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North Whidbey pool board stands by director

Swimmers Sydney Dickinson, Ella Schroeder, Olivia Tungate, Molly Vagt and Jillian Pape show signs of support for North Whidbey Aquatic Club coach Neil Romney and administrative assistant Vikki Robinson. Both were recently terminated from their positions with the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Swimmers Sydney Dickinson, Ella Schroeder, Olivia Tungate, Molly Vagt and Jillian Pape show signs of support for North Whidbey Aquatic Club coach Neil Romney and administrative assistant Vikki Robinson. Both were recently terminated from their positions with the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Despite pleas from a group residents, the North Whidbey Park and Recreation Commission is standing by its executive director.

In a marathon meeting that lasted nearly five hours Thursday night, commissioner Scott Vogt said the complaints brought against executive director Bill Walker weren’t enough to warrant removing him from his position.

“I don’t see a reason to really do anything against the director right now,” Vogt said in front of a group of more than 50 people at the Oak Harbor Senior Center. Thursday night’s meeting had been moved from the pool to the senior center because of the large number of people expected to attend.

A significant group of patrons using the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool, which is owned and operated by the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District, were stunned by recent decisions to terminate the employment of North Whidbey Aquatic Club Coach Neil Romney and administrative assistant Vikki Robinson. Romney worked as coach for 10 years and Robinson worked for the district for four years.

In the wake of those terminations, a litany of charges against Walker have been made by the former employees. Vogt lumped those allegations into four groups — lying on court documents stemming from an order of protection filed against a former employee, the swim club’s checking account and allegations that Walker created a hostile work environment and discriminated against employees.

Vogt appeared flummoxed about how to respond to some of the charges, especially the lying allegation.

“I don’t know what to do about these charges,” Vogt said.

He noted that the park commission isn’t tasked with conducting a criminal investigation but did consult with the park district’s attorney who disagreed with the lying allegation. Such an invention is best done by law enforcement, he said.

Vogt said Bill Walker reported to the state auditor’s office an issue concerning a checking account the swim team had operated outside the district’s purview.

“If there’s any wrongdoing, the state auditor will advise us,” Vogt said.

The commissioners are still looking at the discrimination and hostile work environment allegations. Commissioner Sean Merrill said Robinson didn’t provide many specifics when they met with her in executive session last week.

“How do we address this without any specifics?” Merrill said during the meeting.

The commissioners did question the staff using a survey adapted from the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute. He shared what he thought the results of the survey mean.

“Do I think there is a climate of bias or discrimination at the pool? No, I do not. Has it happened? I don’t know,” Merrill said.

There were plenty of supporters for Romney and Robinson attending the Thursday evening meeting. Several picket-wielding teenagers stood near the front of the Senior Center to support the two former employees who were absent from the Thursday evening meeting. Some residents clamored for Walker’s job.

“This director needs to be dismissed,” Dave Thompson said during the meeting. “Nobody on this panel has done anything to earn my respect.”

He added that the board is covering up the inadequacy of the director. Walker started working for the district in June 2012.

Rick Almberg, who has been a master swimmer at the pool for 28 years, complimented Romney’s performance as coach and said the board should place Walker and Romney on administrative leave until an independent investigation can be conducted.

Other residents attending the meeting expressed anger at how the commissioners handled the Romney and Robinson situation.

“I’m outraged by the lack of transparency, integrity and honor,” said Julie Wilson, who recently chaired the volunteer group tasked with promoting the park district levy in 2011.

Carolyn Pape, who has a daughter participating in the swim program, said “it is evident that some of the commissioners have chosen to act in their own interests.”

The four-hour-and-45-minute park board meeting included two executive sessions to discuss charges leveled against Walker along with a discussion about finding a replacement for Romney.

The North Whidbey Park and Recreation District will meet again at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool, 85, SE Jerome St. in Oak Harbor.

 

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