Monday, 22 July 2024

Gillham at center of Prineville termination suit

LAKEPORT – A lawsuit filed against the City of Prineville, Ore., includes claims that two of its employees were laid off in retaliation for telling then-Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham that he was not adhering to city and state policies.

Gillham has since been hired as Lakeport's city manager.

“Anybody can make an accusation of any kind they want, I guess,” Gillham told Lake County News on Tuesday.

He added the allegations in the suit are “blatantly false.”

James Mole Sr. and Samanthia Waltjen filed the case, which last week was scheduled for a pre-trial conference on Sept. 25 in Crook County Circuit Court. The case was first filed April 5, with the City of Prineville filing its response June 22.

Mole, Prineville's former director of Public Works, and Waltjen, formerly Mole's administrative assistant, claim they were discharged in retaliation for telling Gillham that “he should comply with public policy and not violate state law or city policies,” according to the suit, a copy of which Lake County News obtained.

The suit focuses on Gillham's alleged actions during his brief tenure as assistant city manager in Prineville, where court documents say he was hired Sept. 5, 2006, and held supervisory authority over both Mole and Waltjen. No other city officials or individuals are mentioned in the suit.

In its formal response to the case, the City of Prineville denied any wrongdoing, saying the positions formerly held by Mole and Waltjen were eliminated “as a result of an administrative and budgetary departmental reorganization in mid-January, 2007,” and that both were laid off.

Mole joined Prineville in February 2003, with Waltjen hired July 24, 2006, according to court documents.

The suit explains that Mole and Gillham had regular weekly meetings after Gillham joined the city in September, 2006. Mole asked Waltjen to accompany him to those meetings to take notes.

During one such meeting last November, the suit alleges that Gillham said he planned to hire a public works inspector, to which Mole claims he responded that the city budget didn't contain the salary for such a position. Gillham said he would transfer money from one of the other city accounts to cover the salary.

“Mole communicated his belief that such a transfer without city council approval would violate city policies,” the suit states. “Gillham then expressed his intent to transfer money without obtaining city council approval.”

Two months later, in January, during another of their weekly meetings, Gillham and Mole had another exchange in which Gillham is alleged to have discussed his plan to divide up a $1 million public works project into smaller parts. That, the suit alleges, was so Gillham could award the contract to a particular company, which wasn't named, without having to go through the competitive bid process.

“Both Mole and Waltjen expressed their opinion that such practice would violate state statutes establishing bidding procedures for public works projects,” according to the suit.

The following day, Jan. 18, Mole alleges that Gillham informed him that his position as Public Works director was being eliminated. The day after that, Gillham reportedly told Waltjen that she too was being laid off.

Gillham is not being sued in the case.

Mole and Waltjen are asking to be reinstated to their jobs and for economic damages and wages exceeding $25,000 each, with the approximate amounts to be calculated at trial. They are also asking for $150,000 apiece for the “mental, emotional and physical distress” they say their wrongful termination caused them, attorney's fees and other costs related to filing the suit.

Their attorney, Roger Hennagin is on vacation this week and could not be reached at his Lake Oswego, Ore., office.

Gillham resigned from his Prineville post in February. The Central Oregonian of Prineville reported that his resignation followed Mole's controversial dismissal.

The City of Lakeport hired him officially at its May 1 meeting. The terms of his contract state he is on a probationary period until Sept. 30.

In the case of Mole and Waltjen, Gillham said, “Understand I was just the assistant city manager at the time.”

He worked for City Manager Robb Corbett, who remains in that position with Prineville.

In doing his job, Gillham said he had to lay off the two staffers as part of a “typical city restructuring,” and that the suit arose because they weren't happy with that process.

The Central Oregonian reported that Mole's job was replaced by a superintendent position.

Gillham, who said he didn't know if he would be deposed for the case, refused to speculate on other motivations for the case.

“I didn't do anything wrong,” Gillham maintained.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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