Ilwaco terminates waste-water staff, contracts with Gray & Osborne

Ilwaco Mayor Mike Cassinelli

State permit requires at least 2.23 full-time equivalent employees

By Katie Wilson

ILWACO — Ilwaco Mayor Mike Cassinelli asked waste water treatment plant manager Warren Hazen to resign and laid off the plant’s only other employee last week, citing lack of work at the plant.

After an emergency city council meeting Sept. 25 to discuss contracting for temporary management of the plant, city councilors clarified the mayor’s decision, saying there were concerns about compliance at the waste water treatment plant under Hazen and city employee David Gustafson’s management.

The city is contracting with Gray & Osborne Engineering to run the waste water treatment plant at least through Oct. 2. The city may have to contract elsewhere down the road based on Gray & Osborne’s availability. City staff said Gray and Osborne charges $105.45 per hour.

Cassinelli would not comment on any other aspect of the matter, saying, “It’s basically a personnel matter.”

He said he could not comment on how the plant will be run in the future, nor could he say for certain whether Hazen resigned, had quit or been fired or elaborate on the circumstances of Hazen’s departure. Nor could he comment on what it means for there to be “lack of work” at the waste water treatment plant. According to the Department of Ecology, which issues the permit for the waste water plant and regularly checks for compliance, the city, in its operations and maintenance manual approved by DOE, is required to have at least 2.23 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to run the plant. If Hazen had resigned or quit, Gustafson holds the appropriate license to operate the Ilwaco plant, according to a spokesperson with DOE who checked state records at the request of Chinook Observer staff. Hazen is certified at a higher rating than Gustafson.

Hazen, who has worked for the city for nearly 15 years, said the mayor handed him a release agreement that stated, “Employee’s resignation is, at least in part, due to a mutual acknowledgment by the Mayor and Employee that his relationship with the City has evolved such that Employee desires to pursue other career opportunities. The Mayor and Employee agree that their philosophies differ such that a change is desirable.”

Hazen said he was confused. He said he had not planned on resigning and has received no formal complaints regarding his work. He refused to sign the document, but was told to leave the plant.

A letter signed by Cassinelli and dated Sept. 22 informed Gustafson, Hazen’s son-in-law and an employee with the city for more than seven years, that “there is insufficient work to justify maintaining your position.”

“In evaluating the work required to maintain the plant, it does not appear that having a position of waste water operator is necessary or of benefit to the citizens of Ilwaco,” the letter continues. “Therefore, this letter will serve as notice of the elimination of your position. You are laid off, effective immediately.”

City Councilors Fred Marshall and David Jensen, who are on the city’s personnel committee, referred detailed questions to the mayor, but Jensen said they were “privy to this,” and said their impression was that the plant did not need two employees to function. Marshall said he did not want to discuss the matter and that these were questions for Cassinelli.

“It’s his job, it’s his action,” Marshall said.

The Department of Ecology said it heard of the staff changes from the city employees but not from the city itself. A spokesperson with DOE said, the city by contracting with Gray & Osborne is still operating within the requirements of its permit and would not necessarily need to inform DOE of staff changes. The spokesperson confirmed that there have been no compliance issues recently at the plant; in fact, the plant has received compliance awards for the last nine consecutive years. The former operators’ licenses are also up-to-date.

Hazen and Gustafson said they have been asked to fill out personal evaluations in lieu of formal reviews for several years now. They would sit down with the mayor to go over these evaluations. The last review Hazen said he was asked to fill out occurred in 2013 with no concerns noted by the mayor at that time other than a reminder to keep an eye on the budget.

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