The former president of the Kennewick Irrigation District says he regrets hiring fellow board member Doug Grover as secretary-manager in 2007.
"In hindsight, it was a big mistake," said John Jaksch in videotaped testimony Wednesday for a whistleblower lawsuit in Benton County Superior Court.
Brad Wellenbrock, former engineering manager, claims the board hired Grover, expecting he would fire Wellenbrock in retaliation for having complained about Loren Watts using his position as a KID director to benefit his company, Watts Construction.
Jaksch, who was appointed to the five-member board in September 2007 to fill Grover's position, said he knew virtually nothing about Watts' alleged misconduct before voting to hire Grover two months later.
Jaksch said he relied on other board members but later regretted giving the job to someone who showed that he could not manage.
"He was narcissistic, and he shaded the truth," Jaksch said.
Grover had resigned from the board so he could apply for the secretary manager's job, from which he was fired 17 months later. He is unavailable as a witness and is believed to have left the Tri-Cities, where he ran the family's orchard business for many years.
Victor Johnson, who was KID's interim secretary manager for 30 months before Grover replaced him, also testified Wednesday.
"I felt it was incumbent to have management or organizational experience. (Grover) didn't have any of that. He was not qualified," said Johnson, a farmer and chemical engineer with professional engineer credentials for nuclear engineering.
"I was quite surprised (Grover) got appointed, and I knew nothing about it until he walked in and said that was my last day," Johnson told Jack Sheridan, Wellenbrock's attorney.
Johnson hired Wellebrock as a planning manager in June 2006, promoting him to engineering manager after seven months.
Jaksch testified that board member William Kinsel encouraged him to apply for the position vacated by Grover. He said Kinsel also invited him, prior to being appointed, to a lunch meeting with Grover and Frank Corpus, both of whom were applicants for KID's secretary manager position.
Jaksch said it was Grover's decision to suspend and terminate Wellenbrock as engineering manager.
He denied there was any discussion by the board to fire Wellenbrock.
"I can't say specifically why Wellenbrock lost his job, but reorganization was part of it," Jaksch said.
Sheridan's video-recorded interview with Jaksch also revealed the board did little to follow up on Wellenbrock's July 13, 2007, complaint letter about Watts allegedly taking excessive amounts of KID water without prior authority to use on construction projects that summer.
"They were allegations, and (since I was) new to the board, I didn't know if they were true or not," Jaksch said.
Jaksch admitted the board took no vote to investigate the complaints, nor did he personally suggest Watts resign from the board if the complaints were true.
Jaksch also testified that he did not look into the business relationship between Watts and board member Ryan Pratt, who represented the owner of Hansen Park, where Watts Construction was a primary contractor and where KID provided irrigation water.
Pratt's filing of a conflict-of-interest report for 2007 did not reveal the business relationship between himself and Watts.
But Johnson testified that Pratt and Watts were connected through the Hansen Park development.
Johnson also said that he was surprised Watts Construction ripped out a KID weirbox in March 2007 without permission to build a private irrigation system for Antoinette Burnside.
Johnson said there was no authorization given, no drawings, no engineering approval and no inspections done.
"Did Wellenbrock complain to you that Burnside got preferential treatment?" Sheridan asked Johnson.
"Yes," Johnson answered.
Watts Construction also forced entry into a KID pond in the summer of 2007 to install a pump and take water for construction trucks.
"Harry Fox (operations manager) and Wellenbrock were beside themselves that someone had gone through the gate," Johnson testified.
"Who did it?" Sheridan asked.
"It was Watts, (and) he was still on the board," Johnson said.
"Was there any penalty for doing that?" Sheridan questioned.
"I am unaware the board took any action against Watts for that," Johnson replied.