Accused Of Misconduct, Ombudsman Fights Back -- King County Watchdog Says Sex Complaint Is `Retaliation'
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
SEATTLE - King County Ombudsman David Krull, whose duties include handling complaints from county employees, is himself the target of a subordinate's complaint that has the County Council pondering firing him.
In a public hearing on the matter last night, some council members said an electronic-mail message sent by Krull to a female employee was "incredibly offensive" and is grounds for firing.
Krull countered that the council's outrage over the e-mail was a smoke screen, an excuse to get rid of him because he is too aggressive in trying to protect the public's interests.
"This attempt to discharge and muzzle me is quite clearly retaliation for my activities in the office and my speech on issues of public importance," Krull said yesterday. "It is a threat to the continued viability of the office."
The ombudsman, a $64,000-a-year position, handles citizen complaints against the county as well as internal employee complaints.
A council resolution, drafted yesterday morning, called for Krull's removal for sending an e-mail copy of a text entitled "Instruction and Advice for the Young Bride" to a 26-year-old woman he supervises.
Krull, 32, said he received the text in e-mail, threw it in his electronic trash, but then asked the employee if she wanted a copy because she was about to get married.
He said he thought the employee might find it amusing and interesting as a study in social mores.
He said he warned the employee in advance the three-page text could be offensive and asked if she still wanted to see it.
"She said, `Yeah, send it to me.' An hour or two later, she passed me in the hall (and said) you know, `Was that for real?' I said, `Yeah, as far as I know," Krull said.
The text, containing advice on avoiding sex, purports to have been written by a Methodist pastor's wife in 1894.
Council member Maggi Fimia, who read some of the most explicit sections in yesterday's hearing, called the text "incredibly offensive" and suitable only for discussion in a women's studies class.
The most explicit section, read in public session by Fimia, says, "Most men are by nature rather perverted, and if given half a chance, would engage in quite a variety of the most revolting practices. These practices include, among others, performing the normal act in abnormal positions; mouthing the female body; and offering their own vile bodies to be mouthed in turn."
Krull passed on the e-mail July 22. The woman complained to council member Louise Miller Aug. 5. The next morning, council member Ron Sims and Miller met with Krull and told him to apologize to the woman, which he did, but the council employment committee decided Aug. 19 that wasn't enough.
Miller, Sims and a council attorney told Krull last Monday that he needed to resign by Thursday.
Krull instead demanded the public hearing that occurred last night.
Four members of the County Council were ready to remove Krull yesterday, and others said they want a couple of weeks to study the issue. Krull can be fired with nine votes on the 13-member body.
After more than three hours in public debate and 90 minutes in executive sessions, a visibly tired council voted 8-4 to put off the issue for two weeks instead of taking the quick vote that had been earlier expected. Krull, a Seattle attorney, denounced the council for trying to remove him in the first year of what is supposed to be a five-year job.
Krull and his lawyers said a firing would be disproportionate with the alleged offense, and would instead be retaliation for his activities as ombudsman.
"There are all these red flags," Krull said. "There's more to it than an e-mail message."
Krull said the retaliation could arise from his pressing the council to act against former council staff chief Cliff Peterson for an alleged pattern of sexual harassment, to act against the Kingdome concessionaire for food-safety problems or for his investigations into the sheriff's office and the records and elections office.
Council chairwoman Jane Hague said the county needed to act fast to restore confidence in the ombudsman's office. Hague said three attorneys have advised the council they can remove Krull despite the protection of his five-year term, which allows firing only for incapacitation, neglect of duty, misconduct or political activity. Krull said he would be back at work today leading the 10-person office.
"I'll just keep going, but it's more difficult," he said.
Krull owned a onetime Kidd Valley restaurant - renamed Dave's Burgers - in Lynnwood before attending University of Puget Sound Law School in Tacoma and opening a law practice in Seattle. He got involved in civic activity by suing the Washington State Department of Transportation for public records on behalf of an anti-toll-highways group.
Krull was hired for the ombudsman's job last November as a compromise choice, and without a political patron on the council.
"There's no tie there. There's no loyalty. I don't know any of those guys. They don't know me. I think that's good," he said.
Krull, the third ombudsman in three years, said he has been trying to impose higher standards on workers in the office.
"What I want is a freer hand with my employees because I have some bad eggs I need to take care of," Krull said outside the council meeting. "But my staff has better political connections than me."
No one from the ombudsman's staff testified on Krull's behalf or attended the hearing.
"This really came out of left field," Krull said. "It shocked me when it came up last week, and my only response is I want it to be in the public."
Some council members, meanwhile, think Krull is the one coming from left field with his allegations of retaliation.
"I have been deeply offended," said Sims.
"I have no idea what you are talking about," said Councilwoman Cynthia Sullivan.
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