Two farmers ousted from the Thurston Conservation District board will seek damages, their lawyer said Monday, after a judge ruled the state conservation commission’s process for dismissing them was flawed.
Shawn Newman noted the conservation commission got a one-time appropriation of $300,000 to investigate and remove his clients, Eric Johnson and Richard Mankamyer.
“I assume they will need another appropriation in that amount or more to deal with the case and any appeal,” Newman said in an email.
The commission voted to remove Johnson and Mankamyer from their unpaid positions after a one-day hearing Feb. 20. The commission concluded the two had mistreated staff members and hindered the district from operating smoothly.
Even before the hearing, Johnson and Mankamyer had sued, claiming the informal process the commission adopted violated their rights to due process. Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon ruled in their favor Friday.
Dixon left the question of attorney fees and damages for a later hearing. “Yes, we will seek damages,” Newman said.
When the judge issues a written ruling, the commission will review it and decide its next move, said Kirk Robinson, who led the commission’s investigation.
In separate interviews, Johnson and Mankamyer said they felt vindicated, but neither expressed a desire to get back on the board and resume what had been a contentious relationship with staff members and some other board members.
“I don’t feel like it would be effective at this point,” said Johnson, a dairy farmer.
Robinson’s investigation last year found grounds to remove Johnson and Mankamyer, who attributed their rift with staff members to their questioning of district spending and policies.
Johnson and Mankamyer argued that a hearing to remove them should follow rules in the state’s Administrative Procedure Act.
Hoping to save time and money, the conservation commissioners chose to hold a hearing that was guided by the public meetings law.
“We just called it a kangaroo court,” Mankamyer said.
He and Johnson said they wanted conservation districts to reform how they pick supervisors to give the elections more exposure.
Supervisors now are appointed or picked in special district-run elections that have low turnouts.
“The elections should go on the general ballot, and no appointed positions,” Mankamyer said.