Former Harrington city manager seeking 'true motive' for his termination in lawsuit against city

Amanda Parrish
Delaware News Journal

Former Harrington City Manager Don Williams is suing the city for wrongful termination after he was fired last year.

The former official said in a lawsuit filed in federal court last week that he feels his termination was a breach of his employment contract and caused "significant financial injury." The lawsuit is seeking for the termination to be voided and Williams be awarded damages "in an amount to be determined."

Williams was fired in January 2020 for failure to maintain a piece of evidence that was necessary to respond to allegations made against him by a past employee.

The former city official claims he was terminated without proper notice of the allegations made against him, and wants the City of Harrington to reveal "its true motive and reasoning" for his termination.

Ronald Poliquin, who is the attorney for Williams, said Williams has had a loss in reputation due to the allegations and said its a lawsuit seeking monetary damages.

"The city, instead of giving Mr. Williams an opportunity to respond and to rebut all the salacious allegations, they decided it would be easier to say he was terminated under the pretext of this spoliation of this tape that for months nobody said anything to Don Williams about," he said.

In a letter sent to Williams on December 18, 2019 – which is included in the lawsuit – Harrington City Council asked the former city manager to resign for deleting the recording of his meeting with former city planner Jeremy Rothwell, during which Rothwell was terminated.

The letter claims Williams was told to preserve it, which "constitutes spoliation of evidence," according to the lawsuit.

City council requested Williams' letter of resignation in December 2019, but Williams sent a letter refusing to resign. In the letter, which is included in the lawsuit, he claims he was never instructed to preserve recordings, such as the one with Rothwell.

He wrote in the letter that to ask for his resignation based on the deleted recording alone is "incomprehensible and unacceptable to me" and said he would not resign "when there are other means of obtaining the same information."

After he refused to resign, the council moved to fire him, which was upheld in a 5-1 vote during a February 2020 meeting.

MORE:Harrington city manager's firing upheld in council vote; mayor's actions scrutinized

Current city manager Daniel Tartt said the City of Harrington cannot comment on the pending litigation.

The backstory

In October 2019, Williams, along with former Harrington Mayor Anthony Moyer, were accused of civil and criminal wrongdoing by former city planner Rothwell.

Rothwell, who is now a senior planner for the town of Smyrna, was terminated by Williams in June 2019 after working with the city since December 2016.

Then-Harrington Mayor Anthony R. Moyer outside City Hall on Monday, May 15, 2017.

In an interview with Delaware Online/The News Journal from October 2019, he claimed Williams told him he was not a good fit for the role, that Rothwell wasn't getting along with Williams or the mayor, and that Rothwell had not been interpreting city code correctly. 

INVESTIGATION:Harrington mayor, city manager under investigation for civil and criminal wrongdoing

Rothwell accused the officials of multiple criminal and civil violations including "time fraud," during an October council meeting.

At the time, Williams was put on paid leave and Moyer unofficially stepped back from his duties.

The state's Public Integrity Commission formally investigated the city, but Williams was terminated before that report came out. 

The findings of the Public Integrity Commission's investigation were released in February, but only the final page of the 11-page document was released to the public.

It touched on Moyer's actions regarding a potential conflict of interest involving his property, the Quillen Building, some possible spending issues within the city and possible spending issues with Williams. 

However, no formal wrongdoing was specified in what was publicly released, and the council determined it would discuss the findings at a later meeting.

Is there an issue in Kent County that needs to be addressed or a story that needs telling? Contact Amanda Parrish at aparrish@doverpost.com.