North Whidbey Park and Rec settles lawsuits

North Whidbey Park and Recreation District is in the process of settling two wrongful termination lawsuits.

If the settlements are accepted, it could spell the end of a long-standing controversy that has mired the district in litigation and created a division among stakeholders.

Thursday night, the district board of commissioners held a special meeting. Following an executive session, the members voted unanimously to approve letters to Neil Romney, former North Whidbey Aquatic Club swim coach, and Vicki Robinson, former administrative assistant.

Bill Walker, former director, set off a firestorm of controversy when he fired Romney and Robinson in the fall of 2012 after they both refused to give him access to the swim club’s financial records. They sued the district, claiming retaliation and wrongful discharge, among other allegations.

Thursday, Allan McDougall, chairman of the district’s board, explained that the letters were part of a settlement agreement worked out in mediation last week. The letters state that the district does not believe either former employee engaged in any misconduct or malfeasance.

Under the terms of the settlement, Romney and Robinson will both receive “small cash settlements” of less than $20,000 each, McDougall said. They originally asked for damages in excess of $100,000 and to be re-instated.

Letters of resignation will also be placed in their employee files at the district under the settlement.

In addition, McDougall said, the district agreed not to go after Romney or Robinson for the cost of a state audit that found a long list of problems, including missing money, in the swim club’s now-defunct account. The audit found that Romney submitted and received reimbursement requests to the district for $639 he had already paid with checks from the aquatic club account; the district will not try to recover those funds under the agreement.

McDougall said the district’s insurance provider, Enduris, covered the losses under the “employee misconduct” term of the coverage.

Bob Butler, the Bellingham attorney who represented Romney and Robinson, sent out a statement Thursday night. It says that Romney has agreed to the settlement, but that Robinson is still considering it.

“Always a zealous advocate for the team and its swimmers,” Butler wrote, “Mr. Romney was never motivated in this litigation by the prospect of financial return but rather by the betterment of his team and the NWPRD.”

Romney also released a statement.

“I am pleased to resolve this matter with the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District,” he said. “I appreciate their acknowledgement of what really happened and their recognition of the value of my contributions to the NWPRD and the North Whidbey Acquatic Club.”

Walker quit last year and the district hasn’t replaced him yet. He declined to comment on the settlements until after they are finalized.


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