Whidbey News-Times


Former Oak Harbor pool staff file intent to sue notice

By NATHAN WHALEN Whidbey News-Times Staff reporter
November 29, 2012 · 10:09 AM

Two former North Whidbey Park and Recreation District employees intend to sue the public entity over, among other things, wrongful termination.

Longtime North Whidbey Aquajets swim coach Neil Romney and administrative assistant Vikki Robinson hired an attorney. North Whidbey Park and Recreation District executive director Bill Walker and the elected board of commissioners were served with a tort claim and a whistle blower complaint last week. The district has 60 days to respond to the allegations.

“Vikki and Neil were faithful, tireless workers for the benefit of the district,” said Bob Butler, a Bellingham-based attorney said in an email.

“It is sad and frustrating to see dedicated employees treated so poorly by a new director who is out of touch with the needs of the district.”

Romney coached the North Whidbey Aquatic Club, the Aquajets, for 10 years before losing his position several weeks ago.

He alleged in the tort claim he was fired in retaliation for questioning the business practices and conduct of the executive director.

The claim notes that Romney in the summer of 2012 raised concerns about improper chlorine levels causing health problems among staff and patrons.

When Romney notified the swim team of his concerns, Walker fired him, according to documents provided by Butler.

Emily Beschem, associate attorney for the Law Office of Robert Butler, said of the whistleblower complaint that “we’re hoping that will make them launch an investigation into the complaint.”

Robinson, who was an administrative assistant and Aquajets treasurer for four years, was fired from her position more than a month ago.

According to the claim, Robinson, who is African American, alleges that Walker created a hostile workplace by treating her differently and in “a hostile, bully manner.”

Robinson alleges in the claim that he demanded she commit perjury in regards to a protection order filed against a former employee of the park district.

She also claimed Walker asked for her password she used to access swim team finances and that Walker harshly criticized her after she reported violations of the Open Public Meetings Act.

“Firing the only african american female because she refused to bow to unethical demands is outrageous,” Butler said in the email.

“Firing the long-term swim coach because he alerted the community to the potential health and safety issues at the pool and supported the sole African American female employee in the office is cause for serious concern at North Whidbey Park and Recreation District and we look forward to litigating these two cases,” he wrote.

Walker refused Monday to comment on the tort claims from Romney and Robinson.

He has stated in previous published reports that their allegations against the district were false.

Both Romney and Robinson are claiming damages in excess of $100,000 and to get re-instated.

“Ideally, they would like to get their jobs back,” Beschem said.

The terminations of Romney and Robinson has sparked several lengthy public meetings in recent meetings where swim club members and parents voiced their support for the former employees.

Walker said the park district is moving forward with recruiting a new swim coach.

The commissioners for the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District are holding a special meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28 at the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool, 85 SE Jerome St.

During the meeting, the commissioners will talk about the budget, video surveillance, a proposed levy increase and consider a motion regarding charges brought by Romney and Robinson against Walker.


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