La Center planner criticizes superiors

He takes leave of absence, alleges bullying tactics

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La Center’s city planner has taken a leave of absence and expects to lose his job after publicly blasting superiors for what he calls their bullying tactics.

At a city council meeting Wednesday, Dale Miller, an eight-year veteran of the city, accused department heads of cherry-picking which city policies to enforce and treating employees with disdain. Reading from a prepared statement, Miller said city employees regularly face retaliation for bringing their concerns to directors.

He called the behavior retaliatory and illegal and questioned the city’s response to other complaints against department heads, including those contained within an internal report written by La Center’s former interim Police Chief Erin Nolan.

“I expect to be fired for this,” he said Thursday during a phone interview. “It’s ingrained in us to go up through the chain of command (with personnel complaints). But when you’re bullied or fired by your superiors, or ignored and disenfranchised at the mayor level, you don’t have many options.”

Miller’s supervisor, Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis, on Thursday called Miller’s statements “accusations and untrue.” He said they came out of the blue after Miller placed himself on a leave of absence earlier in the week.

It’s the latest wrinkle in a series of ongoing accusations against La Center’s top administrators. They first arose in October with the release of Nolan’s report. Based on interviews with current and past employees, the report accuses Finance Director Suzanne Levis and Sarvis, Miller’s immediate supervisor, of creating a hostile workplace.

The two, who are also dating, hold the top administrative positions in the city, with Levis also serving as the city’s human resources director.

According to the complaints detailed in Nolan’s report, the department heads have belittled, harassed and intimidated employees while Mayor Jim Irish has turned a blind eye. Levis, Sarvis and Irish have all disputed the report’s findings.

While the city has hired an investigator to look into the complaints, Miller said that wasn’t enough. He called on the city, and other agencies, to conduct a full and in-depth probe.

Miller said he intends to send a four-page complaint to the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office. In it, Miller writes that he’s concerned the city is improperly mixing impact fee funds and said other concerns, when raised, resulted in threats of terminations.

Miller alleges that Sarvis has threatened to fire him on numerous occasions for posing questions. In one instance, Miller said Sarvis yelled at him so vehemently that he had to wipe the saliva off his glasses.

Sarvis said Miller announced his absence by text message Tuesday. He attempted to contact Miller multiple times between Tuesday and Wednesday, but received no response until Miller arrived at Wednesday’s city council meeting.

The city won’t comment on Miller’s employment status, Sarvis said. “This is a personnel matter and will be handled as a personnel matter and not in the press,” he said.

Meanwhile, representatives of La Center’s employment union convened Thursday to discuss the next course of action to shield Miller’s employment.

“I am aware of the situation and (the union) will do everything in its power to protect Mr. Miller … from any form of retaliation, harassment or intimidation,” said Patrick Emmal, an attorney for the union.

The union is waiting to see how the city respond’s to Miller’s allegations, Emmal said, and plans to address any retaliation if it takes place.