City workers disciplined or transferred after parks inquiry

Anonymous letter had reported improper behavior, discrimination

Staff writerMay 9, 2013 

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Roberta Woods of Olympia (lower left) clears ivy from alongside Ellis Cove Trail as Kathy Gore-Fuss walks her dogs through Priest Point Park in Olympia. (TONY OVERMAN/Staff photographer)

TONY OVERMAN — The Olympian Buy Photo

Olympia’s Waste Resources Director Dan Daniels was given a two-week suspension without pay, and three parks employees have been or could be transferred to other city positions in the wake of the city’s investigation into its parks maintenance operation, the results of which the city released to The Olympian on Wednesday afternoon.

City Human Resources associate director Joe Olson began investigating after receiving an anonymous letter March 18 signed by “City of Olympia Parks Staff,” alleging improper sexual behavior, sexual harassment, discrimination, and misuse of city time and equipment, primarily in the Parks Department.

The city’s parks operations manager, Rhonda Teitzel, resigned in March, a day after being placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation. In an interview with The Olympian, Teitzel said she quit because she had a sexual encounter with Daniels in his office after a city function (as the letter alleges) and because she didn’t want to divide the Parks Department. She denied most of the other allegations about her in the letter.

Investigators found that Teitzel lied to Human Resources when she said the sexual encounter between her and Daniels did not take place on city property and when she said she had not talked to a city employee about the investigation. She was ordered not to talk about it.

Daniels “admitted to the misconduct with Rhonda” mentioned in the letter, according to the city’s investigation. In addition to the two-week suspension, Daniels was placed under a “last chance agreement” and was permanently demoted, though the investigation does not mention the nature of the demotion.

Olson did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon. Daniels, who works for the city’s Public Works Department, did not return a phone message left at his home.

Two other parks employees have sought transfers to other departments, and one was moved to another office.

Don Davis, a parks maintenance employee, submitted a request for a voluntary demotion and transfer in April. The nature of the demotion or where he would transfer was unclear. Davis didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Eric Lakewold, a parks maintenance worker, indicated that he was going to ask for a transfer from the Parks Department, and he previously asked for a demotion from his “lead position” in November, according to the report. The nature of the demotion or where he would transfer is unclear. Lakewold declined to comment, referring all comment to his attorney, Steve Bean. Bean could not be reached Wednesday night.

The investigation report said the voluntary transfers are “somewhat consistent with the level of discipline that the city may have considered” and “may be an appropriate end to the matter.”

Another parks employee, Lisa Hall, was transferred from the parks maintenance office to Parks Department headquarters at The Olympia Center after telling Human Resources that the environment at the maintenance center is “stressful” and “unhealthy” and had created health issues for her, according to the investigation. The transfer “would not be a disciplinary action,” the report said. Hall declined to comment.

In addition to allegations made against the parks employees, investigators found that Davis and Hall had violated a directive not to talk about the situation with other city employees.

“It was also obvious that the working situation at the maintenance center between Don (Davis), Lisa (Hall) and Eric (Lakewold) is extremely bad and volatile and that their relationship creates a dysfunctional work unit,” the investigation states.

The investigation centered on allegations in the letter against Teitzel, Daniels, Lakewold and Davis and allegations made by a parks employee who came forward during the investigation. The male employee alleged that he had been harassed and discriminated against by Teitzel, Lakewold and Davis because he is gay.

But the investigation found that “there was no direct evidence that anything they had done was because of his sexual orientation.”

LAKEWOLD

The gay parks employee alleged in the investigation report that Lakewold commented that he would “make someone a good wife someday — not that there’s anything wrong with THAT.” He said that Lakewold confronted him at work after seeing him with his male partner at a grocery store, followed him when he left work and commented at work about the appearance of his yard, which he took to mean that Lakewold “kept an eye on him.” He also accused Lakewold of taking overtime work away from him.

The investigation found that Teitzel gave Lakewold an oral warning for the “wife” comment and for saying to the gay man, after seeing him at the grocery with another man, “Let me get this clear, did I see what I think I saw?” Lakewold admitted making the “wife” comment on two occasions but denied making the comment about the grocery, in the report.

Teitzel documented the oral warning in a memo that said that it “shall not be placed in your official personnel file.” The memo said that Teitzel required Lakewold to attend training on “Harassment Prevention in the Workplace.”

Lakewold maintained that he didn’t know what the man’s sexual orientation was, though he had “heard rumors.”

The anonymous letter claimed that Teitzel allowed Lakewold 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 claimed that he took home city equipment for personal use. In an interview with The Olympian, Teitzel maintained that Lakewold was disciplined for the complaints that she could substantiate.

Lakewold stated during the investigation that Teitzel had orally reprimanded him for “misuse of City equipment, misuse of City time and all of the other issues raised in the letter.”

The investigation found that the reprimands were undocumented. But the city can’t issue further discipline for an action that has already happened, “whether Rhonda’s discipline was appropriate or not,” the investigation report said.

“Since Rhonda has resigned, she cannot be held accountable for her poor disciplinary decisions regarding Eric” Lakewold.

DAVIS

The gay employee told investigators he complained to Davis about Lakewold’s actions, but that he felt ignored. Davis said the gay man did not document his complaint, and Davis didn’t follow up with the man because “he did not think it was a big deal,” according to the investigation. Davis also denied knowing the man was gay.

The gay man also said Davis told him he was an “ungrateful employee,” instructed another employee not to talk to him and said the gay man could work weekends because “no one will miss you,” which is “insinuating that (the man) doesn’t have a family,” the report said.

Davis admitted he said something to the man about being “spoiled or ungrateful” but explained that it was in response to the man indicating that he felt unappreciated for work he had done.

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

It said Teitzel and Davis took much of a day off to go to Seattle to look for a car. “They were gone for most of the day, about six hours, but only claimed two hours on their time sheet.”

According to the report, Teitzel told Human Resources that she received permission from associate parks director David Hanna to go to Seattle to look at the car.

But Hall said that the two “were gone longer than the 3-4 hours they claimed,” the investigation states. Davis denied that he had “intentionally falsified any time sheet,” the investigation says, and it adds that “there does not appear to be enough substantiation for a finding of misconduct.”

The report said that Hanna is reviewing time sheets that Hall gave him and “will draw his own conclusions apart from this investigation.”

HALL

The investigation found that nothing in the anonymous letter about Hall “amounted to misconduct on her part.” But the investigation found that she “violated the directive not to talk with other City employees about her interview or the investigation. She also admitted that she had been less than totally truthful with HR in her original interview in an attempt to protect Don.”

Hall was moved to The Olympia Center, “where she is away from the environment at the maintenance center that she admittedly finds very ‘stressful’ and ‘unhealthy.’” However, “disciplinary action up to and including termination may have been considered for her misconduct.”

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