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New Island County assessor goes to court to clear record

The new Island County assessor filed a court action against the county and her predecessor in order to get a disciplinary letter removed from her file.

Assessor Mary Engle’s attorney, Christon Skinner of Oak Harbor, filed the petition and application for writ of mandate in Island County Superior Court Jan. 3. It names former Assessor Dave Mattens and the county as defendants.

In the offending “letter of warning,” dated Dec. 10, Mattens takes Engle to task for comments she made during candidate forums prior to the Nov. 2 election. Engle, who was an appraiser in the office, ran against Mattens and defeated him in a somewhat contentious election; she’s a Republican and he’s a Democrat.

“He disciplined me for things that took place in forums, which is an infringement on my right of free speech,” she said. “I would never do that to any of my staff. They have the right to freedom of speech.”

Engle explained that she had to turn to the courts in the matter because the timing of the disciplinary letter left her in an awkward position. She would normally have the right to appeal the disciplinary action through the normal grievance procedure, but she won the election against Mattens and took office before there was time for the process to go forward.

“By the time the proper paperwork would have been done, it would be coming to me,” she said.

In the petition, Engle asks the judge to issue a writ of mandate that compels the county commissioners to authorize the county assessor or other appropriate person to remove the letter from her personnel file. Also, she asks the county to pay all the costs and fees she incurred by bringing the action to court.

According to the petition, Mattens directed Engle to a meeting in his office with the human resources director on Oct. 29. He accused Engle of “making statements at the forum that he believed were contrary to Island County Policy and procedures and which merited discipline,” the petition states.

Engle “denied or adequately explained” each accusation and accused Mattens of using the disciplinary process for political purposes, the court documents state.

Nevertheless, Mattens directed the human resources director to place the letter of warning in Engle’s file on Dec. 10.

The letter details three “violations of public trust,” Mattens wrote.

First of all, Mattens wrote that Engle claimed in the forums to own five businesses. County rules state that employees with secondary employment or self-employment must submit a written request to their department head or elected official. Mattens wrote that he instructed Engle to comply with the policy, but she did not.

Secondly, Mattens claimed that Engle said at a forum that there was poor communication in the office because staff members didn’t receive notice of new construction notices being mailed. But Mattens wrote that an email notice was sent to everyone in the staff prior to the mailing.

Lastly, Mattens wrote that Engle publicly stated that she sent three emails to management about an issue, but got no response. He wrote that no one had any record of receiving such emails and that Engle couldn’t produce evidence.

“Due to your actions outlined above, if you were not leaving your position as an appraiser, you would have left me with no alternative but to proceed with disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment,” Mattens wrote.

Mattens could not be reached for comment. Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he’s handling the matter and is optimistic about the outcome.

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