An engineering manager who lost his $81,000-a-year job four years ago and a former president of the Kennewick Irrigation District board who insists he had nothing to do with it face off in a Benton County civil court case this week.
Brad Wellenbrock alleges his termination came after complaining that Loren Watts, owner of Watts Construction while serving on the board for five years through December 2007, had improperly helped himself to KID property, including water, without permission.
The wrongful termination case, which is being retried following a mistrial last September, alleges that Watts, along with former board members William Kinsel, Ryan Pratt, John Pringle, John Jaksch and Doug Grover, conspired to get rid of Wellenbrock.
None of them remain on the current board.
Seattle attorney Jack Sheridan told the Superior Court jury Tuesday evidence will show Grover resigned from the board in late 2007 to take over as KID's district manager with the expectation he would fire Wellenbrock for blowing the whistle on Watts' alleged misconduct.
"Each board member will testify they did not tell Grover to fire Wellenbrock as a condition of employment," said George Fearing, KID's attorney, in opening remarks.
Jaksch's testimony will be pre-recorded video because he resigned earlier this year and moved to Texas.
Fearing said it was unfortunate that Grover, who was fired, cannot be located. It is believed he may be out of the country.
Sheridan's first witness, Harry Fox, who resigned as operations manager in February 2011, testified that Grover was told by the board to fire Wellenbrock and Fox.
But Fox said Grover assured him he'd do all he could to save his job.
Wellenbrock's lawsuit alleges Watts, as KID's board president, had his employees draw KID water without permission from an irrigation pond to use on a construction site, and that Watts' crews took excessive amounts of water from KID's irrigation lines serving the Hansen Park subdivision, leaving hundreds of homeowners without adequate water during the summer of 2007. The water was used to control dust and to compact earth on the next construction phase.
Sheridan noted that Pratt was project manager at Hansen Park and a member of the KID board while Watts Construction was the primary contractor.
Fox said Watts, when confronted about taking too much water from Hansen Park's irrigation lines, was extremely upset.
"He said he'd have my job," Fox testified, for turning off the water supply for Watts' water trucks.
Sheridan questioned Watts about ignored KID policy requiring permission and approved plans before replacing a KID weir box in building a private irrigation system for Antoinette Burnside, whose property did not have KID water rights at the time.
Fox said he and his field staff were concerned that Watts Construction tore out the weir box without permission, and there were no KID-approved plans for replacing it.
Fox said KID hired an outside engineer to prepare plans, but Watts called them too expensive for his client and ignored them.
Watts testified KID agreed to reimburse $10,139 to Burnside for the cost of installing a water meter at the new weir box.
"It was a pilot program," Watts told Sheridan in explaining the reason for the payment.
A copy of the bill obtained by the Herald in a public records request as submitted for board approval shows a list of items and costs, without describing the vendors or dates of purchase.
Watts repeatedly told Sheridan he "couldn't recall" while answering questions about the Hansen Park and Burnside projects, insisting he didn't do anything wrong and had permission from KID officials to do what he did.
Sheridan asked why Watts had no written proof of permission, even to answer a subpoena for the records.
Watts said his company, which he said does $20 million in business annually, doesn't keep records after a job is completed.
Sheridan also discussed a KID internal memo to Vic Johnson, who was interim district manager in 2007 when the alleged misconduct by Watts was occurring.
The memo, from Margo Hines, deputy district manager, referred to the enmity between Fox and Watts, who she said called Fox a smart-mouth.
"You got livid, right?" Sheridan asked Watts.
"We had a discussion," Watts answered.
As for taking water from a KID pond known as LID 124, Watts said his employees forced entry through the locked gate because they needed to resupply their construction trucks. And, he said, Watts Construction built that pond for the land owner and KID had not yet taken ownership of it, Watts said.
"There were no KID signs," he said.
Sheridan also questioned Watts about allegedly borrowing a KID road grader, assuming he could have it for a small job without paying KID a rental charge. Watts subsequently paid KID for the use.
He also questioned him about allegedly persuading Fox to rent a Watts Construction dump truck for KID use, explaining that there would be no problem if the payment went to Watts' son who he said would be listed as the owner of the truck.
Watts also insisted he resigned from the board the same day Grover was hired in November 2007. He said minutes of KID's board meeting in December that showed him attending and resigning on that day were wrong.
One juror sent a note to Judge Carrie Runge, complaining that Watts had not used the microphone, making it difficult to hear his responses.
Testimony continues today with former district manager Johnson, followed by Jaksch' video testimony.