LAKE STEVENS — A city of Lake Stevens employee was granted an unusual one-year protection order Wednesday against his boss, Public Works Director Eric Durpos, as both are apparently under investigation for workplace behavior.
The order bars Durpos from contacting or coming within 15 feet of public works crew member Mike Bredstrand or his family. It also prevents Durpos from being within 300 feet of Bredstrand’s home and from trying to surveil Bredstrand or his family.
The protection order was granted shortly after the city paid $16,200 in fines to the state Department of Labor and Industries for alleged workplace safety violations by the public works department. During a months-long state inspection, employees said they believe Durpos retaliated against them for calling attention to safety issues.
Lake Stevens Mayor Brett Gailey says the investigation of the two men is a personnel issue about which he can’t say much.
The Washington Cities Insurance Authority arranged for the investigation of Durpos and Bredstrand by an outside party, Gailey said. He doesn’t even know the specifics of the probe.
“We’re staying out of it,” Gailey told The Daily Herald.
At a hearing about the protection order on Wednesday at Cascade District Court in Arlington, Bredstrand testified that he received a letter stating the investigation is related to allegations of “inappropriate workplace behavior.”
He told Judge Jennifer Rancourt, who later issued the protection order sought by Bredstrand, that Durpos became aggressive toward him at a grievance hearing in October — coming a couple of inches out of his seat, leaning into the table at Bredstrand and balling one hand into a fist while raising the other.
Bredstrand said the gesture made him feel worried. 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 said that’s not what happened.
“I leaned forward in my chair, raised my hands in an ‘I don’t know’ gesture,” he said. “Hands up, palms up.” Durpos said that was in reaction to Bredstrand “staring me down in an intimidating way” from across the table.
“Not in 22 years of doing this job at various cities have I ever been under an investigation until this incident,” he said in court.
Bredstrand acknowledged he has been the subject of several investigations by the city. He said there were “never any findings” substantiating claims against him. In October, the City Council approved $305 to register Bredstrand for an “emotional intelligence” course through the state Department of Enterprise Services.
With the protection order in place, the workplace might get awkward.
If both employees return to work after the investigation, “we’re going to have to look at the order and comply with it,” Gailey said.
On the organizational chart, there are two layers of management between Bredstrand and Durpos.
But there are some situations, including workplace meetings and grievance hearings, when Bredstrand and Durpos would typically be in the same room.
In court, both Bredstrand and former Public Works Inspector Scott Wicken testified that Durpos’ previous behavior led them to seek “medical attention” for stress and anxiety. On Wednesday, Judge Rancourt determined that and other facts were enough to grant the protection order.
Bredstrand alleged the tension he felt from his boss began about four years ago at a work meeting.
“He said, ‘Go ahead — you go ahead and file any complaint with the union or any other agency, and we’ll see who’s here at the end of the day,’” Bredstrand said.
He later told the judge he understood that to mean he would be fired if he were to make a complaint.
Former inspector Wicken said he’d worked for the city of Lake Stevens for over 40 years and that “most of the time I worked there, it was a really fun place to work.”
But, he said, “that has never been the case” since Durpos was hired. Wicken said he filed a complaint in 2017, just a few weeks after Durpos started working for the city, alleging Durpos “verbally attacked” him in front of other employees.
In 2018, the city ordered Durpos to take management classes and training on workplace civility after looking into public works crew members’ complaints filed with police, as The Daily Herald has previously reported. At Wednesday’s hearing, Durpos testified he was never ordered to attend “anger management” training.
Durpos has been in the news before. In 2019, city officials said they would not look into a drunken driving arrest after he left Aquafest, a city-sponsored event.
City Administrator Gene Brazel told The 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.
Gailey said he does not know when the investigation will conclude. “We’ve got to wait to see what the investigator comes back with and make a decision,” he said.