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Assessor’s file cleared, legal move against Island County dropped
Island County Assessor Mary Engle dropped legal action against Island County last month after an offending disciplinary letter was quietly removed from her file.
Engle’s attorney, Christon Skinner of Oak Harbor, filed the petition and application for writ of mandate in Island County Superior Court Jan. 3 to have a disciplinary letter removed from Engle’s personnel file. Former Assessor Dave Mattens, Engle’s rival in the last election, wrote the letter that criticized Engle for things she said during candidate forums.
“I wasn’t going to let that sit in my file without trying to make it clear what the truth was,” she said.
As Engle explained, she didn’t have time to go through a normal grievance process to have the disciplinary letter removed before she took office. Under the county’s procedures, Engle would have been in the awkward position of ruling over her own grievance.
“She was very concerned about being transparent and objective about the whole matter,” Skinner said.
As a result, Skinner filed the petition in court. But he said astute legal minds in the prosecutor’s office came up with an alternative grievance process that took the matter out of court. Engle temporarily appointed Human Resources Director Melanie Bacon to hear the grievance and Bacon ruled that the disciplinary letter should be removed from the personnel file.
Engle said it was clear that Mattens disciplined her as political retribution. He first had a meeting to discuss the issues in the week before the election, but didn’t file the letter until Dec. 10.
But in a phone interview this week, Mattens was upset that the letter was removed. He said Engle clearly violated policies and procedures and the “arbitrary decision” to remove the letter renders the policies meaningless.
“That’s wrong. That’s absolutely wrong,” he said. “I’m extremely disappointed in the HR director and the whole legal fiasco.”
In the letter, Mattens detailed “violations of public trust” based on statements Engle made at public forums. He said she announced that she co-owned a number of businesses, but didn’t comply with a county policy by submitting a written request to her elected official for outside employment. Also, he said she never coughed up a copy of an email she claimed to have sent managers in the office, which he told her to produce.
But on the other hand, Skinner said Mattens clearly overstepped his authority and violated Engle’s rights by interrogating and then disciplining her about things she said at candidate forums.
Moreover, Engle said Matten’s list of so-called violations were just plain inaccurate. County policy, she explained, said employees must submit requests for outside employment if they are “contemplating” employment, but she owned the businesses long before Mattens came into office. The policy states it’s OK to have other employment as long as there’s no conflict of interest; she said an espresso shop and the other businesses clearly aren’t conflicts.
Also, Engle said the chief deputy assessor admitted to receiving the email that Mattens claimed was never sent.