Lake Stevens worker’s protection order granted against boss

The worker and his boss, Public Works Director Eric Durpos, were put on leave for an incident at a grievance meeting.

LAKE STEVENS — A Lake Stevens worker was granted a temporary protection order against his boss, public works director Eric Durpos, after Durpos allegedly made an aggressive gesture at a grievance meeting.

The city of Lake Stevens placed both Durpos and the crew member on paid administrative leave Friday, Mayor Brett Gailey said. The city will initiate an investigation, he said.

“Eric Durpos became very irate during a grievance meeting,” the crew worker wrote in a statement filed in Snohomish County District Court.

District Court Judge Jennifer Rancourt granted the order Oct. 14.

Typically, public works employees reach out to their union representative to file a grievance about workplace conditions. Union reps then schedule a meeting between the union, the city’s human resources department and public works leaders.

At the Oct. 14 grievance meeting for the crew worker, Durpos “raised his right arm in front of himself as for defense, made a fist with his left hand, leaned back in his chair then quickly came forward … and almost half over the table in an attacking manner,” the crew worker alleged.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 28.

Durpos and City Administrator Gene Brazel could not be reached for comment.

Durpos has been the subject of complaints before.

On March 19, 2017, Public Works Inspector Scott Wicken filed a formal complaint with the city’s HR department alleging Durpos “has gone out of his way to create a hostile work environment.”

A few days later, Lake Stevens officer Chad Christensen told Cmdr. Ron Brooks in an email that Durpos “was extremely hostile,” in a conversation regarding commercial truck traffic on Soper Hill Road.

“I have worked for the City of Lake Stevens for nearly fifteen years, and have never been spoken to by any city official, in the manner of which Eric presented himself to me,” Christensen wrote. “I fear the progress that administration has made in creating an excellent work environment could become compromised with such hostile behavior like Eric’s on this day.”

In 2018, Durpos received a reprimand for rudeness and incivility. The city required he take more than 40 hours of management classes and attend a training on workplace civility.

That fall, the city hired Public Works Operations Manager Tyler Eshleman to work directly with public works crews.

In 2019, Durpos was arrested for investigation of drunken driving after leaving Aquafest, a city-sponsored event.

In an interview shortly after the arrest, the city’s then-human resources director, Teri Smith, told The Daily Herald the city “was actively looking into the case.” Smith left her post to work for the city of Kent, and the position was filled by an interim director.

Then city officials said they would not probe the incident.

Brazel told the Herald, “It was on his personal time and in his personal vehicle.”

Durpos pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in July 2020 in Snohomish County District Court’s Evergreen Division. Judge Patricia Lyon sentenced him to one year in prison, with all but one day suspended. About $4,000 of a $5,000 fine was also suspended.

Earlier this year, during a Labor and Industries inspection of the city’s public works department, employees shared that they feared retaliation for reporting alleged workplace safety hazards.

In a March 4 email, an L&I inspector told a fellow inspector about a phone call she had with the original workplace safety complainant. In that call, the person reported three city workers were called in by management and threatened with getting written up, following a round of employee interviews that L&I staff conducted in late January.

Later, a public works employee told an L&I inspector that they felt Durpos was retaliating. They told the inspector Durpos “stated ‘I know you called L&I and fish and game.’”

During an appeal hearing with L&I, Durpos blamed an unpermitted confined space entry on a “rogue employee.”

Liz Brown, a business agent for Teamsters 763, sat in on the appeal hearing. The union represents employees in the city’s public works department.

Brown described the public works department as having a “toxic workplace culture.”

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

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