A civil lawsuit filed March 1 claims that while Barton County administrator, Richard Boeckman harassed Robin Rziha, a nurse and Pawnee County health administrator. Rziha filed the suit in Barton County District Court seeking $75,000 in damages and a jury trial.
However, in his answer filed Tuesday, Boeckman contends any interaction between the two was consensual. And, he further contends he repeatedly asked Rziha to stop trying to contact him.
When reached Friday, Barton County Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said commissioners couldn’t comment since this is an on-going case.
In her petition, Rziha alleges the two first met in February 2016 at a community meeting on mental health and substance abuse disorder. But, it was on a subsequent encounter when the problem started.
This was on March 22, 2016, at the Barton County Communications Center in Great Bend “in a professional capacity.” The petition goes on to read the two were sitting in an office at the center when Boeckman got up and ran his fingers through Rziha’s hair. When she tried to leave, Boeckman closed the office door and forcefully grabbed Rziha “as if to hug her,” put is lips on her lips and “attempted to stick his tongue into Plaintiff’s mouth.”
After that meeting, Rziha alleges Boeckman “engaged in a malicious and outrageous pattern of conduct toward Plaintiff.” This included telling her he thought her husband was cheating on her, telling her he loved her and had dreams about her, telling her his wife heard he was having an affair with Rziha, and that he knew Pawnee County commissioners and could get her fired.
Rziha said she suffered “severe emotional distress” as a result, including panic attacks and is receiving ongoing treatment because of Boeckman’s actions.
Boeckman conceded the two had met on several occasions, including at the February 2016 community meeting. However, he denies they “met in a professional capacity at the Barton County 911 Center” and any allegations stemming from that supposed encounter, as well as the alleged “outrageous” behavior.
Boeckman maintains when Rziha realized he was the county administrator, she mentioned she was having issues with the Pawnee County Clerk relating to how the Clerk was dealing with Pawnee County Health Department budgeting and other financial issues. Plaintiff asked the Defendant to review the Pawnee County Health Department finances and help if possible and Boeckman agreed to do so.
Thereafter, they met in his office in the Barton County Courthouse on two to four occasions. The first time Plaintiff brought a copy of the Health Department budget and other financial information. She complained the clerk was managing the Health Department in a manner that she never had a clear idea of her finances and left the information with Boeckman to review.
During subsequent meetings, Boeckman said he made various suggestions. Those suggestions included talking to the Pawnee County Commissioners about the issues with the clerk and changing some of the county procedures.
He said she sent him a number of emails in which she was very critical of the Pawnee County clerk and the manner in which the clerk handled the Health Department budget and finances.
However, he contends, over time, the emails “became less concerned with finance issues and became more personal and flirtatious.” She also shared many personal issues with Boeckman. There are various emails which dealt with issues Rziha was having with her personal and professional life.
Furthermore, Boeckman specifically alleges that any contact between he and Rziha was consensual. Through numerous emails and phone calls, she never negatively commented concerning their meeting on March 22, 2016.
Boeckman also alleges he told Rziha to stop communicating with him by both email and phone. But, she continued anyway, he maintains.
Boeckman resigned as county administrator via letter last October. He was awarded a $27,500 buyout.
His resignation followed a string of contentious County Commission meetings and closed sessions that dated back to last February. In addition, there was a Kansas Bureau of Investigation probe investigation started Oct. 27 following a request from Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir.
Barton County Commissioner Don Davis, who was chairman of the Barton County Commission at the time, confirmed in December Bellendir had looked into potentially criminal activity on the part of former County Administrator Richard Boeckman and thought it best to contact the KBI as an outside investigator.
A letter from former county employee Steve Barger alleged Boeckman created a hostile work environment, but Davis said in December there was another instance where Boeckman’s actions could have, or may still, lead to charges being filed.
As for the KBI investigation, the results are unknown. The Great Bend Tribune contacted the KBI Friday, but was unable to reach the agency’s communications officer who was the designated contact for information.
Boeckman served as the county counselor and administrator. The commission voted to not fill the administrator’s position, and instead contract with Ellsworth attorney Carey Hipp as counselor.