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Fired Workers Sue Commissioners Ex-Employees Of Defunct Building Department Say They Were Wrongfully Terminated

Another legal complaint, the third in two weeks, was leveled at Bonner County and its two new commissioners Wednesday.

Eight employees of the now defunct building department say they were wrongfully fired when commissioners Larry Allen and Bud Mueller voted to eliminate their department earlier this week.

Former workers also claim the commissioners had run-ins with building inspectors before they took office. They eliminated the department to settle a “personal vendetta.”

“Prior to taking office, both Mueller and Allen, had been found…not to be in compliance with laws applicable to building in Bonner County,” the claim said. “Mueller and Allen were motivated by a personal vendetta against (workers) for conducting their work for the Building and Safety Department.”

Neither Mueller nor Allen was available for comment Wednesday. Both have said in the past their decision to eliminate the building department was part of their campaign platform. The decision was made to honor a campaign promise and had nothing to do with a grudge, they said.

The former workers want 17 weeks of pay that amounts to more than $132,000. They are also asking for about $8.8 million in damages.

“The wrongful termination…by Mueller and Allen was in violation of (the employees’) civil rights and rights guaranteed to them under Idaho law,” the complaint said. Workers were not given notice their department was to be abolished and attorney Scott Reed called the action an illegal reduction in force.

Allen said he studied the department and concluded it no longer was needed, even though it generated about $100,000 for the county last year.

Commissioner Dale Van Stone voted against axing the department. He is worried about the mounting lawsuits and how the two new commissioners have conducted county business.

“If we are going to do these kind of things we at least need to do them right,” he said. “I hope we don’t get buried under lawsuits and strap the county.”

Two residents filed a $1.7 million lawsuit against the county earlier this week. They want refunds for building permits they and other residents already paid for. The permit fees included home inspections that the county no longer has staff to perform.

Another group, the Coalition for Responsible Government, also filed a lawsuit. It claims commissioners held an illegal meeting when they voted to abolish the building department, building codes and institute a flat $10 building permit fee.

The two commissioners have denied any wrongdoing. They also plan to contract with a building inspection firm to make sure residents get the services they already paid for.

, DataTimes