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Council seeks all the facts

The city council decided Monday night to investigate sexual harassment allegations against Vernon Stoner of Olympia before deciding whether to hire him as city manager.

The council also wants complete investigations of the other three city manager candidates before they decide.

The probes will allow councilors "to find facts and, as best we can determine, the truth," said Mayor Laura Dubois.

The council will meet again at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, at the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St., to discuss the investigations.

Those investigations might be done by City Attorney and Interim City Manager Craig Ritchie after several councilors blasted the Seattle-based executive firm Waldron & Company for not uncovering the allegations.



Investigation

just starting

Ritchie said he only started his investigation on Friday and still needs some documents.

He also wants to talk to Waldron & Company about doing more research on all four candidates so they all are pretty equal.

It wasn't clear who was in the hotter hot seat, Stoner -- who addressed councilors Monday night - or Tom Waldron, who heads the executive-search firm.

Besides Stoner, the three other candidates interviewed Aug. 25 were Steven Burkett, former Shoreline city man-

ager; Mark Gervasi, Tillamook city manager; and Subir Mukerjee, Olympia's assistant city manager.

Councilors chose Stoner at their Sept. 2 meeting.

Tom Waldron did not attend Monday's meeting, which Ritchie said was because of his wife's birthday celebration. He is available, however, Ritchie said, to do more research and answer whether he would charge for it, Ritchie said.



Waldron 'owes us'

Councilor Walt Schubert declared, "I think he owes all of us a call."

Councilor Ken Hays added, "He owes us a visit. I have questions."

Dubois said, "I encourage more investigation to find out more facts."

Waldron said Tuesday morning he had been briefed by Ritchie following Monday's meeting and that they will collaborate to search for any court documents on the four candidates.

They must talk with them first, though, to see if any remain interested, he said.

On May 18, Stoner's former executive assistant Shellyne Grisham filed a $135,000 claim against the Office of the Insurance Commissioner alleging sexual harassment by Stoner. It was settled for $50,000 on Aug. 31.

Waldron said he conducts Internet searches of candidates as part of his research and that he did not receive an anonymous letter regarding Grisham that was sent to Erik Erichsen and the Sequim Gazette.

He plans to attend the Sept. 21 council meeting, Waldron said.



Stoner's side

Stoner, who drove from Olympia to Sequim on Monday, told the council during a 30-year career supervising thousands of employees, he never had a finding of sexual harassment.

"I've managed thousands of employees and made them happy and pleased," he said.

He also challenged the council to investigate him, stating they wouldn't find anything.

Stoner said he was caught "completely by surprise" by the recent news reports of a legal settlement involving him and there were no findings of sexual harassment in that case.



Admits 'ah-ha'

moments

Stoner said he's made mistakes and said inappropriate things that he realized later maybe he shouldn't have, calling them "ah-ha moments."

"I welcome a background check but it will not produce any findings. I look forward to coming to Sequim. My history and background are open," Stoner said.

Councilor Walt Schubert asked Stoner why he didn't tell the council more about the allegations when he was interviewed.

Stoner said the investigation of what he termed "he said/she said" allegations didn't come to any conclusions.

He had done nothing inappropriate so he didn't think he needed to share the allegation, Stoner said.

"Then I had an 'ah-ha moment' and realized I should have."

Stoner said Grisham was on leave and no claim had been filed when he left the Insurance Commissioner's Office.

Stoner left his deputy director position at the Office of Insurance Commissioner in mid-April with two months severance pay. His last day of state employment was June 15.



Why choose Waldron?

Erichsen asked why Waldron even was being considered to conduct the additional investigations.

"They did not do well with the first investigation, so what's the point?" he asked.

Ritchie said Waldron did what any executive search firm would do, checking educational, financial and criminal history, plus references.

Firms usually hire an outsider to do more extensive investigations, he said.

Checking court records normally wouldn't be done except for law enforcement positions and there's an extra fee for that, Ritchie said.

He also said civil servants often are targets of lawsuits, noting that while serving as Clallam County prosecutor he was sued for depriving people of their civil rights by convicting them.

When the audience was asked for comments, the only speaker addressing Stoner's situation was Mary Bell.

She said as one of the interviewers, she really would have appreciated knowing about Stoner's suit against the state.

"That would have been nice to know," she said.



Grisham: Stoner lies

Stoner filed a claim June 24 against the Office of the Insurance Commissioner seeking at least $1 million alleging he was fired as deputy director because of racial discrimination.

The claim was denied and the issue now is in Thurston County Superior Court.

Grisham said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon, "He is lying. They (investigators of her harassment claim) put me through absolute hell.

"It's time to stop the lies. It's not like we didn't get

along. The things he said were so disgusting."

Evidence of Stoner's behavior should be revealed during the discovery process now that he has sued the state, Grisham said.

She was not the one who filed a claim against Stoner of sexual harassment, Grisham said. That was done by Cathy Carlson, another administrative assistant, after Stoner's behavior had continued for six months, she said.

Carlson reported it to Beth Berendt, deputy commissioner for rates and forms, who went to Beverley Burdette, human resources manager, who hired Seattle attorney Jillian Barron to investigate, Grisham said.



Suffered depression

The four-hour interrogation she endured from Barron was the most traumatic and demoralizing experience of her life, she said.

Of the $50,000 settlement she received, only $20,000 was for damages with one-third going to her attorney and the rest as reimbursement for her leave due to severe depression, Grisham said.

"That's the same amount the Office of the Insurance Commissioner paid the investigator that put me through hell," she said.

"They protected that man and it disgusts me.

"The state system I believe in so strongly doesn't protect its employees. I take being a public servant very seriously. I can't express my disappointment."

During her 15-year state government career, Grisham has worked at the departments of Ecology and Health before moving to the Insurance Commissioner's Office.

She can return to Ecology in a different position that pays 15 percent less but that means bumping someone else out of a job, Grisham said.



Stoner: Fired

without cause

Stoner said in a Monday afternoon interview he did not know of the investigation's progress.

"I had left the insurance commissioner's office when the claim was filed, so I didn't have any idea it was going on," he said.

"No conclusion came from the investigation.

"The state settled with her without any conversations with me. I'm drawing unemployment and I am able to draw it because my firing was without cause."

He won't withdraw his name from consideration for the city manager job, Stoner said.



Reach Brian Gawley at bgawley@sequimgazette.com.

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