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Monday, July 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Local government

In November election, former Fairfield public works director challenges mayor who fired him

Derek Knecht, left, and Kaydee Kilkey (Courtesy photos)
Derek Knecht, left, and Kaydee Kilkey (Courtesy photos)
By Emry Dinman Correspondent

Derek Knecht has said he wants to be the mayor of Fairfield to “bring back honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency.”

Anonymously, others have insinuated that he’s running with “vengeance in mind.”

A letter mailed to at least some town residents from a group calling itself the Friends of Fairfield lists reasons why the writer or writers believe Knecht is unqualified for the job. Though the letter does not name Knecht, the letter includes several identifiers and suggests that voters look into why the unnamed candidate was fired from their position with the town.

“You might have heard about a candidate who has had run ins with fellow citizens, harassing them over paranoid thoughts and ideas,” the Friends of Fairfield wrote. “Is this who we want to help run our Town?”

Knecht said the letter is slander directed at him. He was fired earlier this year by incumbent Mayor KayDee Gilkey after an almost decadelong tenure as Fairfield’s public works director.

Gilkey said she had no part in the Friends of Fairfield letter, and she wishes it hadn’t taken over the election.

“I don’t want this to be about some ridiculous drama,” Gilkey said. “It’s about who’s the better candidate.”

Knecht said official communications between himself and the mayor during his tenure could clear his name, but he doesn’t believe city officials will be honest with his records.

Fairfield’s Clerk and Treasurer Cheryl Loeffler said this week that she is unable to fulfill a public records request for Knecht’s termination letter before Tuesday – the day of the election. In a written statement, Loeffler said that city officials were “still searching for the termination letter.”

Knecht said he isn’t surprised by the delay.

“The information may not be available to them as they hacked my email account and tried deleting 8 plus years of all public works documentation,” Knecht said via text message. “This is common with the mayor and the clerk.”

Gilkey denied that claim.

She said Knecht was fired for not following instructions, and that Knecht had seemed to take issue with working for her personally.

Knecht said similarly that his firing was personally motivated, and believed Gilkey was looking for an excuse. He claims that he was punished, in part, for finishing a job a week earlier than scheduled.

But both sides acknowledge that Knecht’s decision to listen to a Town County executive session in which he was being discussed likely played the largest role in his dismissal. Executive sessions are supposed to be private meetings.

Knecht said he was fired for “finding out their intentions.” Among other insults directed at him, Knecht said he overheard the town officials say, “we need to take them all out behind the barn.”

“I was accused of being a redneck woman-beater,” Knecht said via text. “I was called a terrorist, hillbilly poor several times.”

He said they also said that his son was faking cancer.

Knecht said his family had to start a Facebook page to publicize that his son was not faking his cancer after repeated accusations.

Gilkey did not deny that she or members of the council said those things. Rather, she said that Knecht should not have overheard the conversation.

“He eavesdropped, illegally, on an executive session,” Gilkey said. “I’ve never said any of that in a public meeting.”

She said that the allegations from Knecht have nothing to do with deciding which of them is fit to serve as Fairfield’s mayor, and that she was disappointed Knecht hadn’t run based on the strength of his policies.

She said improvements in communitywide communication have been the goal during her four-year tenure as mayor. She took part in creating a Community Advisory Board to involve Fairfield citizens in governance, and helped get an electronic billboard built in the middle of town to communicate with rural residents.

If re-elected, Gilkey said she would invest in modernizing the town’s 15-year-old water and sewage infrastructure.

The town was chastised in 2012 by conservancy group Spokane Riverkeeper for violating the Clean Water Act. Spokane Riverkeeper claimed the Fairfield treatment plant’s pollutants “severely threaten the health and enjoyment of residents of Fairfield.” Knecht was public works director at the time, and is named along with then-Mayor Ed Huber in a letter from Spokane Riverkeeper.

A statement Knecht provided to Spokane County’s election guide said he wants growth and prosperity to “continue far into the future for all of the residents to enjoy.”

But he did not respond to repeated requests to comment on issues facing the town or to provide specifics of what he’d do as mayor.

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