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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Former City of Collinsville manager denies liability in countersuit to Whistleblower complaint

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Apr 26, 2017

The former city manager for Collinsville denied liability in the city’s counterclaim in response to his Whistleblower suit alleging he was terminated for reporting inappropriate actions.

Scott Williams filed the lawsuit on July 11 against the City of Collinsville, Mayor John Miller, Councilwoman Cheryl Brombolich and Councilman Jeff Stehman, alleging violations of the Illinois Whistleblower Act.

According to the complaint, Williams was hired as City Manager for the City of Collinsville on Sept. 12, 2012, and his contract was to run until September 2015.

However, in September 2014, he alleges he learned that Brombolich was misusing the city’s credit cards and accounts. Williams claims he placed Brombolich on administrative leave and reported the misconduct to the Collinsville Police Department.

Further, in June 2015, Williams claims he learned that Miller actively solicited and accepted free dirt from a city contractor. Rod Cheatham, the city’s former street director, submitted a written complaint regarding the incident. Williams says he forwarded the complaint to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons.

Then on July 13, 2015, the defendants voted to suspend Williams from employment and placed him on administrative leave. The defendants later refused to renew his employment contract and ended his employment prematurely. Williams last day of work was July 17, 2015, the suit states.

Williams alleges the defendants retaliated against him for his whistleblowing acts and intentionally thwarted and refused the renewal of his employment contract.

The City of Collinsville, John Miller, and Jeff Stehman answered the complaint through Lowenbaum Law in Clayton, Mo.

They argue that Williams failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and failed to mitigate his damages.

They also argue that they may not be held individually liable under the Illinois Whistleblower Act because no individual liability is permitted.

They further argue that “where a public employee is not liable for an injury, the municipal employer also is not liable.”

The defendants filed a counterclaim against Williams, arguing that the City and Williams entered into a City Manager Employment Agreement, which were set to continue until Sept. 3, 2015.

They state that Williams was informed that he served “’at the pleasure of City Council’ and that nothing in his Agreement could prevent, limit or interfere with ‘the right of the City Council to terminate the services of the City Manager at any time.’”

The agreement also states that “in the event Williams was terminated for just cause, or acts involving moral turpitude or conduct unbecoming an officer of the City, he would not be entitled to the severance and benefits provided for in the Agreement …”

Williams answered the defendants’ affirmative defenses and counterclaim on March 7 through attorneys Stephen Wigginton and Falon Wrigley of Armstrong Teasdale LLP in St. Louis, denying the allegations against him.

In his affirmative defenses to the counterclaim, Williams argues that the agreement is void “to the extent it sanctions violation of or attempts to contract around public policy or any state, federal or local law, including without limitation the Illinois Gift Ban Act.”

He also argues that any alleged damages were the result of superseding and intervening causes.

“To the extent Defendants suffered any damages, one or more individuals improperly accessed its computer systems or mishandled data or computer hardware, not Williams,” the affirmative defenses state.

He adds that by failing to take its own precautionary, prophylactic, or other security measures in the face of threats to its computer systems or hardware, the defendants were negligent and contributed to their alleged injuries.

Brombolich answered the complaint on Jan. 31 through attorney Charles Pierce of Pierce Law Firm PC in Belleville, denying the allegations against her.

She argues that she is entitled to immunity and is not liable under the Illinois Whistleblower Act.

She further argues that the plaintiff “failed to mitigate his alleged damages by failing to use reasonable efforts to obtain appropriate employment.”

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 16-L-359

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