Eight Franklin County employees on paid leave in the wake of a former county employee's arrest might soon return to their jobs.
Franklin County commissioners decided to have Chairman Brad Peck work with the county prosecutor's office to get the employees back to work after meeting Wednesday for nearly two hours behind closed doors.
Some additional work needs to happen with Prosecutor Shawn Sant's office to make sure employee rights are protected and the transition is as smooth as possible before the employees can be brought back to work, Peck said.
The eight employees were placed on paid leave to make it easier for the state Attorney General's Office and Pasco police officials to investigate allegations that Dennis Huston, the former Public Works accounting and administrative director, embezzled more than $1 million from the county over the past decade.
The eight employees on paid leave have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Peck said commissioners intend to have employees return to work sooner rather than later, but the timeline has not yet been determined.
The employees were put on paid leave Feb. 2 after receiving a letter from the elected official overseeing them or their department, Peck said. He anticipates the employees also will be informed by letter of their ability to return to work.
The county has not released the names of the employees on paid leave, although two are known. Tim Fife, the county's Public Works director and engineer, and Guy Walters, the department's assistant director, are among those on leave.
Benton County's engineer, Malcolm Bowie, is filling in as Franklin County's engineer because the county legally is required to have a licensed engineer for its Public Works department.
Peck said he is grateful that the employees on paid leave have remained professional and cooperative despite the circumstances.
And those who have remained in the office have had to pick up extra work, he said.
"It doesn't make it any easier when you are short staffed, especially when you started out with a relatively limited staff," he said.
Huston was released from jail last week when the state Attorney General's Office said it needed more time to investigate before filing charges. A suspect can be held for 72 hours without charges being filed.
Huston, who was fired last week, is accused of creating a bank account for Critzer Equipment, a company that went out of business in 2001. He had no association with the original company.
Documents said Huston, who served 21 months in prison for stealing government money in the 1980s, told investigators he was using money from invoices for county payments to Critzer Equipment to buy drugs.
When he was arrested, he reportedly had a blank check from the company and a small leather bag containing what Pasco police believe was cocaine.