Canada

Walkerton water manager pushed out of job

Many people in Walkerton are angry over a $98,000 buyout package offered to Stan Koebel after he resigned as the town's water manager. But it now appears he may have been forced to quit.

Seven people died and more than 2,000 people got sick when E. coli contaminated the town's water system in May.

Koebel had been on compassionate leave following the water disaster. But he quit three weeks ago in exchange for a $98,000 buyout, which covers a year's salary and vacation days he's owed.

Koebel's former employer, the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission (PUC), has issued a statement to clear up the reasons behind Koebel's resignation.

Last month, the PUC sold off its electrical business. It was a sale that included a transfer of all hydro assets and employees including Koebel.

But the buyer, Westario, told the PUC that unless it got rid of Koebel, the sale was off.

The PUC offered Koebel the deal instead of firing him, which could have been grounds for a wrongful dismissal suit.

A statement by the PUC, released Wednesday, says regardless of recent revelations, Koebel had no history of misconduct or discipline problems in his 28 years of service.

Town council has delayed making a decision on whether to approve Koebel's buyout deal until after he testifies at the inquiry, which is trying to determine what happened and why it wasn't handled better.

On Wednesday, Koebel's lawyer fired several salvos at the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound health unit for the way it dealt with the outbreak and the way it laid the blame on Koebel.

Bill Trudell, Koebel's lawyer, challenged health officer David Patterson about the conversations he had in May concerning the water supply.

It was Dr. Murray McQuigge's contention at the time of the outbreak that Koebel had said the water supply was safe and secure.

But Trudell claims his client never said that.

"You find somewhere in your notes where Stan Koebel ever said to you the water is fine, or that he ever reassured you that the water was fine," Trudell said. "He never said it to you."

But Patterson said he thought he was calling the man who would know the answers to his questions about the water quality.

"The impression I had every time I talked to Stan Koebel," he said, "is that the water system was normal."

Koebel is scheduled to tell his side of the story at the inquiry next week.

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