Transfers instead of discipline for 2 workers

Staff writerMay 12, 2013 

Two Olympia parks employees were allowed to take voluntary transfers to the city’s Public Works Department last week instead of being disciplined, following a scandal in the Parks Department in which both were accused of making anti-gay comments and misusing city time or equipment.

After requesting a transfer in April, parks maintenance employee Eric Lakewold was moved to Public Works and allowed to keep his salary for “maintenance worker 2,” which is $55,851, city Human Resources Director Joe Olson said.

Lakewold had already taken a voluntary demotion from his maintenance lead position in November 2012, according to the city’s investigation into the Parks Department. That position paid $65,503 per year.

Lakewold has declined to comment.

Don Davis, another maintenance employee, asked for a transfer and a voluntary demotion from his maintenance lead position to maintenance worker 2, according to the investigation. His salary will also be reduced to $55,851 from $65,503, Olson said. Davis hasn’t returned calls seeking comment.

Olson recommended to City Manager Steve Hall it “may be an appropriate end to the matter” that the city approve Lakewold’s voluntary transfer and approve Davis’ voluntary demotion and transfer. He noted that the demotions and transfers “are somewhat consistent with the level of discipline the city may have considered.”

Hall followed Olson’s recommendations; Lakewold and Davis haven’t been disciplined and there will be no further discipline on what’s known about the matter, Hall said.

“You know, I think we’ve done a thorough job of tracing down everything we can documents and address,” he said. “I’m extremely disappointed in some of the behavior of these employees.”

Olson said the transfers happened Wednesday, which is the same day the results of his investigation were released.

‘ONE LAST CHANCE’

Hall noted that they would have a significant loss of pay and it “allows us to keep them … in positions where they can be closely supervised.”

“I guess this was in a way giving them one last chance” to improve, Hall said.

Lakewold will fill a vacant Public Works position and Davis will be given an additional temporary position in the Public Works Department until there is another vacancy, Hall said.

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 investigation centered on allegations in the letter against Parks Operations Manager Rhonda Teitzel, Waste Resources Director Dan Daniels, Lakewold and Davis, as well as 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.

Teitzel, who oversaw the parks maintenance operation, resigned March 22, a day after being placed on paid leave. In an interview with The Olympian, she admitted having an affair with Daniels in his office after a work function, as the letter alleged.

Daniels admitted the sexual encounter to the city. He was suspended without pay for two weeks, placed under a “last chance agreement,” and permanently demoted, according to the investigation. City Manager Steve Hall said Daniels’ title was changed from a director to associate director, meaning his yearly salary was dropped to $98,095 from $102,869.

Another parks employee, Lisa Hall, was involuntarily moved from the maintenance office at Priest Point Park to parks headquarters at The Olympia Center, where Steve Hall (no relation) said she could be more closely supervised and would be away from a work environment she found stressful. The investigation found that nothing in the anonymous letter about Lisa Hall had “amounted to misconduct,” but that she violated a directive not to talk with other city employees about the investigation and had been “less than truthful” to Human Resources. However, the letter said the move to another office should not be considered disciplinary.

Lisa Hall has declined to comment.

LAKEWOLD

The gay parks employee alleged in the investigation report that Lakewold commented that the employee 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?”

In the report, Lakewold admitted making the “wife” comment on two occasions, but denied making the comment about the grocery.

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.”

In an interview, Steve Hall said about the “wife” comment, “That’s not appropriate, but that’s not gay-bashing in my estimation. That’s an inappropriate comment.”

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,” Olson’s investigation report said.

The report was Olson’s recommendation to Hall, who had the final say on discipline. Hall defended his decision not to issue further discipline, even though some of the discipline was undocumented. He said there is no rule that an employee can’t be disciplined twice, but that Lakewold is a union employee and such a matter could have been brought to an arbitrator.

He also said it’s a “fairness issue” that an employee not be disciplined twice for the same things.

Hall also suggested that the actions detailed in the investigatory report could be taken into account for future discipline. “They now have a record,” he said, of “documented behavior.”

“In Eric’s case, he’s going to have to toe the line,” Hall said.

DAVIS

Like Lakewold, Davis also asked to be transferred, and that was granted.

Hall said Davis had a good record and with the transfer “I think Don will be an outstanding employee.”

Davis also faced a number of allegations from the gay employee and the anonymous letter. 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 Lisa Hall gave him and “will draw his own conclusions apart from this investigation.”

When City Manager Hall was asked why Hanna was placed in charge of investigating his own department instead of Human Resources, Hall said, “David’s not going to sweep it under the rug.” He said if Hanna finds problems, he will refer them to Human Resources. Hanna has declined to comment.

MOVING FORWARD

Hall said the results of the investigation are the end of the matter for him, unless something new comes up. He said he wasn’t “planning to go back and second-guess actions taken by supervisors” but that he was “trying to move the work unit forward.”

Even before Teitzel, Lakewold and Davis left, three other parks employees have separated with the city for various reasons since the beginning of the year, Hall said.

Hall said Jonathon Turlove, a parks planner, will replace Teitzel on an interim basis.

Olson said the city would hire replacements for Teitzel, Lakewold and Davis.

Meanwhile, the city has decided to contract out much of its seasonal parks labor to a private company, Northwest Landscaping Services.

Hall said the city is also looking into why the situation happened and what lessons the city can learn from it. He said there was a breakdown in leadership.

“There were some serious issues that weren’t dealt with for quite a while out there,” he said.

“I’m really unhappy we didn’t know things earlier.”

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

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service