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Hard drive inspection questioned
Mayor calls amount proper, some council members charge poor use of funds
By Dennis Box
The investigation into Administrative Services Coordinator Don Morrison rang up a bill of $1,875 for “forensic analysis” of a computer hard drive.
Bonney Lake Mayor Bob Young suspended Morrison for three days, beginning Nov. 21, for an unsigned e-mail he sent to an applicant for a human resources position with the city.
Morrison cautioned the woman against leaving a good job to come to the work for the city.
When the woman received the e-mail in late September, she forwarded it to Finance Director John Weidenfeller, questioning why the e-mail was sent.
Young directed Chuck McEwen, the city's information services coordinator, to investigate which city computer sent the e-mail.
Young said McEwen discovered around the first of October it was sent from Morrison's computer.
The mayor then directed McEwen to hire the CyberSecurity Institute to analyze the hard drive.
The Courier-Herald received a copy of the institute's invoice through a formal request for disclosure of public records.
According to the invoice, on Oct. 16, a Sunday, an employee from the institute made a copy or a “forensic hard drive image” of Morrison's hard drive. The company charged the city $500 for this work.
The institute then spent 11 hours analyzing the hard drive at $125 per hour, charging the city $1,375.
The institute's analysis provided the same information as McEwen - that Morrison's computer was used to send the e-mail.
The invoice was dated Oct. 26 and marked as paid Oct. 31.
Young waited until Nov. 14 to confront Morrison.
“I wrestled with this,” Young said. “These decisions are hard on us that have to make them.”
During his meeting with Young, Morrison admitted he sent the e-mail. According to sources close to the investigation, Morrison felt an obligation to warn the woman about leaving a good job with opportunities for advancement.
The mayor denied accusations he sent the hard drive out for analysis as a fishing expedition to find more information to fire Morrison.
“I was not looking for anything,” Young said. “It's good policy to have an outside agency investigate.”
Problems between Morrison and Young have been brewing for nearly a year, according to sources inside City Hall, particularly concerning personnel practices involving Weidenfeller.
The split between Young and Morrison become increasingly public after the mayor lost his bid for a third term in the Sept. 20 primary and mayor-elect Neil Johnson stated he would use Morrison on his transition team and possibly as city administrator.
“I wish the council would have been made aware of this employee issue,” Johnson said. “Now we will have to deal with the ramifications of the mayor's actions.”
Deputy Mayor Swatman said he felt the cost of the hard-drive analysis was a poor use of city funds.
“We disagree with many of the expenditures of this mayor,” Swatman said. “That's nearly $2,000 not going somewhere else and the mayor just spent $1,400 on his own job training.”
Morrison was docked the three days pay from the suspension and the city refused holiday pay for Nov. 24 and 25 since he had been suspended earlier in the week.
Young said that was not his decision and was not a planned action on his part.
Johnson said he is continuing to use Morrison on his transition team and they will be meeting with department heads in the coming weeks as he prepares to take office Jan. 1.
The following is the Morrison's e-mail sent to the human recourses applicant. The e-mail was obtained through a public disclosure request and is dated 5 p.m. Sept. 22.
“..... a union friend got me your email address following your interview today for the Bonney Lake HR Officer position. In fairness you should know some of what is going on in the City.
“The HR Officer position is pretty new. The City had a good one for a while about five years ago. They also had a city administrator. Shortly after, John Weidenfeller came in as the finance director. Then they eliminated the city administrator. Weidenfeller than became the Mayor's Chief of Staff. He then had the mayor dismiss the HR guy. After that John took over personnel as part of his duties and has run it with an iron fist ever since. He actually runs the whole town, as all of the mayor's directives are written by John. John has no professional HR experience. He has also used Debbie Crosier and Cathy Harstad to help in HR. Crosier and Harstad don't have any formal HR training either, but used to do it for a small city when they worked in a city clerk's office.
“When the Administrative Services Coordinator position was created in 2003 (following the elimination of the City Administrator position), a man named Tom Rebar was hired. His background was as a city manager. He had a lot of personnel knowledge. However, John Weidenfeller was very jealous of him, and continually undermined him until the Mayor terminated him. Don Morrison was then hired to be the Admin Coordinator. Morrison was hired to be an aide to the mayor and council, and to oversee HR, court, senior center, and city clerk's office. He has worked as a city manager and HR manager for many years, and is very knowledgeable and experienced in personnel matters. I understand he has even written books on the subject. Karen Meeks was then hired as the HR officer. She was very professional and well liked. After Morrison and Meeks had reviewed some of the city's personnel systems and practices, they let if be known there were a number of issues that needed to be addressed. Shortly thereafter Morrison was relieved of all HR duties. A few months later, Karen Meeks was terminated. Rumor is that she too has questioned some of Weidenfeller's and the Mayor's personnel practices. Weidenfeller and Young have also been laying the groundwork to terminated Morrison as well. However, with the recent election, it appears Morrison will get to stay as the council members like him.
“Fortunately, the Mayor will not be serving another term. He will be out of office at the end of the year, and it is unlikely that Weidenfeller will be retained by the new mayor. Rumor has it that the two leading candidates for mayor, (both current city council members) have talked about bringing Karen Meeks back as the HR Officer because of her unjust termination a couple of months ago.
“Jennifer Young, one of the candidates, was hired by Mayor Young to be the Interim HR Officer. She just showed up one day. Like her predecessor, she has been turned into a personnel clerk as all decisions are made by Weidenfeller. She does have some HR background.
“If you were offered this job by Mayor Young, you should be aware of these things. It would be bad to leave a good job and come here, only to be out of a job in a couple of months if they brought back the former HR officer. Make sure you do your research and take your time. The job could end up being a really good one, but you wouldn't be working with Young, Weidenfeller, or Cathy Harstad, because it is unlikely that any of them will be with the City much longer.