Parks manager leaves after letter lists allegations

Anonymous author claims discrimination, inappropriate sexual behavior with Olympia Waste Resources director

Staff writerMay 5, 2013 

Olympia’s parks operations director resigned, and the city’s Waste Resources director was placed on paid leave, after the city’s human resources department received an anonymous letter in March alleging improper sexual behavior, sexual harassment, discrimination and misuse of city time and equipment, primarily in the parks department.

Rhonda Teitzel, who oversaw the parks maintenance staff, resigned March 22, a day after being placed on paid investigatory suspension leave. Dan Daniels, who heads the city’s garbage and recycling collection, was placed on paid leave for five days, from March 25-29.

In an interview with The Olympian, Teitzel denied most of the allegations in the letter but said she had a sexual encounter with Daniels in his office 31/2 years ago. Daniels did not return a call seeking comment.

City human resources associate director Joe Olson said the city continues to investigate allegations made in the letter dated March 15 and signed “City of Olympia Parks Staff.” He said he received the letter March 18.

The city has substantiated some of the allegations in the letter, Olson said, but declined to give details, citing the ongoing investigation.

“I think there were very serious allegations made in the letter and we’ve taken them very seriously,” he said.

Olson said he would reserve his comments until after the investigation is finished, which he said he anticipates will be by Wednesday.

Olson would not say whether any other disciplinary actions have been taken other than suspending Teitzel and Daniels, with pay, which were revealed through a public records request from The Olympian. He said he couldn’t say whether any employees were suspended without pay, saying that was related to the investigation.

City Manager Steve Hall referred specific questions about the letter to Olson.

“We have to treat them as if everything in there might be true, but also as if everything in there might be false,” he said.

THE LETTER

The March 15 letter, addressed to Olson, asks for him to “launch an investigation into the misconduct, sexual harassment and discrimination that is happening within the Parks Maintenance Department. … There are several employees currently employed and past that have endured mistreatment, harassment and blatant discrimination.”

The letter says that “we have not gone to (Parks Director Linda Oestreich) and (Associate Parks Director David Hanna) because we do not feel they would be supportive and would sweep it under the carpet. They seem to turn a blind eye to (Teitzel) for some reason.”

Oestreich did not return a phone call seeking comment. Hanna declined to comment.

In the letter, Teitzel, who was a city employee for 13 years, is accused of many things, including inappropriate sexual activity and explicit talk at work, disclosing confidential employee information, allowing personal activities on city time and personal use of city equipment.

Teitzel said she resigned rather than fight the allegations because of the encounter with Daniels and because she didn’t want to divide the parks department.

“I don’t know what else to say,” she said. “I was tired. I mean, I was fighting an uphill battle with trying to keep people happy, trying to get work done, you know, meeting the expectations of the public. I just, I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Teitzel suggested the letter was sent in retaliation from a former employee whose position was eliminated in recent budget cuts. Over the past several years, Teitzel’s maintenance operation was reduced from 21 full-time employees and about 30 seasonal employees to 19 full-time employees and five seasonal employees, she said. Other employees had their hours changed to work weekends.

“There were some changes with some employees that they were not happy with and unfortunately they were basically changes out of my control but, you know, it was assumed that I made the decisions,” she said.

“They kind of saw it as I was picking on them and I wasn’t.”

‘COMPLETE DISREGARD’

The letter paints Teitzel as someone who talked openly about personal relationships and personnel matters, and had favorite employees who got away with improper conduct, while she put “a target” on the back of another employee she wanted to fire.

It says Teitzel “openly talks about other employees with complete disregard to their feelings or that others might hear her talking about it.”

For example, the letter claims that Teitzel “freely discussed wanting to terminate” a former city maintenance worker, mentioning several times that she thought the worker was “crazy.” The letter suggests that the worker was targeted.

Teitzel said “maybe somebody heard something through the walls or through the door” and that she might have referred to her behavior and the other worker sometimes as “nuts.”

The letter says that Teitzel openly talked about her sex life, which Teitzel denies. “Rhonda also touches other employees inappropriately in front of us,” naming a male worker.

Teitzel said “it depends on what people call ‘inappropriately.’” She said she never touched the male worker sexually, but “if anyone on the crew had a bad day, … I’d give them a hug maybe or put my arm around them.”

The letter alleges Teitzel allowed one male employee to do “his personal laundry at work, he dumps his garbage at work and he stays after hours to conduct personal business on the city computer.” It also alleges that he took home city equipment for personal use.

“Rhonda was made aware of this and photos were taken but nothing was done,” the letter says.

“When other staff needed the equipment (the employee) sent out several employees to ‘look’ for the equipment for hours while he went home on city time to get it, as if no one would notice.”

Teitzel said it’s not true that nothing was done. “He was disciplined for each and every one of these things to the level that I thought needed to be disciplined and also for what I could substantiate as a complaint against him.”

The letter accuses Teitzel of favorable treatment toward some employees, naming one male maintenance employee who “has missed a lot of work over the years especially the last couple of years.”

For example, it said she once took much of a day off to go to Seattle to look for a car with the male worker. “They were gone for most of the day, about six hours but only claimed two hours on their timesheet.”

Teitzel said that wasn’t true; her time was reported correctly.

She said she erred by becoming too close to employees she supervised.

“Like I say, I was friends, friendly with everyone there, and that presents a problem as a manager because when you have to talk to someone about, you know, something that they need to improve on or whatever, it’s all of a sudden you’re, you know, you’re cranky, you’re upset,” she said.

“You know, and that’s the problem. I cared too much about my crew. I made myself one of the crew instead of a manager of the crew.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com

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