Thursday, June 24, 2021
June 24, 2021

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Ex-Clark County worker Clifford: I was assured reorganization rumors ‘just talk’

He, Benton, one other lost jobs when Department of Environmental Services was axed

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

A former program coordinator in the county’s now-defunct Department of Environmental Services testified Monday that employees were assured by board members and the county manager that rumblings of a department reorganization were “just talk.”

Christopher Clifford — who spent part of Monday and Tuesday on the stand — told jurors that then-county manager Mark McCauley even came to a staff party in December 2015 and said the rumors were false.

However, when talk of a reorganization persisted, Clifford sent an email in April 2016 to the department’s director, Don Benton, expressing his concerns, he said.

“People were rightfully concerned about their jobs,” he testified during his lawsuit trial against the county.

Just a few weeks later, Clifford, along with Benton and Susan Rice, a department administrative assistant, were laid off in what the county contends was a planned staff reorganization. The department was officially dissolved July 1, 2016.

To Watch Trial

The trial is not physically open to the public, but it can be viewed remotely by following the link: https://clark.wa.gov/superior-court/zoom-information.

The trio had drafted a whistleblower complaint against McCauley accusing him of illegal actions and political retaliation. Benton submitted it to the county’s human resources department about two weeks before they were laid off.

They filed a lawsuit later that year in Clark County Superior Court alleging hostility and retaliation during their employment.

Clifford testified that there were a number of interactions with McCauley he had reported to human resources. He said he believes he began helping Benton research and draft the complaint in late 2015, but it may have been earlier.

When he was laid off, he said he was told he was being let go due to anticipated budget shortfalls in 2017 and 2018.

Clifford testified that he knew the reason was disingenuous, because he hadn’t heard of any budget shortfalls.

“I knew this was all about retaliation,” he said, later testifying, “I’m not going to have government lie to me and think (it) can get away with it, even one I work for.”

The plaintiffs rested their case late Tuesday morning after Rice was recalled to the stand to discuss county job postings at the time of her layoff.

The county’s defense team spent the remainder of the day calling current and former county employees to the stand, including the human resources director at the time.

Francine Reis testified Benton gave her the whistleblower complaint and sought reassurances that it would be kept confidential. He told her it needed to be taken seriously, she said, because his job was important to him and he worried it was on the line.

He did not tell her that Clifford or Rice helped him draft the complaint, she testified.

Reis said the timing was suspicious because many already knew the department reorganization was in the works.

The trial continues Wednesday with additional witness testimony.

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