La Center seeks to fire worker for second time

City was ordered to rehire wastewater treatment plant operator

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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The city of La Center wants to keep a wastewater treatment plant operator from returning to work after firing him for a second time.

La Center and the union representing treatment plant operator Jeff Adler are nearing the end of employment arbitration following the city's February decision to terminate him.

It's the second go-around between La Center and Adler. In 2011, the city terminated Adler from his position after he racked up a number of disciplinary violations, including allegations he changed settings at the wastewater treatment plant and nearly damaged the entire system.

Following the termination, the city's employee union successfully appealed the firing with the state's Public Employee Relations Board.

According to public records, the union argued Adler was not aware his job was in jeopardy and wasn't given specific standards to use when making changes to the treatment plant system. PERC arbitrator James Paulson ordered the city to pay Adler $40,000 in back wages.

Adler returned to work but was disciplined on Nov. 16, 2011, and again on Feb. 10, 2012. He was also suspended for leaving a wastewater mixer on and contaminating the clean water basin.

The city alleges that in two and a half years of employment, Adler has been cited six times for operating equipment carelessly.

The city fired Adler again after finding him at fault for disarming a critical alarm notification system for the wastewater treatment plant and the raw sewage pumping station. The alarm provides alerts if there is a major problem with the system.

In a memo to Adler explaining the allegations against him, Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis wrote that disarming the system "could be a criminal offense under Washington law." In the memo, Sarvis also alleges that Adler was dishonest about the incident.

During an October arbitration hearing, union attorney Patrick Emmal said the city had already disciplined Adler and further discipline would constitute double jeopardy.

Attorneys have until December to file their motions with PERC, at which time the arbitrator will have 30 days to make a decision.City officials said they wouldn't comment on the arbitration.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com