Hendrickson files whistleblower report with state auditor
By RICHARD D. OXLEY
Bainbridge Island Review Staff Writer
January 24, 2012 · Updated 7:37 PM
Kim Hendrickson, the former secretary/chief examiner of the city's Civil Service Commission, has filed a formal report with the State Auditor's Office claiming that state laws, including those protecting whistleblowers were violated.
"I am reaching out to the state auditor because laws were broken on Bainbridge Island, particularly those around whistleblower protection," Hendrickson said. "I think citizens have an obligation to make some noise when their officials act improperly."
Hendrickson's letter claims that several officials have been involved in illegal actions, but she focuses her report on City Manager Brenda Bauer and Council Member Bob Scales. She said that Bauer and Scales had used their leadership positions to influence staff and other elected officials throughout 2011.
"Both have acted against the letter and spirit of state whistleblower laws. Both have encouraged or excused violations of the open public meetings act," Hendrickson said. "...Both have used their authority to bully and intimidate people, which is something I find especially offensive."
The former S/CE makes a number of points in her report, but the crux of her argument centers on her actions and treatment as a whistleblower.
"Her allegations were factually and legally incorrect," Bauer said. "She was not an employee, and the events alleged in her original complaint concerned matters and decisions that occurred after her contract with the city ended, so no retaliation was possible."
Currently, due to confidentiality laws, the State Auditor's Office cannot speak specifically to Hendrickson's report until she waives her right to confidentiality. The office handles whistleblower reports for state employees.
"We did get some information about some issues up there," said Mindy Chambers, communications director of the State Auditor's Office. "The first step is to look at the issues and determine if we have the authority to do an audit on them."
In this case, Hendrickson is not a state employee and therefore does not qualify to be considered under the auditor's purview regarding whistleblowers. The auditor's office may consider her report as and item under the citizen hotline, which does address local governments and its employees and contractors.
Hendrickson's classification as a whistleblower may lay in a bit of a grey area. Hendrickson claims that she was given an employee manual upon her hire and that as S/CE she is subject to the city's cIvil service rules. She says that the civil service rules place the S/CE under the same treatment as police staff who have whistleblower protection.
"Her litany of complaints have previously been addressed and found factually and legally inaccurate, which would be confirmed by another independent review," Bauer said. "Since she has reason to know that many of her allegations about events are false, that she continues to publish them is troubling."
Hendrickson's 15-page report relates, from her perspective, her service as S/CE, including her termination from her position. It is filled with legal footnotes and cites a number of state laws, and local rules of conduct. It is also accompanied by 268 pages of attachments containing public emails, letters and other documents to back up her account of her time as S/CE, as well as the past five months when commission members resigned and changes were made to the structure of the CSC.
Hendrickson begins documenting her complaint when she brought up issues with the Civil Service Commission with Bauer in January 2011, noting three violations of civil service rules: a status change at the police department without notifying the commission; a job offer to an officer without CSC consultation or testing; and four lieutenants being demoted to sergeants without following civil service procedure.
After bringing these issues to Bauer, Hendrickson claims a number of events occurred, including unnoticed and illegal meetings with commissioners violating the state's open public meetings act, and ultimately her firing, which she claims was for illegitimate purposes.
On Sept. 30, 2011, Hendrickson submitted to Bauer and the council a letter citing the Local Government Employee Whistleblower Protection Act RCW 42.41.050 and further notified the council of Bauer's placement of a city employee as S/CE. This placement, Hendrickson said, was done without the competitive process required by state law. She further noted that the city manager does not have the authority to appoint a S/CE and such responsibility lays with the commission alone.
After Hendrickson was terminated, Bauer filled the vacant S/CE position with Kate Brown, a senior executive secretary with the city, a move that further spurred public debate over the details of the position.
A number of community members questioned the independence of the commission when the S/CE is a city employee. The Bainbridge Island Police Guild formally objected to the placement of Brown in an Oct. 3, 2011, letter to the CSC noting that she was a city employee and asked that she be removed from the position.
Chambers said that city employees can file reports under local city whistleblower laws, but that the state auditor can decide to run an investigation on such reports as part of their regular audit, or if appropriate, an investigation specifically addressing the issues presented.
"My immediate objective in filing the report is to hold people responsible for their illegal actions," Hendrickson said. "My longer term objective is to improve aspects of our local government. It's been a very unpleasant few months for me, but the experience will have been worthwhile if we see some positive change at City Hall and at the Police Department."
Contact Bainbridge Island Review Staff Writer Richard D. Oxley at email@example.com or (206) 842-6613.