Whatcom County Council forms investigative committee on sexual harassment complaints


Whatcom County Council formed a three-member investigative committee to formally review how the county handles sexual harassment claims and legal payouts during its committee of the whole meeting on May 7.

Councilmembers Ben Elenbaas, Todd Donovan and council chair Barry Buchanan were confirmed as members of the committee after self nominations and a full-council vote. Councilmember Mark Stremler, who previously worked for the Whatcom County Public Works Department, also expressed interest in joining the committee.

The committee was created in response to a April 19 Cascade PBS investigative article that revealed former public works director Jon Hutchings had sexually harassed a female employee for more than two years, and had made sexual comments to other female employees.

The article also revealed that a county employee had received a $225,000 settlement without informing county council and that county executive Satpal Sidhu and deputy executive Tyler Schroeder had signed a highly complimentary “letter of introduction” in January 2023 for Hutchings, which presumably helped him get hired to his current position as Lynden’s public works director.

On April 24, the Whatcom Democrats executive board issued a letter publicly calling for Sidhu’s resignation. On April 30, after initially defending his introduction letter, Sidhu issued a letter to council calling his recommendation of Hutchings “inappropriate and misguided.”

Sidhu was in attendance as county council formed the investigative committee, and told the council he would fully comply with the investigation.

“I welcome the council to form this committee and you will have full cooperation from me, my office, [and] my records in every way,” Sidhu said. “From the executive side, you will get full cooperation.”

Councilmember Kaylee Galloway suggested the county hire outside counsel to have a third-party investigation,  rather than deputy prosecutor George Roche, who worked for county Human Resources and handled the Hutchings’ incident.

Council member Elenbaas urged for the committee to help the county become a safer place for its employees, and not be used for political reasons.

“I’m really interested in an outcome where all of our employees feel like they can engage in the system and the process to arrive at an outcome that isn’t going to turn into political sideshow,” Elenbaas said.

The investigative committee’s first meeting was tentatively scheduled for Friday, May 10.


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