WILMINGTON — A former Harrington city manager has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that he was not afforded due process connected to his 2019 suspension and subsequent termination.
Attorney Ronald Poliquin filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of plaintiff Don Williams, naming the city of Harrington and multiple City Council members as defendants.
“The City Council suspended and terminated Mr. Williams without due process in violation of the City Charter, his contract, and the City’s own personnel policy,” Mr. Poliquin said in a statement Thursday. “Don Williams was never allowed to respond and rebut the real reasons he was terminated.
“Council members need to be held accountable for their actions and make Williams whole.”
Defendants include the city and council members Amy Minner, H. Joseph Gannon Jr., Micah Parker, Charles W. Baugher Jr. and Duane E. Bivans.
On Thursday, current Harrington City Manager Daniel Tartt said, “We are aware of the complaint, but we cannot comment on any pending litigation.”
According to the lawsuit, Mr. Williams was suspended Oct. 29, 2019, following allegations made against him by former City Planner Jeremy Rothwell. The action states that during a City Council meeting Oct. 21, 2019, Mr. Rothwell “alleged Williams and (Harrington’s then-Mayor Anthony Moyer) were engaged in criminal and civil wrongdoing.”
Mr. Rothwell laid out the allegations in a 13-page letter he presented to council members, including documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The former planner had worked for the city from December 2016 through June 2019, when he was fired for what he described at the time as motivated partially by a personal vendetta by the manager and mayor.
Among the alleged misconduct by the mayor and city manager were violations of the Delaware Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, flagrant flouting of city code, time theft, bullying employees and use of office for personal gain.
Both Mr. Williams and Mr. Moyer disputed the allegations at the time. While Mr. Williams appealed the termination, City Council upheld the decision.
The lawsuit maintains that Councilman Parker sent Mr. Williams home from work Oct. 28, 2019, pending the city Personnel Committee’s review of the allegations.
“(Councilman Parker) did not inform Williams what the allegations were or allow Williams to respond to the allegations,” according to the lawsuit.
The suspension came after council members entered into an executive session Oct. 29, 2019, to discuss Mr. Williams’ performance, the lawsuit alleges. The suspension with pay was made in order to conduct an independent investigation, it continues.
“Despite the vote, City Council never ordered a special investigation into Rothwell’s allegations,” according to the lawsuit.
In early 2020, the state’s Public Integrity Commission — after conducting a review at the request of City Council — reported that “it is more likely than not that Mr. Moyer and Mr. Williams both engaged in conduct that would constitute violations of the State Code of Conduct.”
According to the lawsuit, among other claims, the PIC did not interview Mr. Williams during the investigation and the city never notified him that a probe had been initiated.
Also, the lawsuit alleges, “The PIC did not present Williams with a written statement of the reasons alleged for his removal,” and the “PIC’s only role was to investigate conduct that would more likely than not constitute violation of the State Code of Conduct.”
The lawsuit asks that the court enter a judgment for Mr. Williams regarding a breach of contract by the city of Harrington, as well as “order that the purported termination of (Mr. Williams) is void and unenforceable, award him damages in an amount to be determined, award him attorney’s fees and the costs of the litigation, and take any further action which this Court may deem fair and equitable.”