Pulaski County Commissioners, the county auditor and county attorney have 90 days to answer a notice of tort claim signed late Wednesday by former highway superintendent Kenny Becker.
The notice contends he has been damaged in the sum of $500,000 by their actions, which began with his Jan. 22 suspension with pay after unspecified accusations of wrongdoing. Becker immediately retained Valparaiso attorney Steven Bush, who sent a letter to county attorney Kevin Tankersley on Feb. 1 asking for the allegations against his client and the names of his accusers. Tankersley refused, and three days later Becker was demoted to the position of “county highway manager” during a commissioners meeting. Bush was there and was told by Tankersley that he could not question the commissioners.
“It is clear by the way in which the entire situation was handled that Tracey Shorter, Larry Brady, Shelia Garling and Kevin Tankersley conspired together to damage the reputation and name of Kenneth Becker by leaving a cloud of suspicion with the public as to what acts or misdeeds may or may not have been committed by Kenneth Becker to justify his demotion; by suggesting criminal activity in the form of infractions, and by jointly refusing to provide any information whatsoever regarding the allegations, accusations and accusers;” the complaint reads. It also contends that Becker’s name, reputation and character were slandered and his civil and constitutional rights were violated by the refusal to provide him the names of his accusers, what their accusations were and what proof they had as to those accusations.
Becker was subsequently fired during a Feb. 25 executive session. The disciplinary action form completed by the commissioners indicated he was guilty of “dishonest action” and “making false statements concerning the commissioners” according to the complaint. It also indicated Becker’s actions were malicious. The statements were made in the presence of outside consultant Paula Reimers, according to the complaint, which cites them as causing further damage to Becker’s reputation. She is with the Muncie-based firm Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele and Associates and worked with county officials to draft the employee policy handbook they adopted last year. Reimers was also retained to conduct an investigation following Becker’s Jan. 22 suspension. That service cost the county $4,468.60, according to the complaint.
It also notes that a formal complaint has been lodged with the Indiana Public Access Counselor. If the county is found to have violated open door laws, Becker will have further claim for his attorney fees.
The county will have 90 days from receipt of the claim to answer the allegations. Bush has indicated he will pursue a lawsuit against them if they fail to answer to his satisfaction.