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Most of his employees have filed complaints about John Hutzler's workplace behavior, records show.

COURTESY PHOTO: HUTZLER FOR AUDITOR - John HutzlerJohn Hutzler was elected the Washington County auditor in 2010. In that time, he's had seven employees. Five of them, KOIN 6 News learned, accused him of creating a work environment of high stress and micromanagement and reduced some employees to tears.

In both investigations, Washington County ruled his actions did not amount to a hostile work environment. But all five employees were transferred out of his supervision.

The job of auditor in Washington County — and many places — is the least high-profile elected position. The auditor evaluates whether county programs are done efficiently and effectively.

Hutzler has previously said, "We are your eyes and ears in county government."

But within his office, all three current employees accuse him of mistreatment in a February Washington County Human Resources report obtained by KOIN 6 News through a public records request.

KOIN 6 News also obtained emails.

Hutzler wrote to one employee, "I hope you will accept my apologies for how I have expressed my concern…"

To another, he wrote, "I am dismayed and sincerely sorry that anything I have said or done has brought you close to tears…"

When asked about his current employees asking the county to investigate their treatment, Hutzler said it was a combination of factors.

"None of these employees had been with me long, two of them less than three months when COVID hit and we'd not yet really had the opportunity to get to know one another and gel as a team, before we began working exclusively remotely," Hutzler said.

Those three new employees joined Hutzler's staff in 2019 and 2020 because his two previous employees had also filed complaints against him. They were ultimately transferred to other county agencies in 2019.

Multiple sources told KOIN 6 News those employees accused Hutzler of behavior that is bullying, aggressive, and sometimes feels like a "hostile work environment."

In one of the emails obtained by KOIN 6 News an employee asked a county administrator in 2018, "What should we do if John does things like he has in the past or if we feel he is retaliating?"

But Washington County officials denied a KOIN 6 News request for a copy of the first investigation, which was done by an outside law firm.

"As I explained," Hutzler said, "I'm not prepared to discuss the prior report because the county has asserted attorney-client privilege in regard to that report."

But asked if voters should care that five of seven employees filed complaints against the way he treated them, Hutzler dismissed that view.

"I don't agree with your characterization that these are complaints against me," he said. "Employees are entitled to bring concerns to HR and HR seeks to assist employers and employees, managers, and employees in resolving problems that may arise in the workplace."

He also disagreed with the premise that five out of seven is a high ratio.

"I don't know. Do you have statistics?"

In both investigations, Washington County cleared Hutzler.

In the latest report, Washington County officials wrote: "…the Human Resources Division did not find harassment, a hostile work environment, or intentional acts of bullying or intimidation has occurred between Mr. Hutzler and his staff auditors. However, the Auditor must address the concerns brought forth by his staff and create a more positive work environment."

At a February meeting, county commissioners voted to move Hutzler's three current employees to the supervision of the county attorney. Officially, the county said it moved the employees from Hutzler's supervision to "preserve the integrity of the auditor's office."

Hutzler is running for re-election in May. One of his three current employees is challenging him for the job.

A memorandum obtained by KOIN 6 News states: "It is also important that all office employees be able to participate freely in the electoral process without fear of claim of retaliation."

"I can't dispute their feelings," Hutzler said. "All I can tell you is that I had no intention to intimidate anyone. And the findings of the report were that there was no violation of law or county policy. There was no intimidation or harassment involved."

Documents obtained by KOIN 6 News show Hutzler agreed to the county's recommendation he work with an outside coach on his management style.

KOIN 6 News also tried to talk with the five employees who complained about their treatment. But only one of them, Fiona Howell Earle, agreed to talk. Read her full statement on the website of KOIN 6 News.

Editor's note: This story originally appeared on the website of KOIN 6 News, Pamplin Media Group's news partner.


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