Montesano employee fired after theft investigation

by: Richard Thompson Updated:

Russ Burke

Montesano, Wash. - Montesano Mayor Ken Estes fired Public Works Supervisor Russ Burke on Monday for refusing to say what happened to hundreds of gallons of missing paint that had been purchased to stripe city roads. "He ordered out paint in September long after we were done painting and we never used any that year and it disappeared by the next year," said Estes regarding some of the missing paint.

A four-month investigation conducted by the Hoquiam police department on behalf of the city of Montesano revealed from 2007 to 2009 the city used approximately 125 gallons of paint and thinner per year. However the investigation shows after Russ Burke began his own personal business of painting parking lot stripes, the city's purchases of paint and thinner increased to 210 gallons per year even though the city did have any additional streets in need of painting.

Burke was responsible for purchasing paint for the city and according to the investigation 205 gallons of road paint are now missing. The mayor told KIRO-7 "I cannot put his (Burke's) fingerprints on it but no one else uses it. You can't paint your house with it." The police investigation shows Burke also had the city sell a $6,000 road paint sprayer as surplus for just $25. The machine was sold to a man connected to Burke's painting business. "It ultimately wound back with Burke," said the mayor.

KIRO-7 South Sound Reporter Richard Thompson went to Russ Burke's business run out of his Montesano home to try to get his side of the story. Burke said, "My attorney advised to not comment, of course, so that's where I'm going to leave it." When pressed by Thompson to at least explain what he knew about the missing paint, Burke replied "I'm not gonna comment. It will all come out."

Grays Harbor county prosecutors decided there is not enough evidence to charge Burke with theft in this case but the mayor tells KIRO-7 he remains suspicious of Burke's behavior and believes Burke violated the trust of taxpayers. "He's required to do the best he can for his community not take what he needs," said Estes. The mayor told KIRO-7 he is limited in what he can say about the situation at the moment because Russ Burke has now filed a $400,000 claim against the city alleging he has been the victim of a hostile work environment.