Deliberations under way in KID whistleblower lawsuit

The former engineering manager for the Kennewick Irrigation District is asking a jury for $7.4 million in damages in his whistleblower lawsuit.

Brad Wellenbrock is asking for $966,262 to cover his lost wages and future earnings, plus up to $500 a day for stress, humiliation, anguish and anxiety after he was fired in 2007. The total almost equals KID's annual budget.

Jurors began deliberating Thursday on his claim that he was fired in retaliation for complaining that the KID board president was improperly using water. The trial in Benton County Superior Court began July 9.

Wellenbrock claimed KID board President Loren Watts used his position to benefit his construction company.

KID's attorney George Fearing told jurors on Thursday that Wellenbrock's evidence did not prove board members were behind his dismissal or even if they were completely aware of the allegations about Watts before Wellenbrock's last day on Nov. 11, 2007.

The fact that board member Doug Grover resigned in August 2007 so he could be hired as district manager and then fire Wellenbrock, doesn't "connect the dots" to show board members ordered it, Fearing argued.

Fearing said Grover may have told KID Operations Manager Harry Fox that the entire board wanted the engineering manager fired, but he said just the opposite to an independent investigator hired by KID to look into the whistleblower allegations.

"That destroyed Grover's credibility," Fearing said.

Wellenbrock's attorney Jack Sheridan told jurors his client was one of the good guys at KID, who was well respected and promoted by Interim Manager Victor Johnson.

But good guys were considered bad apples at KID, Sheridan said, noting that Wellenbrock and Johnson lost their jobs when the board made Grover the secretary-manager.

"Grover did not like Wellenbrock from the get-go," Sheridan said.

Much of the trial focused on allegations that Watts took KID water without permission for Watts Construction water trucks during summer 2007.

Grover, who was fired in early 2009, could not be found to be a witness in the case.

Sheridan tried to show that some KID board members used their positions to obtain special benefits through receiving KID water. And he argued those special benefits were threatened by Wellenbrock doing his job.

Fearing argued that it was regrettable Watts took KID water for construction purposes and ripped out a KID weirbox without permission to build a private irrigation system, but the actions weren't criminal.

Fearing insisted to the jury that there was no improper governmental action by any board member, and it was Grover's decision, alone, to fire Wellenbrock.

But Sheridan contended, "This is about absolute power and those guys were unchecked."

-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com