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Mayor offers update on investigations at City Hall

A report from Montesano’s city labor attorney sparked many of the estimated 150 persons at the May 14 council meeting to share their thoughts about the past several months of grievances, employee vs. employee harassment, missing city property, investigations and perceptions, etc. All were well meaning, however, because investigations were ongoing, the administration was hard pressed to respond without releasing confidential information that by law was not releasable.

The city has held six investigations to date. The first was initiated at the request of the court judge and was resolved.

A later charge of insubordination was settled with a performance plan and employee counseling by the judge.

A separate harassment charge was instigated by one public works employee toward another, and settled when harassment could not be proven by a “preponderance of evidence.”

That investigation highlighted another issue of either misleading or untruthful statements made during that investigation. By agreement, the city issued only verbal discipline from both investigations.

No further acts or complaints or continued violations from the above actions have occurred. Cost of these cases is estimated at $25,000. The city insurance carrier is picking up all but $5,000 per case. Was this costly? Yes, but had we not investigated, the city could be liable in a very costly civil action.

The case of missing and unaccountable city property is still ongoing. This incident is being investigated by the Hoquiam Police Department. We can’t discuss it now because charges have not been filed. One employee is currently on unpaid leave. We expect this case to be completed and will be released to the public in June.

This same employee has filed a tort claim against the city, mayor, city administrator and a department head. Now, the insurance company has provided new attorneys who are doing their own investigations into that claim and will soon be doing depositions with all parties. We believe the insurance company will pay for the combined defense of this case.

Then, the five union employees filed a grievance charging the city administrator with harassment! This charge contains some material previously sent to arbitration dating back to 1999. In addition, an employee who was not part of the grievance has requested through their attorney, Art Blauvelt, that their name be redacted referring to RCW 42.56.230(2) and others. This may slow down the date of release.

This case is not one a local investigator or even staff (what staff?) could investigate and the insurance company authorized hiring an experienced harassment investigator from Kirkland. His cost is estimated between $6,000 and $10,000.

If matters were not bad enough, this was followed by a local businessman reporting to the city that there was inappropriate material on Public Works City-owned computers. The mayor then ordered all Public Works computers to be picked up and delivered to a computer drive forensic investigator for analysis. This is being done as I write. That investigation is expected to be completed by May 24-25.

Because of these two cases, the council authorized spending up to $15,000, to do these investigations.

As egregious as it is, this administration recognizes the duties imposed upon the city in such situations, and we must await the factual information before drawing conclusions, we ask that you do the same. I would like the public to note, the city did not seek to investigate anyone! Each event was initiated by employee behavior and/or complaint. We (and the law) take harassment cases very seriously. They can create civil lawsuits that far exceed the cost of investigation — even when it clears personnel or does not result in discipline. It should also be noted, no employee was put out on administrative leave as a result of a complaint of any kind of harassment — neither union nor exempt employees. Please do not spread rumors, the truth will shine clear soon enough.

Re-printed from the city of Montesano’s official newsletter. Reach Mayor Ken Estes at mayor@montesano.us.