State investigation completed into North Highline Fire District ‘citizen hotline report’

The office of state auditor Brian Sonntag has finished its investigation into citizen complaints about the North Highline Fire District, submitted through the “citizen hotline.” The report says this investigation dates back almost one full year, when the state was “contacted by two citizens with concerns regarding a Commissioner’s potential conflict of interest, possible gifting of public funds and abuse of sick leave policy.” The concerns are detailed in the report, which you can read in its entirety here. The first claim investigated was:

A conflict of interest exists between the former Fire Chief and a District Board Member. The former Fire Chief was a Board Member for a local water district. That water district’s manager was a Fire District Board Member. The Board gave the Fire Chief a 57.5 percent pay raise three months before his retirement.

While the report concludes that no “legal conflict of interest” was found, it notes, “Due to the Department of Retirement System’s previous interest in these actions, we will be forwarding the results of this investigation.” The second claim investigated was:

The District Board granted the Training Secretary a severance package she was not entitled to.

The state’s conclusion was:

The District’s severance payment to the former Training Secretary did not follow the District’s policy. This former employee did not have an employment agreement that allowed her to earn this amount of severance pay. The District stated the severance was paid in exchange for a release of claims; however, the District did not document the employee had reasonable claims, or that any claim would be as large as this severance payment amount.

The third claim was:

The District is granting a Fire District employee time off under Family Medical Leave Act that he may not be entitled to.

The state’s conclusion:

The District has allowed this employee to take an unlimited amount of paid time off which may not represent a reasonable accommodation as intended by the state law.

Also included in the report is the Fire District’s “general response”:

While the Board disagrees with the conclusions both express and implied the Board does recognize that it needs to do a better job of defining and managing the employment relationships that it has with its management employees to avoid the situations addressed by the report.

More specific rebuttals can be read in the report; the first two contend that the payments made to the (now former) employees in question also had to do with release from district liability for any potential future possible claims/legal action.

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