Special Reports

Walton fires HR director

City Manager Jim Walton fired Tacoma's human resources director Phil Knudsen on Thursday, four months after he placed him on paid administrative leave while looking into allegations that Knudsen improperly tried to interfere with hiring and promotion decisions.

Walton gave as reasons the results of two separate investigations of alleged misconduct by Knudsen, as well as his long-held concerns regarding Knudsen's character, integrity and commitment to "cultural competence."

He denied the decision had anything to do with Knudsen's role in a high-profile dispute last year with the city's legal department that stemmed from the David Brame scandal, or that it came as the result of pressure from City Council members, including some who made it plain they didn't like Knudsen.

"I had concerns long before Brame," Walton said, referring to the Tacoma police chief who fatally shot his wife and himself April 26, 2003.

Walton said he holds city department heads to the "highest possible standards," and added that Knudsen's conduct in the two matters was "unacceptable."

He named acting human resources director Woodrow E. Jones Jr. as Knudsen's permanent replacement. Jones, who spent 25 years working for the City of Tacoma in various capacities, came out of retirement to fill in after Knudsen was placed on leave.

"I am confident as long as I'm in this position, he's the kind of person I want in that position," Walton said. "I trust him."

Knudsen, who has been on paid administrative leave since Feb. 26, said he wasn't surprised Walton fired him.

But he disputed the charges of misconduct and reiterated his belief that Walton is retaliating against him for refusing to back off his claim that he and his top assistant, Mary Brown, advocated pulling Brame's gun and badge during a meeting with the city's two top attorneys the day before Brame fatally shot his wife and himself.

He noted that the incidents the city relied upon for his dismissal occurred almost 18 months apart, and he said he didn't violate any city policy in either case.

In the first claim, city officials say Knudsen improperly ordered a subordinate to change the "pass point" on a civil service examination to allow an employee to keep her position.

Knudsen said the civil service testing was unfair and that he was trying to act responsibly by correcting it.

In the second claim, officials say Knudsen improperly tried to influence the hiring process by telling someone on a job interview panel that he didn't want a candidate to make it to the final round of consideration.

Knudsen said he was acting "appropriately" when he discussed the candidate with a member of an interview panel.

He didn't rule out legal action, saying "I intend to take all appropriate action to vindicate myself."

Knudsen, 55, is the first top official fired in Tacoma since the City Council voted to terminate City Manager Ray Corpuz last July, but his departure reflects a larger turnover of key city staff since the Brame shootings.

Juli Wilkerson, the former head of the city's economic development department, left in January to become the head of the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.

And Robin Jenkinson, the city attorney who disputed Knudsen's claim that he and Brown wanted to pull Brame's gun and badge, quit last month to become the city attorney in Kirkland.

Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542