MANHATTAN — A lawsuit filed last week in Riley County District Court alleges Riley County Commissioners terminated an employee for speaking out against one of the commissioners.
The lawsuit was filed March 27 by former county employee Steven DeHart of Olsburg, who claims the board fired him in 2017 because he continually spoke out against Chairman Ron Wells. DeHart worked for the county as an environmental health specialist.Court Case DeHart
In the petition, DeHart claims he drew the ire of the commission when he reported Wells had a private sewer hookup at his residence that allowed him to receive free service. It was initially a county sewer line. He says Wells constructed an apartment on his mother’s property without the required building permit for personal use. To bring it into compliance he was required to obtain a necessary permit with DeHart’s signature. DeHart also discovered Wells didn’t have a valid septic permit and raised concerns about the validity of the septic hookup at the time of the permit’s issuance in 2016. He claims County Counselor Clancy Holeman advised that resistance to the hookup would jeopardize DeHart’s employment.
In his petition, DeHart also says he uncovered various violations of rules, regulations or the law that were brought to the attention of his supervisor, office staff, county counselors, commissioners and other regulatory agencies. He claims he was told on several occasions by unspecified people to not report environmental violations out of fear it would reflect poorly on the county.
DeHart is suing on two counts including wrongful termination for whistle blowing and for exercising his first amendment rights. DeHart is seeking $75,000 in damages for each count. The Riley County Commission has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit. During Thursday’s commission meeting, commissioners said they couldn’t comment on the lawsuit because it’s a personnel matter.