Lakeway MUD chief was de­famed by board mem­ber, jury de­cides

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Suzan­nah Gon­za­les

A Travis County jury awarded $91,000 in dam­ages to the head of the Lakeway Mu­nic­i­pal Util­ity District, find­ing that a district board mem­ber ma­li­ciously spread a pair of false state­ments that de­famed him.

The jury found that board mem­ber Kay An­drews did not act in good faith or within the scope of her author­ity when she stated that Gen­eral Man­ager Richard Ea­son “gives him­self raises” and that he was tak­ing kick­backs from an ir­ri­ga­tion au­di­tor, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

“I feel vindi­cated,” Ea­son said of the jury’s ver­dict, is­sued June 25. “The state­ments make peo­ple ques­tion my in­tegrity. … This was al­ways about restor­ing my rep­u­ta­tion.”

The jury did not agree that An­drews made two other false state­ments about Ea­son.

“It’s sig­nif­i­cant that the jury re­jected two of those claims,” An­drews’ lawyer, Joanna Sali­nas, said. An­drews de­clined to com­ment.

The jury awarded Ea­son $20,000 for loss of rep­u­ta­tion and $70,000 for mental anguish, as well as $1,000 in puni­tive dam­ages.

Sali­nas said both a home­own­ers in­surance car­rier and the Texas Mu­nic­i­pal League In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Risk Pool are cur­rently de­ter­min­ing whether and how much of the jury award is cov­ered by their poli­cies.

Board Pres­i­dent Karl Ans- bach said he an­tic­i­pates that the district will pay a $2,500 de­ductible with the Texas Mu­nic­i­pal League pol­icy.

A judge has yet to en­ter a judg­ment on the case.

Ea­son sub­mit­ted a res­ig­na­tion let­ter June 18 that was con­di­tioned on a severance agree­ment, Ans­bach said. The agree­ment in­cludes a mon­e­tary amount to be de­cided by the board, he said.

Ea­son’s con­tract al­lows him to re­sign his po­si­tion with 30 days’ no­tice, but with no severance com­pen­sa­tion. Ans­bach said the res­ig­na­tion let­ter is un­der re­view by a lawyer hired by the district.

Aside from the $2,500 de­ductible and pos­si­ble severance, the district will pay le­gal fees, Ans­bach said. “I do not an­tici- pate that our cus­tomers will ex­pe­ri­ence any rate in­creases as­so­ci­ated with these is­sues,” he said in a news re­lease.

Ans­bach said Ea­son has ac­cepted em­ploy­ment with a govern­ment en­tity in the Cay­man Is­lands.

The district, which has 21 em­ploy­ees, owns and op­er­ates one wa­ter plant, two booster pump sta­tions, three wa­ter tow­ers, 70 miles of wa­ter lines, 39 miles of waste­water col­lec­tion lines with 21 pump­ing sta­tions, two waste­water re­cy­cling plants and a wa­ter re­cy­cling sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to Ea­son.

Ea­son has served as the district’s gen­eral man­ager for 17 years, and the district re­cently won an award for bud­get and fi­nan­cial trans­parency from the Texas comptroller’s of­fice.

An­drews has been a board mem­ber since May 2004 and cur­rently serves as the board’s sec­re­tary/trea­surer. Her term ex­pires May 2012, the district’s web­site says.

The law­suit said the board did not au­tho­rize An­drews to make the state­ments and re­quested that An­drews stop de­fam­ing Ea­son. In ad­di­tion, the suit said the board found that An­drews vi­o­lated her du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a board mem­ber.

For­mer board Pres­i­dent Tom Rogers said pre­vi­ously that the board took those ac­tions. He called An­drews’ state­ments “un­sup­ported.”

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