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Tempers sizzle, report fizzles

The city council's fault line along its four new and three older members was exposed again following the release of an October 2008 investigation of a city department head by a Seattle law firm that cost $11,249.

At Monday's city council meeting, Councilor Ken Hays - who prompted the investigation - read a prepared statement saying all he wanted was a discussion, not an investigation, and that he now considered the matter to be in the past.

Councilor Paul McHugh released a statement after the meeting saying that Hays was continuing to blame others for his problems instead of apologizing and taking responsibility for his actions.

Sequim resident Patricia Allen wrote to the four new councilors on March 2 stating the city should be reimbursed for the cost of the report that was prepared by a Seattle law firm.

In September 2008, then-Interim City Manager Robert Spinks hired Davis Grimm Payne and Marra to investigate several allegations Hays made about Capital Projects Manager Frank Needham.

In an Aug. 26, 2008, meeting with Spinks, Hays raised eight points. They included allegations that Needham had exceeded his authority, wasn't doing his job and repeatedly had told a real estate broker not to use Hays' architectural services.

Needham was hired as capital projects manager in 2005 to assist with city's attempt to build a new city hall. He also was given responsibility for the proposed police station, a sub-area plan for the city's downtown core and the James Center for the Performing Arts project.

Hays previously had worked with Arai Jackson, which is the city's architectural consultant. The firm's partners include Rich Murakami, a consultant on the city hall project.

The law firm's report concluded that although trust and communication seemed to be an issue and Needham's performance should be monitored for the next six months to a year, he had not exceeded his authority nor slandered Hays.

Mayor Laura Dubois said the report was not worth the money spent on it.

"Chief Spinks hired them (Grimm Payne and Marra) and that's not what Hays had in mind," she said.

"Part of it is factual and part is people saying 'I don't recall.' It's not a very good fact-finding report.

"That was fine that no one did anything wrong but I'm not sure it was worth $11,000 to find that out. It could have been done with a local attorney and certainly for a lot less than $11,000. I don't know why Spinks chose to do that," Dubois said.

After the meeting Spinks said that labor issues generally carry significant liability for employers. So it's "reasonable and prudent" to use specialists in personnel issues and people who cannot be accused of bias, especially since a public official was involved.

Near the end of Monday's city council meeting, Hays read a prepared statement regarding the issue.

"It is clear to me that a more experienced city manager might have handled my expressions of concern differently," Hays said, saying to Spinks, "No offense, Bob."

"I wanted a discussion and nothing more. As near as I can tell, this 'investigation' was an unnecessary and unbudgeted use of city funds at a time when our resources are very limited," Hays said.

"I have absolutely no interest in pursuing this matter any further. My attorney tells me that I could raise further issues about the appropriateness of the investigation and the handling of the report that issued from it.

"My position is simply - it's over. The city has too much to do at this critical time. If others continue to expend the time and resources of city staff simply to embarrass me and others, then they must accept full responsibility for the burden these distractions will impose on our community," Hays said.

He praised Interim City Manager Linda Herzog, stating that the newer councilors have a different vision from the older ones and saying, "Let's get over it."

After the meeting, Councilor Paul McHugh released his statement saying, "Instead of apologizing for and taking responsibility for his actions, Hays continues to blame others for his problems. He continues to assert that the investigation was politically motivated.

"It is time for him to provide hard evidence, not his 'gut reaction or hearsay' that the investigation was politically motivated.

"Either that or take responsibility for his inappropriate complaints about the performance of staff in general and specifically as it relates to his client (Sequim Community Band) with matters before the city."

Prior to the meeting, McHugh said, "I had no idea he had any problems with Frank Needham or any ongoing business relationships. I'm on the legislative side, not the administrative side, so it doesn't affect me.

"There's a lot of stuff in that letter that I'm very saddened by. We don't need to do this."

McHugh said the gist of the report is that the employee did nothing wrong and the investigation revealed that.

The only options were firing the employee, ignoring the accusations, or letting Hays design and develop the project.

"What else is the city manager to do?" McHugh said.

Councilor Walt Schubert said Hays has tried to indicate that the older councilors were the ones behind the investigation.

"I'm tired of the focus of what Hays is doing being turned around. He caused it to be done, the chief did nothing wrong.

"He needs to stand up and say the chief did nothing wrong and not put it on someone else," Schubert said.

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