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Former Columbia River PUD manager will pay $5,000 in settlement

Plaintiff in breach of contract lawsuit will pay utility district

The former general manager of the Columbia River People's Utility District will pay the PUD $5,000 to settle claims in a lawsuit filed against the PUD last year.

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Kevin Owens, former general manager of Columbia River PUD, will pay $5,000 in a settlement agreement with the utility district. Owens filed suit against his former employer in September 2015 alleging breach of contract for disparaging statements made during a board meeting.Kevin Owens filed suit against the utility district last year for $25,000, claiming statements made by the district's vice president, Jake Carter, were disparaging toward Owens and constituted a breach of Owens' non-disparagement clause with the district.

Owens worked as general manager of the PUD for 11 years until he left under a separation agreement with the district in December 2014. The agreement included a clause indicating neither Owens nor the PUD could make negative or disparaging statements about one another, without facing monetary penalties of $25,000 for each breach of the non-disparagement clause.

When it later came to light that Owens had created retention agreements with a promised payout for four members of the PUD's management team before he left, Carter criticized the agreements for being executed without the knowledge of the full PUD board of directors and said no agreement of the sort had ever been offered to employees before.

“We're having our attorney look into … the validity of these contracts,” Carter told the public at a board meeting in August 2015.

After Owens' lawsuit was filed, the PUD filed a counterclaim, citing at least one instance of Owens negatively describing the culture at the district, after his departure.

Court documents show an email from Owens to an industry colleague that read, “I was never a fan of letting the animals run the zoo while I managed the utility but there appears to be a few that have the keys.”

The specific negotiations leading to the settlement are unclear, but the PUD announced Friday that Owens would pay the district $5,000 to settle all claims.

Philip Griffin, the attorney for the PUD, declined to provide further comment about the settlement. A request for comment from Owens' attorney was not returned Friday afternoon.

“Kevin Owens will pay $5,000 to the CRPUD and both parties will release their claims in the litigation against one another,” a press release stated. “The settlement allows all parties, the utility, its staff and the community to move forward.”

The PUD still faces another ongoing lawsuit from its former employees. After the termination of the same four managers who received retention agreements, the employees filed suit against the district for a total of $7 million. That case is still pending in Columbia Circuit Court.