Camas mayor candidate had been fired for ‘threatening’ behavior

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: October 6, 2011, 10:49 PM

 

A candidate for Camas mayor was fired as a city employee in June following a series of disruptive incidents, including threatening outbursts and a doodling of a “gory” sketch on his desk, according to public documents obtained Thursday.

Ken Kakuk, 51, had been disciplined prior to his June termination. Following a 12-day suspension in late May, he was asked to undergo a mental exam to ensure he was fit to return to work, the documents show. He complied and went to the mental exam, but refused to answer questions from a psychologist, according to Kakuk’s discipline file.

Because the mental exam was a requirement of a last-chance agreement between Kakuk and the city, the 16-year employee was fired. The city cited insubordination as the reason for the termination.

Kakuk, who was the city’s GIS coordinator, in charge of mapping data and services, is running to unseat Camas Mayor Scott Higgins in the Nov. 8 general election. He filed for the office June 9, seven days before he received his termination notice. His termination was effective June 20.

When reached Thursday for comment, Kakuk said he is running for mayor mostly because he wants to see changes in government and had considered running several times in previous years. Still, he conceded his personal troubles factored in, saying he wants to “make sure other people were treated well.”

Kakuk took issue with the way he was portrayed in the discipline records. He called the files “skewed,” denying all allegations.

He said he believes he was fired because he had opposing ideas on which projects he should work on as a GIS coordinator.

“It was deliberate,” Kakuk said. “They basically had it set in their minds to terminate me. I wasn’t given a fair shot. The allegations are false, trumped-up.”

Kakuk appealed the city’s termination to the state’s Department of Employment Security, and he said an administrative law judge ruled there was not evidence to support a finding of insubordination. The city did not put on testimony, Kakuk said.

Kakuk’s account could not be independently verified Thursday evening. The Camas Post-Record earlier reported that the ruling only affected Kakuk’s unemployment benefits and not his employment with the city.

Allegations of intimidation

In a May 3 letter to Kakuk, the city cited several concerns with his work. The letter alleged he possibly had brought a weapon to work “based on sounds heard in cubicle,” was possibly sleeping on the job, made threatening statements within earshot of co-workers and had outbursts of a “physical nature directed at objects,” according to the documents.

A follow-up investigation showed Kakuk’s “weapon” was actually a pocketknife and paring knife to cut his fruit at lunch and that he didn’t sleep at work, but closed his eyes for “a couple minutes at the end of lunch sometimes,” according to the documents. Still, city officials said they found he was intimidating and threatening to others.

He was suspended May 23 with pay for one day and ordered to sign a last-chance agreement. Kakuk refused. As a result, the city suspended him without pay for 12 10-hour workdays. A condition of his return to work was the mental exam. Kakuk went to the exam but, according to documents, refused to answer questions.

During discipline meetings about Kakuk’s employment, city officials discussed a complaint from an employee about an offensive doodle found on Kakuk’s desk in June of the previous year.

“She couldn’t describe every detail but did state that it was a person on a cross of sorts with needles sticking into its eyes,” according to a report from the city’s human resources director.

The employee told HR she believed the sketch was directed at her.

Kakuk said Thursday the woman’s interpretation was not accurate. He said he had sketched a picture of Satan with horns and a cross beside it. The doodle was meant as a reflection of the termination and prosecution of former Camas fire Capt. Bradley Allen, Kakuk said. Allen was convicted in January of diverting drugs from the department.

“In my mind, I was praying about the choices of good and evil and drugs,” Kakuk said, adding that he had apologized for offending the co-worker.

When asked whether he thought he would work constructively with other city officials as a mayor, Kakuk answered in the affirmative.

“I get along with them. I like my co-workers,” he said. “This is skewed.”

Kakuk said he is running for the mayor position as a way to bring ethics and transparency to government, where he feels it is lacking.

“I want to represent the people of Camas,” he said. “I want open and transparent government.”

Kakuk, however, disagreed with the city releasing his disciplinary records pursuant to the state’s public records law. “I feel like they’ve released information that they shouldn’t have,” he said.

Kakuk made $73,112 a year at the time of his termination.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.