- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - The text messages that got the city’s Engineering and Utilities director suspended included derisive comments about other city officials and labor leaders, according to the messages made public through a public records request.

Debbie Cook was suspended without pay for two weeks Dec. 8 after her boss, City Manager Tony O’Rourke, determined she had sent more than 1,300 personal text messages on her city-issued cellphone over the course of a year and a half.

Many of the messages were released Friday to Yakima Herald-Republic (https://bit.ly/1zO7OpG).

The majority of those personal messages were sent to Assistant City Attorney Jim Mitchell, who also responded using his city-issued cellphone. Mitchell has submitted a letter of resignation.

Some of the text messages released Friday were heavily or entirely edited out by the city, which cited a state privacy law that exempts personal communications from disclosure if they are highly offensive or “not of legitimate concern to the public.”

In December 2013, Cook complained about O’Rourke and texted that she wondered “what I was smokin a year ago when I told tony I would be honored to work for him!”

O’Rourke hired Cook out of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, to lead the department in January 2013.

Cook also referred to some co-workers as “tools.”

After the City Council voted down a proposed billboard ban in March she texted, “Last nights derailment of billboards & subsequent sacrificial slaughter of staff has set a very (thick) fog of ‘who cares/why bother’ over pack,” Cook wrote. “This will be (O’Rourke’s) demise if he doesn’t fix it.”

Cook used an expletive to describe a union president who raised concerns in January about whether city employees would be required to attend a department potluck and if they would be compensated. Cook wrote to Mitchell that the employees “are getting a longer lunch at the City’s expense.”

Most of the messages are of a romantic nature, with the two planning get-togethers and referring to each other with pet-names.

“My office is about to clear out … lurk?” Cook texted Mitchell in March. “My doors been closed all day … hint.”

Mitchell declined to comment about the text messages. Cook did not respond to a call for comment to her cellphone Friday.

O’Rourke says the episode is a lesson to other employees.

“We’ve told people over and over again to write messages as if they were going to be the headlines in the newspaper the next day,” O’Rourke said. “It’s a lesson not just for (Cook) but for the whole organization.”

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Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic, https://www.yakimaherald.com

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