Another lawsuit filed against the City Of Oak Harbor and it’s Mayor by employee chasing attorney Christon Skinner

Author:Cliff Howard

Recently the Mayor’s executive assistant was let go from her position with the city of Oak Harbor. This assistant was not hired by this mayor but was retained by this administration from the 2 previous Mayors of our city.

 I spoke to the Mayor about his decision and he did not want to go into the personal detailsof the reasoning behind his executive assistants replacement but stated that the position she filled was being changed from this person being not only his personal assistant but also an ombudsman for the Mayors administration so that better lines of communications could be opened between the City Administration and the citizens of our city. He stated he felt that this was the best decision that he could make for the benefit of Oak Harbor and was surprised again at the lawsuit stating that it is pretty common for Mayor’s to have executive assistants of their choosing and not have one that was chosen by predecessors.

 It is interesting that we have another at will city employee filing a lawsuit over a perfectly legal termination. At will employees serve at the will of the person or organization hiring them and are owed no reason for their termination and accept this  fact upon their hire. It is very common in municipal administrations to hire at will employees that serve at the will of the administration as when the administration changes during the election cycles so do a lot of the at will administrative personnel. This is the only way an elected official like a Mayor can have any control over the administration that he is in charge of managing.

In the past we have seen other Oak Harbor Mayor’s clean house in a similar way when they are elected to office. The most recent house cleaning was done by the newly elected Mayor Patty Cohen when she terminated the employment of City Supervisor E.T. Silvers, Police Chief Tony Barge, Planner Tom Burdett, Engineer Ryan Goodman, Human Resources Director Andy Keene and City Administrator Thom Myers for a total of 6 at will employees terminated. Please note that not one of the above filed a lawsuit against the city as they knew upon their hire that they were at will employees just as the Mayor’s executive assistant does.

 Here is what the Municipal Research Service Center of Washington states about Employee Terminations and at will employment:

http://www.mrsc.org/subjects/personnel/empterm.aspx

 It is certainly troubling to see this lawsuit brought against the city and the mayor by the Mayor’s former executive assistant. Apparently the Mayor and the city attempted to offer this person a severance agreement package that included payment and benefits that were in excess of what she otherwise would have been entitled to under her existing contract with the city and this is also after the Mayor kept her as his executive assistant while she was going through troubling times. I guess this just shows how far people will go to undermine the concept of at will employment in the city of Oak Harbor.

We obviously have lawyers in our city that will take advantage of any opportunity to benefit from this at will employment status that the city has with many of its employees. It is very interesting that this same lawyer that encourages these lawsuits against the city is also one of the biggest supporters of some of the members of the current city council. Influencing the council to write these at will contracts an then benefit from these same contracts when employees are terminated seems to be double dealing at its finest. I would certainly question our city council members who gain support from this attorney as this type of support certainly does not seem to be in the best interest of the city, its citizens or it’s employees especially when attorney fees are factored into the equation.

For a little background the city of Oak Harbor hires employees either as at will employees or as for cause employees. The difference between these 2 employment statuses is that the at will employee can be terminated at the will of the administration when changes are necessary and the for cause employee can only be terminated when there is an issue with their employment and for cause. In most cases the employees who accept employment with the city understand the status of their employment with the city and accept the fact that they are hired either a for cause or an at will position and accept that status when hired and when fired but not anymore.

We all know it is not easy for someone to lose their employment, especially when that employment is a well paying position in a local city that has good pay and benefit packages for employees. We also know that certain positions in a city administration depend on management having confidence in the employees that they control. In the past we have seen previous Mayors fire employees from their positions with no controversy surrounding those firings presumably because the people who were let go knew the status they had with the city. Today we are seeing something different.

When Patty Cohen was Mayor 6 at will position employees were let go from city positions and there was no controversy, no lawsuit and no real contention that something was not above board. Today when Mayor Dudley decides to replace key employees an instant trip is made to one of our local attorney’s office and a lawsuit is immediately filed against the city. It is as if we have an ex city employee chasing attorney in town instead of an ambulance chaser in our midst.

It is even more interesting when you mix politics into this. The same attorney that seems to have recently filed a lawsuit for every city employee that has been terminated also supports the opponent of the Mayor who has terminated these employees. It is as if the whole city council that is currently up for election is supported by this attorney.

Below are a few links to sources about at will employee terminations, the lawsuit filed by Christon Skinner for the city employee and also a link to the at will employment contract for the terminated Mator’s executive assistant.

Link to MRSC Information

Link to lawsuit filed by Christon Skinner

Link to Mayor’s Executive Assistant employment agreement

 

 

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19 comments

  1. avatar

    It will be interesting to see if that attorney who represents all those City at will employees when terminated also sues the voters of OH when they decide it’s time to replace some of his Puppets in the Nov election
    He’ll not be pleased with new people who will not be part of the good old boy network dancing to the tune of you know who

    1. avatar

      What is interesting is that most of the current council members are supposedly close friends and allies with this lawyer. I am not sure if the council members realize that this person is one of the largest generators of lawsuits against the city and has the potential to do more financial damage to the city that anyone else. It does make one wonder just whose side this council is on, the taxpayers or the lawyers…

      It certainly seems like they side with the lawyer that consistently sues the city more than siding with the taxpayers. In some organizations that would be considered treasonous actions but that apparently is not a concern to this City Council and one of the major reasons this council needs to be replaced with those that have more common sense and ones who can see who the real enemies of the taxpayers clearly are.

