A lawsuit against Clark County from a former department head, state senator and now head of the U.S. Selective Service System has new claims accusing the county of violating due process and First Amendment rights in 2016.
The lawsuit, initially filed in December 2016, alleges that former Washington State Sen. Don Benton was ultimately fired from his position as director of the now-defunct Clark County Department of Environmental Services in part due to his “alleging financial wrongdoing” and retaliation against him for those allegations. The department was dissolved in May 2016 by then-county manager Mark McCauley, who himself was fired in 2017 — the county has been under the direction of current county manager Shawn Henessee since late July 2018.
The suit names Benton as well as two others, Susan Rice and Christopher Clifford, then-employees of the now-defunct department, as plaintiffs against the county.
The suit alleges improper behavior on the part of McCauley who the suit characterizes as interfering with Benton’s management of his department and verbally abusing Benton at times.
According to the lawsuit, a few weeks before the dissolution of his department, Benton filed a whistleblower complaint against McCauley, accusing McCauley of, among other claims, violating hiring and firing practices found in the county’s charter, misusing funds, violating the Open Public Meetings Act and interfering with Benton’s handling of his department.
On May 11, 2016, Benton was given notice of his termination, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that the action was retaliation for Benton speaking out against McCauley and his perceived violations.
Apart from past claims of negligence and violating county policies, the amended complaint also alleges the county violated the First Amendment rights of Benton’s co-plaintiffs, Rice and Clifford. The complaint argues that the two had reported “intimidating behavior” at the hands of McCauley to their supervisors, which allegedly was a motivational factor in the county’s decision to fire them.
The amended complaint also argues that because Rice and Clifford had “property interests in their employment” they were entitled to due process before McCauley’s decision to dissolve the department they work for.
Clark County Chief Civil Prosecuting Attorney Emily Sheldrick provided a brief statement on the lawsuit, stating that, “The County continues to maintain that there is no merit to plaintiffs’ claims.”
In a call with The Reflector, Benton said the amended complaint would further boost his argument that he felt was already a “slam dunk.”
“It strengthens an already very strong claim against retaliatory firing,” Benton said.
According to the state court database a trial is set for April 2020. Benton felt that continuing onto trial would best serve the intent behind the suit, rather than taking a settlement.
“It will be an opportunity to expose the massive amount of impropriety and illegal activities that were occurring in the county management at that time,” Benton said.