Ousted Oak Harbor police chief settles with city

A former Oak Harbor police chief claiming wrongful termination by the mayor settled his lawsuit against the city last week.

Rick Wallace settled for $18,500. He originally claimed he was owed $550,000 in lost wages and benefits.

The settlement came before a July 2 hearing in Island County Superior Court on the city’s motion for summary judgment.

The city’s attorney was asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

Under the terms of the agreement, both sides agreed not to discuss the case or the settlement with the news media or other third parties.

“I would love to comment publicly, but part of the settlement forbids both parties from being able to comment,” Mayor Scott Dudley said.

Wallace’s attorney, Christon Skinner also declined to discuss the case, but wrote in an email that such confidentiality clauses are common.

Wallace was among several administrators Dudley fired after coming into office last year. The mayor immediately sacked the city administrator, fire chief and city attorney; he later fired the replacement city attorney.

Dudley pushed Wallace to retire that summer. Wallace initially agreed, but later changed his mind and claimed he was a “for-cause employee” because, among other reasons, he didn’t have a contract.

The mayor maintained Wallace, like other department heads, was an “at-will” employee and could be fired without cause.

In an unusual wrinkle, city council members critical of the mayor’s firing spree proposed a measure that would have protected Wallace by setting his “for-cause” status in city code.

Dudley fired Wallace before the council could vote on the proposal.

Wallace filed a claim for damages almost immediately.

An adjuster at the city’s insurance pool denied the claim, concluding that Wallace served at the discretion of the mayor.

Wallace filed a lawsuit this past fall.

In the lawsuit, Skinner wrote that Dudley fired the officials for political reasons and in furtherance of campaign promises that he made to his political supporters.

In an interview last month, Dudley said that he wasn’t pleased with Wallace’s performance as police chief.

The department failed to meet its state-mandated, officer training requirements for years under Wallace’s leadership, Dudley said.

Skinner represented another disgruntled former city employee, Eric Johnston.

Johnston, former city engineer, filed a lawsuit against the city last year, claiming Dudley created a hostile work environment.

Johnston settled for $20,000.

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