Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sun Valley tort claim settled

Former city clerk alleged hostile work environment and retaliation

Express Staff Writer

A tort claim filed against the city of Sun Valley by a former city clerk has been settled by the city's insurance carrier for $72,000.

Kelly Ek, through Boise attorney William Tharp, sent the notice of tort claim to the city in April, naming former City Administrator Sharon Hammer, former Mayor Wayne Willich and current council members Bob Youngman, Michelle Griffith and Franz Suhadolnik, alleging that they created a hostile work environment.

Sun Valley's liability insurance carrier, Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, will pay Ek $65,000 plus $7,000 for attorney's fees to resolve the matter, according to a news release issued by the city Monday. That ends all claims relating to Ek's tort claim notice.

"This is another step in resolving the difficult issues, which were brought to City Council and me just after the November 5th election," Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe said in the release. "It is my responsibility with City Council to guarantee to our citizens that all city officials and employees consistently meet the highest standard of integrity and comply with federal and Idaho state laws. We will continue in this endeavor as ongoing issues are resolved in the months ahead."

The mayor and City Council were not parties to the negotiation and had no role in the settlement, according to the release.

Ek, who had been on medical leave without pay since March 26, resigned as of June 8.


Investigations ongoing

Briscoe said Deputy City Clerk Julia Kinsey-Lovey is filling the city clerk role until a citywide reorganization is finished and external investigations are completed.

"We've been grooming Julia. She's able to handle the duties," he told the Idaho Mountain Express.

Briscoe said he will submit a candidate for the permanent city clerk position to the City Council for approval in the coming weeks.

"I will be making that appointment after the end of both the forensic audit and attorney general's investigation," he said. "I had hoped for the audit to be completed within two weeks. However, they called me to state they have uncovered various documents and records and that they will probably take another two weeks [to review them]."

He said those documents pertain primarily to the Fire Department.

Auditors also gathered additional information from more people who came forward, Briscoe said.

"That's why the conclusion was prolonged," he said. "There were new documents and new data from whistleblowers."

That sent the auditors back to review more documents in the archives.

Sun Valley contracted with the Seattle office of Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro, a forensic accounting firm, to help the city investigate accounting practices and financial transactions over the past several years.

Additionally, an internal investigation conducted late last year prompted the city to seek an investigation by the Blaine County Prosecutor's Office, with assistance from the Idaho Attorney General's Office. The exact nature of these investigations has not been publicly stated.

Briscoe said the resolution of Ek's claim signifies progress in getting the city's internal affairs in order.

"This is another step in resolving the issues before the city that hopefully will be concluded this summer," he said.

Rebecca Meany:

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