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Williams Files Claim Against City Fired Engineering Director Asking For $425,000 And His Job

Tue., March 3, 1998

Former city Engineering Director Phil Williams has filed a claim against the city of Spokane, asking for his job back and $425,000 in damages.

If the city won’t rehire him, he wants more than $2 million.

Williams was fired last November following revelations he had an affair with a scientist working on a $300,000 study of Spokane’s waste-to-energy plant.

City Manager Bill Pupo said he had lost confidence in the 12-year employee. Some City Council members called Williams’ relationship with scientist Kathryn Kelly a conflict of interest.

Williams managed the incinerator as director of the Spokane Regional Solid Waste Disposal System.

In July 1996, he was promoted to lead the city’s engineering and planning department, which includes the incinerator.

The relationship and 29 hours in personal telephone calls Williams made to Kelly from his city office were reported by The Spokesman-Review. Williams reimbursed the city for the personal calls.

He has said his affair with Kelly didn’t start until September 1996. At the time, the study into the incinerator’s effects on human health was nearly complete.

Neither Williams nor his attorney, Michael McMahon of Spokane, could be reached for comment about the claim, which was filed last week.

Under state law, a person must file a claim at least 60 days before filing a lawsuit. The city can settle the claim to avoid the suit.

In Williams’ claim, he calls the newspaper articles “scurrilous allegations” that Pupo took at face value.

“Mr. Pupo’s adverse action against Mr. Williams was based solely upon the negative publicity generated by The Spokesman-Review,” the claim states. “Mr. Pupo conducted no independent study to determine whether any of the outrageous claims made by The Spokesman-Review were in fact true.”

The claim also argues that Williams was entitled to a hearing at which he could defend himself before being fired.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Pupo bowed to the court of public opinion” as created by the newspaper articles, the claim says.

Williams’ job performance has been “impeccable,” the claim says.

At City Hall, reaction to Williams’ claim ranged from a cool legal response to disbelief.

“If he doesn’t think he’s guilty of a conflict of interest, I guess we just don’t see the same thing,” Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers said. “I thought it was a pretty blatant conflict of interest.”

Pupo referred questions to Dorothy Webster, assistant city manager.

The city conducted an administrative review into Williams’ conduct before his firing, Webster said, but she was not sure he had seen it.

She also said Williams was an “at-will” employee who worked at the pleasure of the city manager. As such, he was not entitled to a hearing and could be fired at Pupo’s discretion.

In the claim, Williams argues that he told Pupo of his relationship with Kelly during an October 1996 meeting that included Pete Fortin, deputy city manager.

At the meeting, according to the claim, “the only person concerned with a conflict of interest was Mr. Williams.” The claim says an agreement was worked out in which Williams would stay involved in the technical matters of the environmental study but not in the contractual terms of Kelly’s employment.

“In spite of the fact that Mr. Pupo and Mr. Fortin knew of the relationship … for over a year, Mr. Pupo denied several times that Mr. Williams was specifically authorized to remain involved in the completion of the nearly finished report,” the claim states.

As the city’s engineering director, Williams made $82,270 a year. The claim says he is unemployed and “unable to find comparable replacement employment.”

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Tags: ethics

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