Clallam County community development director told to hire attorney for department investigation

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — An investigation prompted by an overtime complaint has expanded into “other issues,” according to the Clallam County administrator, and top planner Sheila Roark Miller has been told to hire an attorney.

The Clallam County Department of Community Development is being investigated by county Human Resources Department attorney Akin Blitz, a Portland, Ore., attorney whose firm hired Kenneth Bauman, a former FBI agent and former assistant U.S. attorney, to conduct the inquiry beginning March 1.

Bauman has finished the investigative phase of his inquiry, said Blitz, who expects the finished report by May 31.

DCD employees initially were interviewed about a whistleblower complaint involving a supervisor who allegedly asked an employee to work overtime on a Sunday and told the employee not to record the time, County Administrator Jim Jones said last week.

The complaint was filed with county Human Resources on Feb. 21, said director Rich Sill, who would not disclose the text of the complaint or the name of the person who filed it, saying the information was confidential as part of a personnel investigation.

If the allegation is true, it would be a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, Jones said.

The interviews prompted a broader investigation concerning the DCD, Jones said, adding that he could not provide specifics.

“There are other issues that have been uncovered in the investigation that had to be reported to the state Auditor’s Office,” Jones said.

“The scope of the investigation significantly expanded.”

Roark Miller, the only elected director of a department of community development in the nation, said Friday she is unaware of any timecard issues in her department.

Roark Miller won election to the post in November 2010 after 21 years as a department employee.

She would not comment on the whistleblower complaint or the expanded inquiry.

“I welcome any scrutiny,” she said Friday.

“I do not want to make any comment that is going to be any different than what employees have said or staff have said or management has said,” Roark Miller added.

“I do not want to say anything that’s going to harm any of my staff or make the public think that anything is going wrong.”

Once the report is issued, the public “will be happy with us,” Roark Miller predicted.

County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols has advised Roark Miller to hire her own legal counsel.

“One or more” whistle-blower complaints had been filed by DCD employees, he said in a letter to Roark Miller dated March 5, four days after Bauman began working at Blitz’s direction.

“It will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to simultaneously advise the county and you in relation to the handling of the complaints without running afoul of the various laws and rules governing conflicts of interest,” Nichols said in the letter.

The scope of Bauman’s investigation “is beyond” the original complaint, Blitz confirmed.

“The county’s intention here is to get closure to all of the issues of which we are aware, and there are more issues than an isolated concern.”

DCD has a 2013 general operating budget of $2.2 million, the fourth-largest budget in county government.

The agency’s 20 employees are responsible for comprehensive land-use planning, the office of the county fire marshal and for processing land-development and building permits.

Bauman normally would charge $340 an hour but has agreed to discount that rate by 10 percent, Blitz said.

That means the county will pay up to $306 an hour, or $2,448 for an eight-hour day.

“Mr. Bauman is free to charge less, and he may,” Blitz said Friday in an email.

“Frequently many of us elect not to charge for blocks of time based on considerations related to value and efficiency, or other circumstances.”

The county will pay Roark Miller’s legal fees — to a point, according to Nichols.

“The county reserves the right to seek reimbursement for any cost incurred in connection with advice rendered as to matters that fall outside the normal course and scope of your employment as determined by a court of law,” he said in the March 5 letter.

Later, he said: “If there were a finding that she had violated the state criminal code and was facing criminal prosecution, the county would not be paying to provide her criminal defense.

“I’m not comfortable coming on a civil defense until we know more about what we’re talking about.”

Roark Miller would not say if she has hired an attorney.

A state Auditor’s Office fraud investigator has been assigned to monitor the investigation, agency spokesman Matt Miller said Friday.

“We are not duplicating efforts on this, but it’s on our radar,” he said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 04. 2013 5:57PM
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