By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
MUKILTEO — City officials are divided over the hiring of a new department head who was the subject of a sexual discrimination suit in a previous job.
Several accusations were directed at Robert McGaughey, 50, in a lawsuit filed by former employees when he was public works director and chief engineer at Okanogan County.
He was accused of using a bullwhip to intimidate women employees; firing a woman after she stopped a project for safety reasons; and knowingly allowing a female worker to drink coffee from a cup into which another man had urinated.
“All those allegations are totally untrue,” McGaughey said Monday.
Based on legal advice, Okanogan County agreed to settle out of court, McGaughey said. The county had originally planned to fight the suit, he said. He was hired in 2002 and left Okanogan County in 2006 when his contract was not renewed, he said.
McGaughey was confirmed in a 5-2 vote by the Mukilteo City Council on June 3 as the city’s new public works director.
Terry Preshaw, an attorney who is running for an open City Council seat against Ted Wheeler, criticized the administration and the council for the choice.
“The mayor was clearly relying on his city administrator to perform due diligence. Most of the council apparently did as well,” she said.
Mukilteo city officials, after interviewing co-workers of McGaughey’s at Okanogan County and other previous jobs, were satisfied that the allegations were false. Others were named in the lawsuit in addition to McGaughey, according to Mukilteo city administrator Joe Hannan.
After McGaughey’s hiring in Mukilteo, city officials later discovered that their new employee had not included on his resume a two-month stint at Skagit County in 2010 from which he had been fired.
Mayor Joe Marine said that while he wishes McGaughey had been forthright about his time as an engineer at Skagit County, it’s not a dealbreaker.
“I’m sticking with Rob,” Marine said. “We’ve had nothing but good responses from his previous employers.”
McGaughey also has worked as a public works supervisor for the Air National Guard, including a stint in Afghanistan. Most recentl he was a quality assurance officer for Systems Consulting, a national firm with an office in Seattle, Hannan said.
McGaughey said he didn’t mention the Skagit County job because it was so short in duration.
“The county administrator had a different style of management than what I was implementing,” he said, declining to go into specifics. “After a probationary period they decided to let me go. Why bring that up?”
Hannan said he spoke recently with Skagit County’s human resources department, which corroborated McGaughey’s account. “They gave no indication of anything related to people” regarding McGaughey’s termination, he said.
McGaughey was vetted by two panels in Mukilteo, Hannan said. One was made up of department heads and the public works superintendent. The other included Hannan and public works directors from Snohomish County and Lynnwood.
They gave their recommendations to Marine, who interviewed two of the finalists, including McGaughey.
The mayor’s recommendation was taken to the council in May.
Councilwoman Jennifer Gregerson said council members were unaware of the Okanogan lawsuit before a scheduled May 20 vote. She came across an old news story about the suit and asked for a closed-door meeting that night, she said.
There, council members asked for more information, Gregerson said.
“I was worried for the women who work in the city,” she said. Afterward, the city interviewed women managers who had worked with McGaughey, she said.
“I felt like that additional research happened because we asked for that delay and that extra time,” Gregerson said.
She ultimately voted to confirm McGaughey.
“I felt like the city satisfied my concerns,” she said.
Councilmen Steve Schmalz and Kevin Stoltz voted “no.”
“I just felt uncomfortable with the choice,” Schmalz said. “I wasn’t satisfied with his explanation at all.”
Schmalz and Gregerson are both running for mayor this year against Marine.
McGaughey said he left Systems Consulting, where he worked on an intermittent basis on specific projects, for more steady work. McGaughey said he was working overseas for the Air National Guard when the urination incident at Okanogan County occurred. When he returned he started disciplinary action against the man and fired him as a result, he said.
“Why would anybody tolerate that?” he said.
McGaughey said he’s been married for 21 years and has five children.
“I’m a family man, I certainly wouldn’t tolerate the behavior in the allegations made against me, and I wouldn’t expect anybody to.”
McGaughey will make about $106,000 in his new job. He replaces previous public works director Larry Waters, who retired and moved to Bend, Ore.
“Mukilteo’s going to be a great place to work. I look forward to working with the public works crew and the mayor.
“I want to add value to the public works department and the city, and I think I can. Serving the public, that’s what it’s about.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.