'Doing my job': Roark Miller defends actions after recent release of report reviewing her job as Clallam community development director

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Sheila Roark Miller said a lengthy investigative report on employee complaints against her “shows that I'm doing my job” as Clallam County's community development director.

Roark Miller, who is running for re-election, said she backdated a building permit in January 2013 to “make things right” with an applicant whose paperwork was botched and that morale in her office has improved since staffers complained in formal interviews 14 months ago.

The recently released report by investigator and former FBI Agent Ken Bauman on the nation's only elected community development director was prompted by a whistleblower allegation by a DCD employee in February 2013.

It grew into an exploration of office morale and includes interviews with 14 employees, none of whom is named.

The heavily redacted 515-page document is available at www.tinyurl.com/kcrrruj.

The county has been billed $82,445 in costs related to the complaint: $68,469 for the report and $13,976 in legal fees for Roark Miller's legal counsel, Ken Bagwell of Silverdale.

Roark Miller said Friday she had read the report about a week earlier.

Clallam County Commissioners Mike Chapman and Jim McEntire last Monday voted not to consider the matter further.

Commissioner Mike Doherty voted no, calling for a board review of “serious allegations” contained in the report and subsequent discussion.

The majority vote was to “concur with the advice and decisions rendered” by the state Attorney General's Office, Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney's Office and state Auditor's Office.

The state auditor decided it would not conduct its own investigation but will review Bauman's report during its annual audit later this year.

County Prosecuting Attorney William Payne said the board had “no more role” to investigate an elected official, Chapman said.

The report contains no summary or formal recommendation.

In the report's cover letter, released last June, Portland, Ore., lawyer Akin Blitz, the county's human resources lawyer, identified seven potential charges, including felonies, that the state Attorney General's Office could consider against Roark Miller.

The potential charges were related to falsification and destruction of records.

Assistant State Attorney General Scott Marlow declined to recommend the filing of any charges.

He determined that the permit for a $614,371 Agnew-area mushroom farm was backdated “to correct an error made by the office that could have resulted in liability on behalf of the county” and was not done with criminal malice or intent.

Roark Miller said in her interview with Bauman that the permit should have been issued Dec. 21 but was not “because of errors made by my staff.”

Bauman wrote in the report that a $4,363.50 check for a building permit dated for Dec. 27, 2012 — the permit for the mushroom farm — had a computer-generated receipt with a date of Jan. 8, 2013.

“I believed that this check from [redacted name] was part of a plan to cover up the falsification of Clallam County records by 'back-dating' documents,” Bauman wrote.

Roark Miller said she was “not sure what the check was.”

“I don't handle monies,” she said.

She did say she issued a backdated permit associated with the check because the permit was unintentionally delayed by staff in plan review.

“The process could have been done in September,” she said.

“That's my job as a boss: to make things right.”

The investigative report also alleged that Roark Miller ordered an employee to destroy documents with handwritten notations on another building permit for a deck and stairs on a two-story shop in which the applicant had built an unauthorized accessory dwelling unit.

“You got a closet, you got a sink, you got a toilet, you got a stove, which I know a stove was there,” Bauman said in a transcripted June 6, 2013, interview with Roark Miller.

“Looks like it's built to live in.”

Roark Miller on Wednesday said she and an inspector went through the detached shop and determined that the second story was not a dwelling unit.

“It did not have furniture, didn't have beds, didn't have cooking facilities,” Roark Miller said.

Roark Miller said staff erroneously started paperwork that classified the second-story deck as part of a home.

She said she told an employee to “throw the first one away because it was not what he had applied for” and provided the applicant with a clean slate of paperwork.

“I still think my judgment in issuing permits or in overseeing the permit center is in the favor of the client using the laws available to us,” Roark Miller said.

“I use good judgment in making those decisions to the benefit of the applicant.”

The report contains interviews with Roark Miller and the 14 employees, nearly all of whom were queried in March 2013 and whose names were redacted.

Several employees blasted Roark Miller, saying she had lowered office morale after she took office in January 2011 following her victory over incumbent DCD Director John Miller, no relation.

Many had supported John Miller, according to the report.

Roark Miller said some DCD employees campaigned for her predecessor and were “leery” of her leadership.

“I think there's been changes since then,” Roark Miller said Wednesday.

She said “things are going well” in her office and that morale has changed “in a positive fashion.”

“We did a supervisor change in the office with somebody with a planning background and a strong management skill set,” she said Friday.

Comments from employees included a man who said Roark Miller “wrecked the department morale wise . . . She has used her power to show her power, like a girl with a doll house, moving furniture around.”

Another employee said “he believed DCD was dysfunctional,” according to the report.

“He went on to say that he believed Ms. Roark Miller's action in managing DCD was on 'the edge of abuse,'” Bauman said.

Said Roark Miller on Friday: “That was a year ago. If I focus on that today, that will further mire their progress toward a productive work environment.

“It's more important that they feel that their fears were scrutinized,” she said.

“Nothing became of it. There was nothing there. I had the authority to make those decisions, and with that and a change in leadership, this allows them to go forward and be productive.”

Some employees alleged retaliation.

In a May 2013 letter, Dale Kamerrer of the Washington Counties Risk Pool warned against “any direct or indirect conduct that could be interpreted as harassment or retaliation” on the part of Roark Miller.

Asked if she retaliated against any employee during or after the investigation, Roark Miller said: “Absolutely not.

“In fact, I believe the prosecuting attorney made that statement in the document he recently put forth in his office,” she said.

“There was no retaliation.”

In an April 11 memo to county officials, Payne said the initial whistleblower complaint filed Feb. 21, 2013, “did not contain any allegations of, and subsequent investigation did not disclose any retaliatory action by Sheila Roark Miller.”

In an April 21 memo, he said: “Regarding the allegations of retaliation, while there was disagreement among the parties as to if the alleged conduct towards employees of DCD rose to the level of retaliation as defined by the Whistleblower policy 210.32, the matter was dealt with swiftly and summarily by the Director.”

“Included was a measure to transfer an employee to a different county department,” Payne wrote.

“After the initial complaints of retaliation referenced herein, no additional complaints of this nature have been lodged towards Sheila Roark Miller or challenging the sufficiency of the measures taken by the county to address the initial complaints.”

Payne continued: “The employees that lodged the initial complaints have not taken further steps to present the claims to the Board of County Commissioners nor requested a hearing.”

County commissioners agreed April 15 to release the June 2013 report, which the Peninsula Daily News requested in August under a state Public Records Act request.

Roark Miller said her office remains committed to “speed up and simplify the permitting process.”

Asked whether she wanted to comment further on the report, she declined.

“I think staff themselves didn't expect their interviews to go into the newspaper,” she said.

“I want to respect the ability of staff to work today and to be productive today. We have to look forward and move forward. I want to give them that support.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 11. 2014 11:12AM
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