Investigation prompted former Sultan administrator to resign

Employees alleged that Ken Walker would waste work hours, shout at them and threaten their jobs.

SULTAN — Half of the city’s employees had problems with Ken Walker, Sultan’s former city administrator, according to new records.

In January, a department director turned in a complaint against him as part of her resignation. That action prompted an investigation into Walker’s behavior. He has since signed a settlement agreement with the city and moved to California.

The agreement and the investigator’s report recently were obtained by The Daily Herald through a public records request.

Walker allegedly threatened to fire people for no apparent reason, took care of personal projects while on the clock, and would often raise his voice and swear at co-workers, according to the employee accounts. An outside risk-management firm was hired to conduct an investigation. Of eight issues looked into, four were found to be substantiated.

In total, 11 former and current staff members as well as a police officer shared concerns about Walker’s conduct. About 20 people work for the city full time.

Walker, now 60, earned about $143,000 per year at the time he resigned, according to the city. Phone and email messages for his attorney were not returned for this story.

Walker was hired by former Mayor Carolyn Eslick in October 2012. Within a year he had troubles.

Sometime in 2013, Walker was caught removing political signs from a park, according to a sheriff’s deputy who spoke with investigators.

Sultan receives police services through a contract with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, which is reimbursed by the city. The deputy was part of that program, but is no longer stationed there, officials said.

The signs reportedly were posted by a group who opposed Eslick. They were placed near U.S. 2, and Walker didn’t think they were allowed there, according to the report.

No problems were documented for the next few years, according to the available records.

Then in September 2016, an employee submitted a complaint. Walker had allegedly yelled and cursed at her, and threatened to fire “everyone.”

That kind of issue reportedly continued, records show.

In late 2017, two employees asked Walker if he was busy. He said he wasn’t. They asked to start looking to hire someone for an empty position.

Walker allegedly became irritated, and shouted at them to leave his office. He told them he was getting a liquor license at the time, to help Eslick with a charity event, according to documents.

Walker later told investigators he remembered raising his voice. He also admitted to applying for the permit during work, documents show. He said he should have waited until later, but took it as an order because it was for his boss at the time.

Eslick left her position as mayor when she was appointed as a state representative of the 39th District. In a recent interview, she said Walker did a great job working for her, and contributed to the community. She also acknowledged there was friction.

“I feel terrible for the employees, for what they had to go through, unbeknownst to me at the time,” she said.

Eslick said she knew Walker had gotten the liquor license for her event, but he volunteered to do so.

“I would never condone him applying for such a license during the work day unless he was on his lunch break outside the building,” she said.

The report also says Walker would sometimes shop online while he was supposed to be working.

He admitted to investigators that was true. He said he didn’t know it was against the rules, but also thought it was wrong.

After Eslick left, John Seehuus was appointed mayor in December 2017. The next month brought the complaint and resignation from a department director.

The woman had concerns about how Walker treated staff. Those who criticized him faced repercussions, she said.

Seehuus sought the investigation and received the 17-page report March 16.

The research was done by Clear Risk Solutions in Ephrata, about three hours from Sultan. The city said the cost was covered by insurance.

The settlement agreement is dated March 27. It says Walker was placed on paid administrative leave through April 20. It also provided him with $15,000 for accumulated and unused vacation time.

By signing the agreement, Walker promised not to sue or disparage his former employer.

The city administrator position was filled by William Ibershof earlier this month.

By then, Walker had a new job. He’s now an assistant county administrator for Inyo County in California, home to Death Valley.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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