  2. avatar

    I would point out that though in washington state an at will empolyee can be terminated for no reason, with that said there are reasons an employee cant be terminated. So an employee can be terminated for no reason but not any reason. I would also think this could get really interesting if the mayor in his door to door campaigning stoped by his assistants house if so it could get expensive.

    1. avatar

      And why would that be more expensive Shane? I must be missing the point here for some reason.

      1. avatar

        The point was that the courts will look at all the facts and there are a few factors here that could weigh very heavily in this nearly 3/4 million dollar suit.

        1. avatar

          So far we only understand that she is an at will employee and that the Mayor and administration offered her more than her contract called for in her termination. I am unaware of any other factors that may weigh in with the court beyond those facts. You must know something that no one else does here and was just wondering if you cared to elaborate further.

          From my understanding, and I am certainly not a lawyer, that with an at will employee you need no reason to replace an at will employee especially if you, the Mayor, feels that someone else would better fit the position. I do know from talking with the Mayor that she more than likely would have been replaced earlier if it were not for her illness and thought that the Mayor kept her on just so as not to interfere with her recovery which in my mind shows that it was not a malicious move by the Mayor. Remember that this is his personal executive assistant and the Mayor needs to have confidence in this person and the ability of this person to carry on his agenda and also fulfill the position of the new ombudsman. I am assuming that the mayor was looking for someone fill that role and that the old person was not up to it in the Mayors eyes.

          So I guess the question is again back to what other factors do you know of that could weigh in on this? You do know that this will very likely not ever make it to court and will be settled outside the courts with the actual settlement not disclosed to the public just like the other highly visible and advertised lawsuits against the city. This leads to a lot of speculation, a claim of a multimillion dollar settlement that may end up being only a token settlement but generates a lot of bad press for the Mayor in the process. We have to assume under the circumstances that this is another one of those cases….file a multi million dollar claim, settle for considerably less and don’t disclose the settlement terms to give political opponents an advantage. Does not this seem the same as the other lawsuits and settlements that have happened with Mayor Dudley and the various lawsuits brought by this lawyer? Is this about politics or about actual damages suffered I guess is the question.

          1. avatar

            The Mayor specificly ask my why was she clocking into work if she was less than 100% health wise and basicly if that was the case then she wasnt deserving of the tax payers money. So theres that and like you I honestley have no idea why this employee was fired but there is certianly a possibility of this being a civil rights issue given the circumstances. Now if the Mayor stopped by her house in his door to door campaigning wow, that wouldt look good either.

            I certianly agree that this will never go to court because im sure the citys insurance will have no interest in that happenig. I could certianly see this being settled out of court for 350,000.

            1. avatar

              Where do you see the statement that you made that the Mayor stated as you say” The Mayor specificly ask my why was she clocking into work if she was less than 100% health wise and basicly if that was the case then she wasnt deserving of the tax payers money. “?

              I don’t see that in any of the filing papers or documentation so far presented. I guess that is the basis of the statements that you are making and am just wondering if that is scuttlebutt or rumor or based on the facts.

              That does not seem like something that Scott would say to be honest with you. I do know that he was concerned with her health issues and kept her for as long as he possibly could but that it was holding up his ombudsman position that he dearly wanted to fill so he took action once the recovery was over.

              It just certainly seems like everyone that has been recently terminated from the city has a lawsuit to file now when in the past it was not the usual course of action by employees. When Mayor Cohen let most of the city administration go there were no lawsuits and really no contentiousness involved as everyone seemed to understand that they were hired as at will employees that could be terminated without cause.

              Is this a case of an attorney encouraging these types of lawsuits or is there a real reason for them with real damages attached and that is the real question here. It seems as if the politicalization of the split council and the election this has been the normal course of action and not the rarity. Even when the former city attorney Ng was fired by Jim Slowik and he had real good cause for a lawsuit there was not one filed but then again there was not politics involved in that suit or termination.

              It seems to me that this is a case of a lawyer getting involved, a lawyer that does not support the Mayor and does not support the new council candidates trying to make hay out of a lawsuit that really shouldn’t be brought. Then again I am not a lawyer or an aggrieved party so maybe there is something I am missing…and that is why all of the questions.

              When you look at the $500,000.00 lawsuit Chief Wallace brought that was settled for considerably less it does make one wonder if this isn’t more about using the courts to fight a political battle and a local lawyer that is helping certain candidates at the taxpayers expense, it is more evident when you realize who this attorney supports politically.

              1. avatar

                Sorry if my questions are a little disjointed, just got out of the hospital for a back operation and am on a few painkillers so I may not make a whole lot of sense here…:)

                1. avatar

                  The statement as I said was what the mayor said to me in a personal conversation in which I was voicing my displeasure with his decision to fire.
                  I hope your recovery from surgery goes well.

