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Kafka-esque County Case

Marc Kardell didn’t look like a fight-the-power kind of guy at his “name-clearing hearing” in the Lane County commissioners’ offices on Jan. 18; he looked like the proper, grey-haired attorney and public servant he is, or rather, since being fired by Lane County last May, was. 

Kardell is poised to file a lawsuit against the county for wrongful termination, retaliation for exercising First Amendment rights for speaking out on matters of public concern and retaliation for whistleblowing, according to a tort claim notice that EW obtained and wrote about in December. 

“My job was to work for the county, not for the right or the left,” Kardell said, pointing to cases that ranged from mining at Parvin Butte to defending the county’s controversial redistricting that progressives say benefited conservative County Commission candidates.

The R-G made a public records request in late December for the tort claim notice that triggered the name-clearing hearing, which allowed Kardell to address the issues brought up by the documents before they were released. 

Lane County’s press release about the name-clearing hearing said it is offered “when potentially stigmatizing information is publicly disclosed” about that former government employee; however, the information released appeared more stigmatizing to the county than to Kardell.

The former attorney took the opportunity to point out his successes as a lawyer for the county, showed budget documents that appeared to indicate his being fired for budget reasons was not substantiated by the budget itself and discussed the morass of difficulties that have arisen in recent years in Lane County government. 

Kardell said, “If you’ve read Kafka’s The Trial, where somebody goes around trying to figure out what all’s going on here, and you can’t figure it out, and that’s what it was feeling like to me.”

Kardell alleged that his concerns about various secretive investigations that the county was spending thousands of dollars on, his questioning of the decision to end another attorney’s employment as well as his attempt to not take a raise when other county employees were being laid off seemed to trigger the ire of County Administrator Liane Richardson. Richardson had asked for harassment investigations against two county commissioners who voted against her hiring. The harassment allegations were found to be unsubstantiated.

Kardell wonders if he himself was investigated. His attorney, Margaret Wilson, recently received 650 pages of material after filing a public records suit, but at the time of the hearing had not had a chance to review them yet. “There were things I didn’t know, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Kardell said of the Kafka-esque time at the county offices.