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City approves $75,000 settlement to former city employee who sought whistleblower protection

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published December 23, 2019

 Ryan Wolf

Ryan Wolf

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TROY — The City Council approved an amended $75,000 settlement agreement with a former Troy city employee who was fired on June 11, 2018.

Ryan Wolf, 40, a research technology administrator, asserted that his termination was retaliation for providing video footage of inside City Hall to former City Manager Brian Kischnick. He said that Kischnick requested the footage just before Kischnick was fired.

Wolf had worked in the Troy Police Department and is a volunteer firefighter with the rank of lieutenant. He filed suit for wrongful termination seeking damages of over $25,000 in Oakland County Circuit Court on July 12, 2018.

In 2013, the Michigan Chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials — International awarded Wolf the Information Technologist of the Year award, and he was selected as the Firefighter of the Year the same year. Wolf has also received numerous other awards as a firefighter.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm told the Troy City Council at its Dec. 16 meeting that a trial date was set for Jan. 9.

“This is in no way an admission of liability,” she told the council. “It’s a business decision.”

The council voted 5-2 to approve the settlement agreement, already signed by Wolf. Mayor Ethan Baker and Councilwoman Edna Abrahim opposed it.

“This is part of the process, essentially, to clean up what we’ve had to clean up since the removal of Brian Kischnick,” said Councilwoman Ellen Hodorek.

“While I greatly value and respect the recommendations of the city attorney and the views of my fellow council members, I could not in good conscience vote in favor of the settlement in the Ryan Wolf case,” Baker said via email. “Our residents are demanding transparency, and while this settlement likely makes sense from a pure fiduciary standpoint, I am concerned the underlying allegations of this lawsuit will never be litigated and brought to light. It’s really unfortunate that the city of Troy is still paying for Brian Kischnick’s problematic time as city manager. We must, however, do all the necessary cleanup, as council member Hodorek stated, so we can move forward in a positive and healthy manner. Hopefully, this will be a step in the right direction.”

In a memo to the Troy City Council dated July 17, 2018, Grigg Bluhm explained that Wolf had asserted that “Kischnick’s request for his assistance was on March 1, 2018, and Kischnick allegedly instructed Wolf not to tell anyone else about his work and his involvement, which was characterized as an Open Meetings (Act) investigation. … Wolf then covertly accessed the city’s restricted closed circuit TV security camera system, even though he was not authorized. … City Council terminated Brian Kischnick (on March 11, 2018) and access to the city’s system was immediately restricted. Four days later, Ryan Wolf came forward to his supervisor since he knew the city was investigating unauthorized access to the system. Based on his experience, Ryan Wolf would have known that any access would have been documented.

“Under Michigan law, if an employee is penalized or harmed because they are alerting authorities to wrongful conduct or threaten to do so, then they are able to seek recourse in the courts as a whistleblower. For example, if Ryan Wolf was penalized by refusing to do the work requested by ex-City Manager Brian Kischnick, this may give rise to a whistleblower cause of action. … City administration is not aware of any violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Grigg Bluhm stated in the memo.

 

Wolf’s attorney weighs in
Wolf’s attorney, Angela Mannarino, told C & G Newspapers in July 2018 that Wolfe was not given a reason for his termination.

“Brian was his boss. He participated in his investigation in the scope of his employment. What the violation was, I don’t know,” she said in July 2018.

Mannarino told C & G Newspapers Oct. 14 that Wolf didn’t want to agree to the terms of the previous settlement that would have limited his IT access only to the fire station he is assigned to, because he needs access to other stations in his supervisory and training roles as a lieutenant.

She said that accepting the settlement terms would have “effectively removed him from the Fire Department. He’s been with the Fire Department many years. It’s something that’s important to him. He wanted to be treated the same as other firefighters in his department. ”

She explained that Wolf currently has IT access to systems throughout the city. “Typically, an employee terminated in one capacity is not still with the Fire Department,” she said, adding that he has eight to nine years before he may collect a retirement pension with the Troy Fire Department.

Mannarino could not be reached for further comment.

The approved settlement stipulates that no later than 21 days after the agreement is executed, the Troy fire chief shall provide a letter to Wolf confirming that Wolf has access to the Fire Department online/IT information necessary for him to fulfill his duties as lieutenant in his position as a volunteer firefighter. Wolf had seven days from Dec. 11, the day he signed it, in which to revoke it.

Also, the settlement alters Wolf’s previous termination status to resignation, states that the city would provide a neutral job reference, and Wolf will retain any retirement benefits from his employment and with the Fire Department. The proposed settlement states that the city would not employ Wolf if he applies for a staff position with the Troy Fire Department.

Kischnick came under scrutiny in July 2016 for issues involving a car accident with a city vehicle, as well as questionable moves involving a vendor, the purchase of phone accessories and the city manager’s car allowance.

He was fired in March 2018 after he was charged with domestic assault, to which he pleaded no contest.

Kischnick was sentenced to serve 30 months in prison and two years of probation after he pleaded guilty to bribery in August 2018.

He was ordered to pay $4,500 in restitution.

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