayor Pruitt our profound gratitude and respect for her steadfast service to our community, and express our sadness about the news of her resignation,” says the news release.
Pruitt is leaving as the city faces a pandemic-induced budget crisis that could deal a $2 million blow to its roughly $30 million general fund in 2020 alone.
The council is also in the middle of City Manager Michael Ciaravino’s first annual performance review.
Ciaravino, whom the council hired in the spring of 2019, has come under fire recently for laying off longtime staffers; at the same time, he’s drawn criticism for retaining two temporary staffers he worked with at past jobs.
Two of the employees who were let go told The Herald that the environment at City Hall was barely functional, with little or no communication between the administration and the slashed workforce.
The council’s evaluation is taking place over the course of two closed-door meetings this month. The first of those executive sessions happened last week. The second is slated for Tuesday, according to a notice on the city’s website.
Pruitt, whose term would have concluded at the end of 2021, has a long history as a city leader. She served as a councilwoman during the late 1980s and early 90s and was mayor in 1992 and 1993.
“It has been a privilege and honor to serve the residents and businesses of Mill Creek since the mid-1980s both as an activist and later as an elected official,” Pruitt said in her resignation letter. “When I first ran for office in 1987, it was because I wanted to make life better for everyone in Mill Creek. That has never changed.”
The council then again chose her as mayor after her 2013 election, and she has held the seat since.
Pruitt also previously worked as a legislative aide for Snohomish County Councilman Terry Ryan, who stepped down early this year to join the county executive’s staff.
“When I left my employment in Snohomish County last December, it was to volunteer to help people who cannot help themselves,” Pruitt said in the letter. “With the pandemic, there are even more people who need help. It’s in my DNA. It’s what I need to do.”
She cited some of her accomplishments: lobbying federal officials to get the local post office built, fighting for more than $6 million for improvements to 35th Avenue, and working on a proposal to save law enforcement and fire agencies money on radio communications.
Over the years, the council has cut ties with city manager after city manager as the governing body has struggled to find an adequate chief executive officer for Mill Creek.
A pending lawsuit against the city alleges that Pruitt sought to oust four top city officials after they filed formal complaints in 2018 about the behavior of ex-city manager Rebecca Polizzotto, whom the council later fired amid allegations that she bullied staff and misused her city credit card.
An attorney for former city spokeswoman Joni Kirk, one of the whistleblowers, wrote in the lawsuit that Pruitt penned “negative articles” regarding the four of them that were published in local newspapers and addressed them “in an antagonistic manner” during meetings.
Another one of the whistleblowers, then Police Chief Greg Elwin, parted ways with Mill Creek earlier this year after an investigation found that he failed to arrest a fugitive relative living in his home and didn’t report a threatening employee comment.
Pruitt declined to comment further on the timing of her departure, aside from what was said in the letter.
The news came as a surprise to Mill Creek Councilman John Steckler.
“She’s truly a public servant,” Steckler said. “She did work very hard for the city. I do wish her the very, very best.”