Tina Stillwell Wants Her Job Back
Although the Garberville Sanitary District denies the allegations, Tina Stillwell says she was fired as Office Administrator for having alerted the auditor from Anderson, Lucas, Somerville and Borges LLC, to problems she said she was seeing with the use of District funds.
The audit report is included in the January 2017 board packet. Pages 54 through 56 of the packet are a draft letter to the GSD board from the auditor. The letter lists seven “material weaknesses” for the Board to consider. The seventh weakness the letter lists is “outside employment.’ The auditor’s letter says “…we discovered the General Manager holds several positions at three other districts. Since this District employs him full time, there should be some accountability for the time he spends at his outside employment.” And “During the audit we noticed that the District’s credit was used to purchase a tool for another district. Although this tool was replaced, it is a major internal control concern.”
After the story was published, the District pulled the Auditor’s report from the District’s webpage where it had been included in the Board packet.
On June 5, according to the press release below, Tina Stillwell was fired by General Manager Ralph Emerson for “poor work performance.”
The public was noticed last week that the GSD Board of Directors will go into closed session to discuss potential litigation brought by Ms. Stillwell. When asked for comment, Ms. Stillwell demurred; but yesterday, the 7th of September, her attorney, Kenneth Absalom, distributed the below press release.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Absalom says Tina Stillwell wants her position back. He said, “She loves her job. She loves serving her community in that position.” He added that having a job with benefits is important to everyone and difficult to find in rural communities like Southern Humboldt.
When asked why it is implausible to believe that Tina Stillwell was actually doing a poor job and fired for good reason, Mr. Absalom said that the timing of events strongly supports Stillwell’s claims and that “if the claims had merit” he “would expect to see documentation showing significant deficiencies that needed to be corrected.”
Tina Stillwell has requested mediation to resolve the matter, Absalom said, “because once we get to litigation, the remedy becomes limited to compensation for lost wages and benefits which is costly to ratepayers, and Tina (Stillwell) sees them as her neighbors.”
Mr. Absalom forwarded a letter sent to the Board of Directors inviting them to mediation with his client. The letter reads in part:
[T]he essential contention is that she was terminated in retaliation for reporting and disclosing financial improprieties committed by the General Manager and managerial deficiencies on his part. The evidence will show that the temporal proximity of her termination to the General Manager’s knowledge of these complaints will lead ineluctably to the ultimate fact of retaliatory termination.
Moreover, it appears the Board violated its fiduciary duty failing to adequately oversee the General Manager’s performance. Further, the Board failed to adopt required essential written policies governing his activities. A simple example: around this same time period, the Board adopted a bare bones policy protecting “whistleblowers” which is not likely to pass legal muster….
Her [Stillwell] primary objective is to return to her position with the District and to resume serving her community in that capacity. She loved her job, the opportunity to help rate payers and serve the District in which she has lived for most of her life. She would prefer to reach an amicable resolution of this unfortunate dispute at the least cost to the District, yet recovering reasonable compensation. Now is the time for the District and Ms. Stillwell to explore all early settlement opportunities before both sides incur substantial expenses.
Accordingly, my client has authorized me to offer pre-litigation mediation to the District in an effort to bring about a speedy and cost effective resolution.
When asked for comment, the Garberville Sanitary District sent this statement through the acting Office Administrator:
…Although the Garberville Sanitary District strongly disputes the allegations and claims asserted by Ms. Stillwell and believes the claims and allegations lack merit, no additional comment will follow at this time as this is a pending and/or threatened litigation matter involving District personnel determinations.
Below is the press release submitted by Tina Stillwell’s attorney.FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -final 9-7-17