May 19, 2024 7:23 pm

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Outgoing Lynnwood Parks Director ‘disappointed’ with mayor for not following succession plan

LYNNWOOD—When former Lynnwood Parks & Recreation Director, Lynn Sordel, announced his retirement in November of 2023, he made it clear to council that he would deliver a comprehensive succession plan to be submitted to Mayor Christine Frizzell. But now the retired Lynnwood Parks & Recreation Director feels “disappointed” with Mayor Frizzell for neither following through on that plan, nor following its number one proposal regarding who would succeed as director in his place. 

Lynnwood Parks director
Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Director Lynn Sordel at Monday’s meeting. SOURCE: City of Lynnwood.

Sordel sat down with Mayor Frizzell in the middle of November to go over a drafted succession plan, that included a recommendation for who should fill his shoes as Director, as well as a proposed organizational chart which encompassed some suggested changes to the Department’s organizational structure. Each of these changes could be accomplished within the plan and with minimal impact to the city’s budget, he told the Lynnwood Times.

“This was very important information because I valued so much my team’s work. I was hoping for a seamless transition. I was hoping when I left things would move just as I was gone but I wasn’t gone,” said Sordel.

During that meeting with Frizzell, Sordel’ s number one-listed priority was to transition Sarah Olson, Parks & Recreation Deputy Director, to fill in his role as Director.

“I felt very strongly about this because Sarah had been my Deputy for over a decade, had gone back to school got her Master’s. I had given her opportunities to grow in her job, take on more responsibility, she took over our capital programs, she took over the healthy communities,” Sordel told the Lynnwood Times. “Sarah was, to me, someone that was ready for the job, had been working with the community, was received very well by the council, by the community, and had earned the opportunity to take my job.”

In lieu of Sordel’s recommendation, Mayor Frizzell transitioned Parks Superintendent Joel Faber into the role of interim Director while keeping Sarah Olson in her role as Deputy Director. Faber was promoted to Recreation Superintendent by Sordel 14 years earlier.

“It’s hard to quantify Lynn’s legacy and immense impact on our community as our director. His dedication and passion for our Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts department can be seen and felt across our city. I am honored and excited to serve our community members and our employees in this interim capacity,” Lynnwood Parks and Rec Interim Director Joel Faber told the Lynnwood Times in an emailed statement.

Before Sordel submitted his report to Mayor Frizzell, he reviewed it with staff in the Lynnwood Parks & Rec Department for their support, including Superintendent Eric Peterson and, now interim Director, Joel Faber. Sordel knew Faber was going to apply for the open Director position, which he encouraged while still recommending Olson for the position over him.

christine frizzell
Mayor Christine Frizzell speaking to attendees at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Orange Swift BRT Line in Lynnwood in April of 2022. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

“He met the minimum requirements, but Sarah was more experienced, had put more time into herself to get her master’s degree, learning and doing more work in the community, getting engaged in the community and she is one of the most intelligent, brightest, and smartest individuals I have ever worked with,” said Sordel. “She did great work with the community with Parks Love, made council presentations, she was involved in the RFA work under Mayor Smith’s leadership, getting the Fire Department into the Regional Fire Authority.”

Sordel added that he felt extremely disappointed that there was no follow up from the mayor because he spent a “lot of work on this” and it was “extremely important to” him and his team.

The Lynnwood Times reached out to Deputy Director Olson, but she declined to comment.

“I made it very clear to [Mayor Frizzell] that this was a proposal that had been vetted through the team and I was very proud to present this and say this is how we can keep the organization moving forward in the direction that I think the council wants to go, where I think [the Mayor] wants to go, putting those people in those positions who were qualified, who were competent, and who could step in and continue to our thriving organization,” said Sordel. “I left [the succession report] with the mayor, she thanked me, and to this day I haven’t heard a word back since.”

The four proposed changes in Sordel’s report were affordable and did not require any additional resources. Some would have saved the city money with Sordel’s retirement, Olson stepping in as Director, and eliminating the Deputy Director position.

The elimination of the Deputy Director position would use its funding to create a new Planning Superintendent position who would oversee the department’s capital budget and long-range planning, among other things, according to Sordel. The other changes in Sordel’s report include the option to fill the Deputy position in the future as an internal promotion if there was an assessed need, add the federal grant-funded Urban Forester position into Parks Division, and to reorganize the Parks Operation Division to create a smaller span of control for Superintendent Eric Peterson.

Peterson currently supervises 12 people which, Sordel believes, to be too large of a team to oversee and evaluate. Just one of the ways the division would be reorganized is to create a second Foremen position to alleviate some of the stress in supervising a large team.

“I put a lot of time and effort into this, I thought it was a very sound proposal that made a lot of sense, and it was the right thing for the organization,” said Sordel. “I believe I did a good job and at least got step one out of the way, to get the mayor to see the benefits of putting Sarah in the job and, once you have Sarah in the job, to do these other things because these other things are important to the department.

The decision to include the rest of Sordel’s proposed changes to the Parks Department falls on the City this spring when it deliberates its 2025-2027 budget. All of Sordel’s proposed changes could be absorbed through the department’s existing funds and would not require the council’s approval for additional money. Mayor Frizzell informed the Lynnwood Times that the decision whether Sordel’s changes will make it into the budget or not will come at a later date.

The interim position Faber is currently serving is a six-month term. The city does not always form an interim position when deciding on a director position, but it has happened in the past. Sordel, for example, took over as interim Director when he joined the Department back in 2007.

