Ohio lawsuit did not impact decision to hire city administrator
September 21, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Robert “Bob” Harrison, the choice for Issaquah city administrator, is part of a lawsuit filed by former city employees in Ohio. The suit did not dissuade Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger from selecting Harrison, and Frisinger said she had been made aware of the lawsuit during the monthslong search.
“We asked people if there was anything that we needed to be aware of, specifically anything that involved terminations, although predominantly of the employees themselves,” Frisinger said.
Harrison has served as the city manager in Wyoming, Ohio, for the past 12 years.
Wyoming fired recreation employees Cathy Deters, Monica Miller and Michael Pearl in September 2009 after they had been caught drinking alcohol at a city event. The former employees said the city had “never issued such draconian punishment as a termination to an employee who has consumed alcohol on its premises.”
The former employees said other city employees had not been punished for consuming alcohol on municipal property.
The group also said the city had engaged in gender and racial discrimination. Pearl is black.
In the lawsuit filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court last November, the former employees said Harrison and other municipal employees — all white men, court documents state — had consumed alcohol on city property.
Recruiter Greg Prothman, the Bellevue headhunter hired to conduct the Issaquah search, said he checked at least seven references for Harrison, including former colleagues and subordinates.
“Lawsuits are real common in the city management field,” Prothman said. “You get sued for every action you take, especially if it’s a contentious one in dismissing an employee.”
“Bob was real forthcoming on this. He told me right up front,” Prothman said.
Frisinger said she could not comment further about the lawsuit, citing the pending litigation, but she said the claims appeared to be without merit.
“These employees were terminated due to drinking on the job while supervising 10-, 11-, 12- and 13-year-old children at the city’s aquatic center at an evening activity,” Harrison said. “There is video of them engaging in this behavior.”
Wyoming also settled with a former municipal finance director after the ex-employee considered filing a lawsuit against the city.
The former finance director said Harrison made “sexist” remarks and had the assistant city manager run errands for him on city time, according to the letter her attorney sent to Wyoming leaders in April.
“These are false and fictitious claims made for the first time after she left her employment, through the same attorney who’s already suing the city on behalf of the recreation employees,” Harrison said. “At no time during her employment did she ever file a complaint or a claim against me.”
Frisinger and Harrison discussed the issues during the search process. The mayor said governments often face litigation from former employees.
“They are something that all cities, counties and government at any level face,” she said.