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Former PUD manager files suit against the utility

Kevin Owens seeks $25,000 for breach of contract related to non-disparagement agreement

OwensAfter initially asking for $25,000 over a contract violation, Kevin Owens, former general manager of Columbia River People’s Utility District, filed a lawsuit against the district Monday seeking the same amount.

The suit came after the district was served a demand letter by Owens earlier this month for what he said was a breach of a non-disparagement agreement he had with the utility district.

Owens alleges Jake Carter, the PUD board of directors vice president, spoke poorly of Owens’ actions as a manager during a public meeting in August, which violates the separation agreement put in place in December 2014 between Owens and the PUD.

Through his attorney, Owens sent a demand letter on Sept. 4 to attorney Philip Griffin, who represents the PUD. He asked for $25,000 in connection with an Aug. 18 board meeting, during which Carter briefly discussed employee retention agreements Owens created for the district’s four managers when Owens was still employed there.

Carter said the board was unaware of the agreements, which were unprecedented contracts that stipulated large payouts for the district’s four department managers. Griffin said he was looking into whether the contracts complied with the district’s public contracting rules.

Owens’ demand letter had a due date of Sept. 18. The district opted not to pay.

“Mr. Carter’s statements conveyed, expressly or implicitly, that Mr. Owens acted in secret, without authority, and outside the law,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Carter’s statements during the August 18, 2015 Board meeting damaged Mr. Owens’ professional reputation by creating an exceptionally negative impression of him in a public forum, and in news articles and letters to the editor that republished or referenced Mr. Carter’s statements.”

The complaint characterizes Carter’s statements as “false and disparaging.” It also states that Owens’ professional reputation and ability to find

another job have been jeop-

ardized by the statements, which triggered negative reactions from the public that

now appear in Google searches.

Prior to leaving the district in December, Owens worked there for nearly 11 years.

John Nguyen, the PUD’s interim general manager, deferred comment on the matter to the district’s attorney.