“[Faber] has a lot of work to do to take over these responsibilities, he’s going to need a lot of help from his team, but he’s very competent and I know he’ll do his best job,” said Sordel. “I know Joel very well. I know he will give it his best work, his best effort, because he cares about the department.”

It’s unclear at the moment whether Mayor Frizzell will appoint Faber as Director after that six-month term is up or not. The mayor is solely responsible for the hiring of the position, not the council nor does the decision get the council’s vote. The council, however, does have the ability to interview candidates and make their recommendations to the mayor who ultimately has final say.

“Joel Faber has more than two decades of experience serving our community with our Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts team and has been instrumental in our Recreation Center’s success as Superintendent. His ability to lead, collaborate, communicate and strategize will be tremendous assets in his role as Interim Director,” Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell told the Lynnwood Times when asked why she appointed Faber as interim Director despite Sordel’s recommendation. 

The Lynnwood City Council was supposed to hold a three-hour Executive Session on March 18 to interview candidates for the open Parks and Recreation Director, as designated in its published agenda, but those interviews never occurred. Neither Sarah Olson nor Joel Faber was ever interviewed for the position.

On Tuesday, March 12, before the interview process was supposed to occur the city staff was told not to bring any agenda items forward to allow three hours in an Executive Session for interviewing. That Thursday, Council President George Hurst and Mayor Frizzell reviewed the agenda for Friday’s meeting. Council President Hurst noted that the normal process for interviewing candidates typically involves council receiving a binder which includes the applications of the three candidates—so that council members can formulate questions to be reviewed by Human Resources—but council members did not receive any binder. Council President Hurst was told by the Mayor’s Office that the binders would be coming; but they never did, he said.

On Monday, March 18, Mayor Frizzell sent out an email stating some “issues have come up with the Executive Session” and called for a Council Leadership meeting at 5:30 p.m. At that meeting, the mayor said she decided not to move forward with candidate Olson and that she has appointed Faber as Interim. This was 30 minutes before the council meeting was scheduled to begin.

When council asked why this decision was brought up 30-minute before the meeting, the Mayor replied that she had made this decision a week ago but didn’t want to put a damper on Sordel’s retirement week, Council President Hurst informed the Lynnwood Times.

“My question to the mayor was, if you knew this last week, why didn’t you just change the agenda? You’re wasting time of the time of the council,” said Hurst. There were a lot of staff hours that were taken up to interview applicants.”

Hurst also informed the Lynnwood Times that Sordel’s succession plan has never been shared with council despite repeatedly requesting to see it. The mayor has said that the matter is HR-related and doesn’t involve the council, Hurst said.

Lynnwood Parks director
Lynnwood Council President George Hurst. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

Council Vice President Julieta Altamirano-Crosby first requested to see Sordel’s plan last year but Mayor Frizzell, at first, told her there was no such plan.

“I’ve heard the mayor say comments like it wasn’t really a plan it was more of a suggestion but we’ve never seen it so we don’t know,” said Hurst. “The city council has not received any official notice that she [has appointed Faber to Interim]. She sent out an email to the employees announcing the appointment of Joel as Interim Director, but she doesn’t give a timeline. Could this be indefinite? I don’t know. If Joel does a good job, does she just appoint him to Director superseding all procedures? It’s just a weird situation.”

The Lynnwood Municipal Code states: “at the conclusion of the initial administrative interview process, the mayor shall refer to the council at least three candidates for a city council confirmation process.” Mayor Frizzell informed the Lynnwood Times that following a public recruitment effort it was determined that there were not three qualified candidates to move forward for consideration, so she elected to name an Interim Director to shepherd the department through the upcoming busy season instead.

However, there were indeed three qualified candidates for consideration as Director or Lynnwood Parks & Recreation: Olson, Faber, as well as an applicant from out-of-state.

During Monday’s Business Meeting on March 25, Lynnwood City Council President Hurst, along with Council Vice President Altamirano-Crosby and Councilman Patrick Decker, agreed to considering a revision to Chapter 2.06 of the Lynnwood Municipal Code that governs the city council confirmation process for appointed officials and employees.

“Nothing in the process talks about interim appointments, I think we need to have that clarified,” President Hurst said.

4 Responses

  1. Good for the mayor, it’s her job to appoint directors. The retiring director doesn’t get to pick his successor, and if his reorg proposal was so great, he should’ve implemented while he still had the authority to do so.

  2. I am so saddened by this. The Parks and Rec Dept in Lynnwood is a very strong community asset that has obviously had very strong leadership, given my experience living here and interacting with city staff. If I was in Sarah’s shoes, I would have a really hard time staying, and then we’ve lost 2 strong leaders, and a lot of continuity, history, skill, relationships, and passion. If this is a test of mayoral power vs council power, you’re taking collateral of the people and programs that I’ve come to love and reasons why I continue to live here. Even if the status quo is somehow maintained, I fear we have lost the great things that could have been and sprouted from a well-planned transition plan.

  3. I am so glad this article was published to show the public what a complete lack of tact, class, leadership, and professionalism the outgoing Director demonstrated on a regular basis. The fact that the outgoing Director presented a plan to eliminate the Deputy Director position speaks volumes that he was not doing his job during his tenure and someone else was. This in itself illustrates how out of touch he was with what his staff and community needs to have a thriving Parks & Rec program.

    If the writer of this article had taken the time to get more information and spoken to staff and patrons, they would fully understand and support the choice that was made. The Interim Director who was chosen is an incredible leader and man of integrity who has the support of parks and rec staff. Bravo to the mayor for course correcting years of inept leadership and really putting the people of Lynnwood first.

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