Ex-Prineville workers file notice of intent to sue city

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: March 17. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Two former public works department employees have filed notice of intent to sue the city of Prineville over the elimination of their jobs earlier this year.

Mayor Mike Wendel said that former Public Works Director Jim Mole and Samantha Waltjen, an administrative assistant, sent a tort notice – a formal declaration of the possibility of a future lawsuit – to the city last week.

Mole and Waltjen lost their jobs in late January during what city officials have termed a restructuring of city government. Mole was offered a severance package of three months’ pay. Waltjen was given a choice between the same severance package or another administrative position in City Hall, and she took the severance.

Mole had worked for the city for almost four years, and his ending salary was about $67,000 a year. Waltjen was with the city for about six months. Both were asked to leave their jobs immediately.

City Attorney Carl Dutli said he could not release the tort notice document without consulting City Manager Robb Corbett. Corbett could not be reached for comment. Mole did not return calls for comment, and Waltjen referred questions to Mole.

It is unclear how much the city could be sued for if Mole and Waltjen pursue a lawsuit.

Wendel said that he cannot comment on pending litigation.

In general, Dutli said, a tort notice indicates intent to sue due to some “civil wrong,” such as negligence or wrongful termination. If the claim is against a public body, he said, the claimants have six months from the date of the incident to file a tort notice and two years to file suit.

“The idea is that you want to give enough information to a public body so they can investigate so they know what they’re really talking about,” Dutli said.

He added that the usual procedure is to forward the tort notice to the city’s insurance company, which will then investigate the claim.

City officials eliminated the position of public works director in January. Corbett has said in past interviews that the move – which consolidated the public works and planning departments under the then-assistant city manager – was necessary as the city continues to grow and take on multimillion-dollar public works projects.

But residents supportive of Mole, who had received high satisfaction marks in public surveys, decried the reorganization, showing up en masse at City Council meetings. The controversy led to the resignation in February of then-Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham, who first suggested eliminating Mole’s job, according to Corbett.

Some residents have also called for the resignations of Wendel and Corbett. Mole, meanwhile, has said in past interviews that his preference would be to return to his job.

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