Lake Stevens council OKs separation with public works director

Eric Durpos was accused of skirting permits, creating unsafe working conditions and threatening employees.

Eric Durpos in a Lake Stevens City Council meeting in 2021. (City of Lake Stevens)

Eric Durpos in a Lake Stevens City Council meeting in 2021. (City of Lake Stevens)

LAKE STEVENS — Embattled Public Works Director Eric Durpos appears to be on his way out.

Lake Stevens City Council members unanimously approved a severance agreement with the department leader Tuesday night.

The agreement has not yet been “executed by both parties,” Lake Stevens City Administrator Gene Brazel told The Daily Herald in an email. He declined to comment further. A copy of the severance agreement was not immediately available.

Durpos’ tenure at the city of Lake Stevens has been mired in controversy. He was accused of skirting permits, creating unsafe working conditions and threatening employees. In his off-time, he was convicted of driving under the influence.

The decision to part ways with him comes over three months after the city placed Durpos and public works crew member Mike Bredstrand on administrative leave for an incident at a grievance hearing.

Bredstrand has since been granted a protection order against Durpos.

The crew member told Judge Jennifer Rancourt that Durpos became aggressive toward him at a grievance hearing in October. Bredstrand described Durpos coming a couple of inches out of his seat, leaning into the table at him and balling one hand into a fist while raising the other.

He argued if Durpos would threaten him in front of witnesses — with his union representative and the city’s human resources director present — it could happen any time.

“I don’t feel comfortable,” he told the judge.

Durpos disputed the aggressive motion, saying he instead shrugged in Bredstrand’s direction.

But Bredstrand and former Public Works Inspector Scott Wicken testified it wasn’t an isolated incident. They told the judge Durpos’ previous behavior led them to seek “medical attention” for stress and anxiety.

Judge Rancourt determined that and other facts were enough to grant the protection order.

For years, city employees have complained about the working conditions under Durpos.

In early 2017, Wicken said, he filed a complaint, just a few weeks after Durpos started working for the city. He alleged Durpos “verbally attacked” him in front of other employees.

Within the same month, a Lake Stevens police officer told Cmdr. Ron Brooks in an email that Durpos spoke to him in a manner unlike any other city official in his 15 years with the department.

“I fear the progress that administration has made in creating an excellent work environment could be compromised with such hostile behavior like Eric’s on this day,” he wrote.

The following year, the city ordered Durpos to take management classes and training on workplace civility after looking into public works crew members’ complaints filed with police.

In 2019, city officials said they would not look into a drunken driving arrest. He had been pulled over while leaving Aquafest, a city-sponsored event.

City Administrator Gene Brazel told The Daily Herald at the time: “It was on his personal time and in his personal vehicle.”

In 2020, Durpos pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. He was sentenced to a year in prison, with all but one day suspended. About $4,000 of a $5,000 fine was also suspended.

In February 2021, the city proposed to remove a “dilapidated” car bridge along North Lakeshore Drive and put in a pair of pedestrian bridges.

Before receiving a required permit, public works employees removed the old wooden bridge and began filling concrete forms to support the new bridge, according to a correction request April 20 from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“I expressed to the city that they really didn’t do the proper permitting procedure on that one,” Doug Gresham, a wetland specialist at the Department of Ecology then told The Herald.

In spring 2021, a city employee told Department of Ecology officials that Durpos wanted to waive a geotechnical study — required in Ecology’s stormwater management manual — for a city project.

The employee also alleged Durpos avoided creating a paper trail.

Around the same time, state Labor and Industries inspectors documented a series of workplace safety and health violations within the city’s public works department.

Those state regulators initially issued nearly $20,000 in fines. They alleged more than a dozen “serious” violations of safety rules.

The city appealed those findings. At a hearing in fall 2021, Durpos said some of the workplace safety violations they received were a result of a “rogue” employee’s actions.

In the end, the city accepted the fines. Mayor Brett Gailey then announced one of his top priorities for the city: obtaining accreditation through the American Public Works Association. Less than a dozen cities in Washington are accredited through the association.

On Tuesday night, Gailey said the city is “continuing our efforts on the APWA accreditation, and a big part of that is figuring out the management, asset maintenance and new permitting software.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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