Three Thurston County workers to pay for skipped conference

lpemberton@theolympian.comDecember 7, 2013 

Forget coal in the stocking: Three Thurston County workers will be bringing home smaller paychecks during the holidays after getting busted for traveling to a work conference — and not attending any of the sessions.

The three men are all road crew chiefs, and they’ve been suspended for six work days without pay, said Public Works director Donavan Willcutt.

In addition, the workers will each be required to pay the county back $650. That’s the cost of their hotel rooms and registration for the American Public Works Association’s fall conference in Bend, Ore., Willcutt said.

Two of the men, Tim Kjorlaug and Mike MacAuley, have been employed with the county for 30 years; the other one, Brian Nurmi, has been there for 20 years.

“We’re talking long enough to definitely know better,” Willcutt said.

County officials were tipped off that the workers might not have attended the conference Oct. 22-25 when they were contacted by someone at the hotel, reporting that the men hadn’t appeared to use the rooms, Willcutt said.

County officials investigated and discovered that the workers drove to Bend and went to the conference’s expo — a place where they could pick up free trinkets and network with vendors — but none of the workshops, specifically the technical training classes that they were sent to the conference for, Willcutt said.

Instead, the men left the conference early; they also spent Friday, a “travel day,” at home when they could have reported to work, she said.

The situation is considered a fireable offense, but officials weighed the men’s longevity with the county and their work records, Willcutt said. It didn’t seem like something to destroy careers over, Willcutt said.

Still, she hopes the disciplinary action sends a strong message.

“The bottom line for me is that nobody is above being disciplined for doing something wrong,” Willcutt said. “Basically the message is that if you do something you’re not supposed to, or you’re wasting county money in any way, we’re going to hold you accountable.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 @Lisa_Pemberton

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