                  1. avatar

                    Well that makes sense. I was just wondering because that wasn’t something that he told me, not saying he didn’t say it but I was just wondering I guess.

                    And thanks for the thought…

                  2. avatar

                    Shane,

                    After thinking about your statement I still find it hard to believe that that is what the Mayor told you. I am not on some personal friendship level with the Mayor I just talk to him when I have the chance to and just cannot believe that he would make a statement like that to you, me or anyone else.

                    I did talk to the Mayor about his assistant before she was let go and his concern about the new ombudsman position and what you stated that he said is so far off from the attitude he had with me and what he told me leads me to believe that you are again fabricating statements to make him look bad. So what is it Shane? Is this another fabrication on your part? Are you again popping into Island Politics just to cause dissent or are you being honest? So far your track record as being an honest player in these conversations is zero so what can you tell me otherwise that would make me believe that what you state is true?

                    Is this just another he said she said composition by Shane Hoffmire or is there any basis in the truth in what you state?

                    1. avatar

                      The basis is that this is what the Mayor said to me in a 32 minute phone conversation. I have already stated that I have no desire to testify in a civil suit against the city so I guess as you said it will just have to remain he said he said unless the mayor’s city hall phone records are subpoenaed.

                      I am not fabricating a thing here, take me at my word or don’t. I fully know that you guys will take me to task for posting on here but this is really what was said.

                    2. avatar

                      Sorry Shane, I don’t mean to be so critical of you it is just that you seem to always only posts things that are negative towards certain candidates and just assume that is why you are commenting here. I still find it hard to believe that Scott would say that but then again maybe he did, all’s we have is your word that he did.

                      Do you believe that the Mayor should have an executive assistant of his choice? It does seem rather strange to me that his assistant was basically chosen for him. Do you think that he was wrong in replacing her?

                    3. avatar

                      Cliff, no need for apology.
                      To answer your question I would say that if a change was needed then it should have taken place 2 years ago when Mayor dudley was sworn in.
                      Timing is everything and this just comes across as someone who cant work with anybody giving his own people the axe.
                      The timing could also prove crutial in a lawsuit / settlement.

                    4. avatar

                      Not having a lot of the details leaves me at a bit of a disadvantage. If I remember what Scott told me correctly his assistant was diagnosed shortly after he took office and he never really had a chance to do anything about it
                      I don’t know the Mayor that well but I do know that if he knew of her illness it would be a deciding factor in her replacement. I do not believe that Scott would ever consider doing anything that would do more harm to this person much less replace her in a time of trouble. That is just, in my opinion, not in his nature. Some things are higher than politics, positions and squabbling and I believe Scott would feel the same way and do the right thing. That is the real reason I was questioning your comments and their nature I guess. Remember Scott is the guy who gave the Canadian one of his kidneys was’t it? And made like it was no big deal right?

                      What you stated that the Mayor said just does not fit in with the impression I have of the Mayor and I guess hat is why I am being aguementative…

  3. avatar

    Cliff, if this lawyer is hurting the city so much with lawsuits, the City of OH needs to be careful in in its employment practices. Simply stated: if the lawyer is winning money in the judicial system, clearly the courts feel what the City has done is wrong – if not, he and his clients would not be given monetary judgments.

    1. avatar

      A lawyer can sue for anything as in this case. The problem is that when a suit is brought for $500,000.00 and a settlement agreement is reached between the parties the settlement is very rarely made public. A suit for 1/2 million can very well end up being settled for $10,000.00 but the public very rarely sees this final settlement. I do believe that is what happened with the previous police chief, he sued for an astronomical amount but settled for pennies on the dollar and the public is left with the impression that millions were spent by the city.

      Then when you end up adding in council members like Rick Almberg that claim millions were spent on these settlements there is no real defense against his claims because the settlement terms are usually not made public. These claims by the council members are made to make the current Mayor look bad for political purposes. It is a shame to see out legal system used as a tool against politicians that are attempting to do what is right for the citizens of our community.

      When you have a local lawyer who is in collusion with certain factions of the city council these facts can be manipulated to make thinks look very bad for those political purposes and that is why all of these lawsuits are in my opinion manufactured to make Mayor Dudley look bad.

      I honestly believe the Mayor is attempting to do what is right for the citizens of this community or I would not be defending him. He owes me nothing and I owe him nothing and my defense of him is because I believe that he is attempting to do what is right for all of us here in the city.

      We need more people like Mayor Dudley not less, we need a council that while they may not support him in all of his endeavors at least allows him to attempt to bring the changes that will make our community a better place for all of us. This is not a personal thing for me and I do not believe it is for the Mayor, it is about making changes for the better. I wish him and his changes all the luck in the world and that is why I support those candidates that have stated that they will work with him in the future.

  4. avatar

    Total nonsense Marcus. None of these so called “cases” have come anywhere near a ruling from the courts. While I disagree with paying these lawfully terminated employees a settlement outside of court system it is rather a common practice in government and the private sector.

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