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Utility district votes to hire investigator

The Columbia River People’s Utility District’s board of directors met in executive session Tuesday evening, Oct. 28, during a special meeting, to discuss how to handle a complaint filed by a PUD employee.

The complaint was referenced during the CRPUD’s regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 21, when three of the board’s five members acknowledged receiving the information from an employee. Discussion of the matter was halted by the district’s attorney during that meeting, who advised directors to discuss it during an executive session due to confidentiality concerns.

After meeting for about 70 minutes in executive session, which included only the board, the board’s secretary, members of the press and legal counsel, directors reconvened in open session to announce their plans to hire an independent investigator to look into the employee claim.

Neither the nature of the complaint, nor the employee filing the complaint were discussed.

According to CRPUD policy, employees are advised to first discuss any issues with their direct supervisor.

If the issue is not resolved, they can take it to a manager and finally, up to the general manager if necessary. Employees can approach the board of directors if the issue involves the general manager.

By unanimous vote Tuesday, directors agreed to appoint board President Carol Everman and Director Dave Baker to interview and select a qualified investigator to look into the claim.

When prompted to allow the public to comment during the meeting, Everman declined.

Everman also declined to comment on the search for an investigator when contacted by phone Wednesday.

The investigation will take place amid tension in the workplace and among board members.

Last week, the Spotlight reported on turnover rates at the public utility and claims from eight different past and present CRPUD employees who said the district tolerates harassment and bullying from management. Some said they were terminated unexpectedly, others said they retired early or left to find a less stressful workplace.

Two employees countered those claims, saying they enjoy their jobs and feel most employees are happy.

CRPUD’s general manager, Kevin Owens, said the district does not tolerate harassment. Owens said managers and supervisors work hard to ensure a good work environment for employees.

“I also understand that employees, past and present, who have been subject to disciplinary action aren’t my biggest fans,” Owens acknowledged. “That’s OK as well. It comes with the job.”