Grand Haven fires general manager amid ongoing whistleblower investigation

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GRAND HAVEN — The Grand Haven Light and Power Company’s board of directors fired its general manager Thursday, saying allegations of discrimination and harassment he made against a board member were unfounded, as a whistleblower investigation nears completion.

It was the latest in a long line of tit-for-tat allegations involving GHBLP General Manager Dave Walters, GHBLP board members and, at times, Grand Haven City Council members.

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Walters submitted his notice of resignation in October, and plans to retire effective January 19. This came just days after the Grand Haven City Council voted to approve the appointment of an outside attorney to lead an independent review of whistleblower allegations alleging that the facility attempted to destroy documents and pressured employees to participate in a political campaign last year to keep the facilities separate from the city, among other claims.

David Walters, General Manager of the Grand Haven Board of Light & Power, addresses the City Council following the announcement of whistleblower allegations against GHBLP on Monday, September 18, 2023.

David Walters, General Manager of the Grand Haven Board of Light & Power, addresses the City Council following the announcement of whistleblower allegations against GHBLP on Monday, September 18, 2023.

There were also allegations against Walters that he violated state campaign finance rules prohibiting public entities and employees from advocating for the results of a political campaign, according to a complaint filed with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office against GHBLP. The second complaint filed with SOS alleges that the GHBLP board “used public funds or resources for campaign purposes,” according to documents obtained by The Sentinel.

Walters rescinded his scheduled resignation in January shortly after the November election when GHBLP board member Andrea Hendrick lost her bid for the mayor’s race. He has accused Hendrick of creating a “toxic workplace,” and complained to the City Council in September that his complaints against Hendrick — who remains on the GHBLP board — were not being taken seriously.

Walters and GHBLP Chairman Michael Westbrook declined to provide documents or details of Walters’ allegations against Hendrick.

When asked about documentation of Walters’ complaint, GHBLP Chairman Michael Westbrook told The Sentinel in a Sept. 30 email: “The long-standing whistleblower complaint was appropriately submitted to the Director General and was in the process of being investigated confidentially as appropriate.”

The board this week approved a 4-1 resolution stating that the entity “conducted an internal investigation into the General Manager’s allegations and found no merit to them.” He also clarified that the board was terminating Walters’ employment and would abide by the terms of his latest contract, which was approved in July 2022.

Walters was given 90 days’ notice that his retirement would be effective April 24 — his contract stipulated that he would retire at the end of 2026. He would receive approximately $233,000 in wages and benefits and serve the remainder of his employment with a paid benefit. Administrative leave.

He told the board Thursday he didn’t know the move was coming.

“It caught me completely by surprise,” he said.

Walters is trying to obtain Hendrick’s personal emails, claiming the messages will support his claims that Hendrick discriminated, harassed, and retaliated against him, though specific allegations have not been made clear.

The board said Thursday that if the evidence in Walters’ Freedom of Information Act request provides evidence to support his claims, “the BLP will seek to negotiate more generous separation terms” for Walters.

Meanwhile, the whistleblower investigation is expected to be completed within the next month. The complainant, who remained anonymous, delivered approximately 200,000 emails allegedly supporting the GHBLP:

  • Conducted a coordinated attempt to destroy documents to circumvent a Freedom of Information Act request.

  • Repeated false and misleading statements by employees regarding the proposal to amend the statute to dissolve the Lebanese Labor Party.

  • An attempt was made to avoid compliance with the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

  • Pressuring employees to sign a letter to contribute funds and distributing door signs, all in opposition to the charter amendment — which would constitute a violation of state law.

A charter amendment to dissolve the GHBLP was easily rejected by voters in the November 2023 election. About 70% of the votes were against dissolving the entity.

In its decision to terminate Walters’ contract, the board said if the whistleblower accusations against Walters provided evidence that BLP was grounds for firing him under the terms of his contract, GHBLP reserved the right not to pay him benefits that were assigned to him. Receiving – all subject to a vote of the Board of Directors.

Walters told board members Thursday that there are no allegations against him in the whistleblower complaint.

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He added, “This part of the decision is incorrect.”

He said he plans to evaluate his legal options.

“This is what I wanted,” he said. “This provides me with the opportunity to challenge it appropriately – in the courts, if necessary.”

Sarah Leach is executive editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at sarah.leach@hollandsentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter@SentinelLeach.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Grand Haven fires GM amid ongoing whistleblower investigation

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