Northwest NEWS

June 12, 2000

Local News

Shakeup at the Woodinville Water District

   Last Friday, the Woodinville Water District issued a press release and numerous legal documents to the local media following several months of board-requested investigations into improper actions on the part of certain staff. The result is resignations of the district Operations and Finance managers and internal management reorganization.

   In September 1999, an investigation by staff counsel looked into a complaint about a racial slur. The investigation of all the operations staff at that time found nothing to substantiate the allegation, according to the documents.

   "The first indications that staff unrest existed came as a result of a peer review that I initiated in March 2000 under the auspices of the American Wate Works Association," said Bob BAnderra, General Manager of the water district. "The survey uncovered critical comments about certain managers."

   According to the documents, a second investigation was undertaken by an independent attorney specializing in employee matters, who uncovered specific charges against the Operations and Finance Managers and "found that comments of Commisioner Backstrom with regard to race created a perception of intimidation."

   The investigation also confirmed the allegation of a racial slur by former Operations Manager Ken King, and confirmed intimidation by former Finance Director Bill White.

   The Woodinville Water District Board of Commissioner's inquiry into a racial slur is well-documented. Also well-documented is a timeline of the board's concerns, some dating back to 1996, with Backstrom's residency, challenges to his use of a district vehicle, district credit card, and district cell phone. Other documents include the details of the self-assessment survey, personnel statements, and depositions from the staff.

   Overall, these reports show that there was an isolated racial slur, but no overall pattern of racism in the district; that Backstrom does have two addresses--one a rented room in Woodinville and with his wife in Seattle; that Backstrom remedied past due balances on district credit cards and cell phone bills; that the district continues to perform its utility responsibilities; and that the general manager, Robert Bandarra, has performed his duties and responded to the personnel issues in an appropriate manner.

   The report states that "The District Operations Manager used a racial slur with respect to Commissioner Backstrom." Ken King, former Operations Manager of the district, resigned in April 2000 after 23 years with the district.

   It further states that King misused employees' time and district equipment by requesting work on at least three of his personal projects, and that he used intimidation and perceived retaliation to obstruct the investigation into the racial slur and into the allegation of misuse of employees' time and district equipment. It further states that King improperly used the district computer.

   The report states that the District Finance Director conducted personal and professional business activities on district time, his actions and attitudes created a perception of intimidation and retaliation among employees in the Finance Department, and that he engaged in social activities on district time and requested an employee to cover up for him.

   Bill White, the Finance Director, resigned on May 16, 2000.

   The investigation also stated that two utility supervisors fostered an intimidating atmosphere towards their crew with the result that one supervisor has resigned and the other accepted a reassignment to a non-supervisory position.

   According to Bandarra, the board approved his reorganization plan for the district that includes putting Bandarra in more direct supervision over all of the staff.