I still can't see why Richard J. Seeberger should be Chief of Staff in the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Department. He's never been a cop or a deputy. He has a few semesters of college. If he has unique or magical “leadership” secrets to impart to our deputies, he could be a temporary consultant.
Sheriff Todd Garrison says Seeberger doesn't command anyone; but when every soul in the department knows Seeberger has extraordinary control over Garrison, Seeberger commands them. Questions I asked Garison in a meeting often got answered by Seeberger. When Garrison started to answer, Seeberger often interrupted and answered for him. Nor was my experience unique.
Why Garrison genuflects to Seeberger isn't clear. He and the County hired Seeberger without normal background checks – or he pressed HR to ignore that background.
Garrison says Seeberger can re-focus the department and instill “leadership” and communication skills Garrison has long wanted to instill. Others guess maybe Garrison has, or has been led to believe he has, a post-DASO career with Seeberger's consulting business. Seeberger says, “That's not true.”
Seeberger suggested I read The Journey, a book he co-wrote with his wife and self-published in 2012. (When I picked up the book I had to sign and date an acknowledgment that I'd received it from him.)
He said it showed their life journey to where they are now, and said it illustrated how they'd learned from their mistakes. I thought it might be . . . well, I hoped maybe . . . a come-to-Jesus confession of sin and redemption and genuine change and growth.
But the “mistakes” mostly involve trusting others who prove untrustworthy. So far, there's no hint that the Seebergers were ever really at fault for anything. There are allegations of fraud and betrayal against many people and businesses, most unnamed.
Their history includes two personal bankruptcies, some corporate bankruptcies, and plenty of lawsuits. Seeberger says he himself is currently involved in five lawsuits.
Most folks never sue anyone, unless it's over a car accident. I've personally had a few situations where misunderstandings or bad luck could have led to litigation, but we settled on a liveable compromise. I've never sued anyone personally. I've occasionally threatened to sue if something wasn't changed, but either it was changed or we compromised.
Asked about their many lawsuits, Seeberger says that “When you teach integrity, as I do, and you have individuals who attack you in that area, there's really only one choice you have. You have to stand up and defend your integrity.”
Or does he use corporate structures to evade paying people what he might owe them in an ethical sense? An adversary who Seeberger admits has a $200,000 judgment against his 20-20 Leadership Foundation, Inc. is suing Seeberger personally, alleging fraudulent transfer of assets. Is Seeberger's conduct legal? A judge or jury will eventually decide. (The Seebergers' book explains that such luminaries as Mark Twain, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and Donald Trump each went bankrupt.)
KVIA did some advertising for one of the Seebergers' entities, Build a Stronger Future. (BASF, which DASO is in contract with, is technically owned by Seeberger's wife, and in a flyer they proudly announce it's “100% woman-owned.) When KVIA sued to get paid the $20,000 it was owed, BASF counter-sued for $1 million. Seeberger says KVIA never proved it ran the advertising, and his wife's corporation got zero hits on its website from the advertising. Again, courts will decide the matter.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Mott appears tired of the Seebergers. They filed their second personal bankruptcy and were discharged in 2007. They re-opened the bankruptcy in 2008 and were discharged again. They asked again in 2009, saying they now wanted to sue Bank of America, and Judge Mott permitted that. They lost. Then they asked again in September 2012, “suggesting possible mistakes by their prior counsel years ago during their bankruptcy case in connection with an entiry called ORSA Institute LLC.” Mott told 'em to go away. He wrote, “[A] debtor does not have eternal access to federal court for all alleged disputes related in some way to a bankruptcy case that has been closed for several years.” He had already dismissed the Seebergers' efforts to use bankruptcy with ORSA Institute, with Seeberger's agreement. “Now, the Seebergers want to try yet again and create another litigation platform in this Court for alleged disputes by reopening this very old Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. Simply put, enough is enough.”
One chapter in The Journey describes “entitlers.” Entitlers feel entitled to everything. They “do not want to take personal responsibility . . . it is always someone else's fault they lost something.” “They clog our courts with frivolous lawsuits.”
I feel bad about writing all this. I had coffee with Seeberger Wednesday, and he's an affable, intelligent fellow who projects a strong belief in what he's doing. But so far, what I've learned remains troubling.
The situation troubles DASO employees, County Commissioners, and the public. I'm pretty sure even the HR Department is embarrassed and annoyed that they didn't or couldn't oppose Garrison, an elected official, on this one.
I've requested relevant documents. I'll try to attend a training session. I may write a third column about this; and there's further information on my blog.
But I'm with U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Mott: “Simply put, enough is enough.”
A good leader knows when to step away.
[Three corrections from previous column: Mr. Seeberger gave the PTA in L.A. “an unsigned check” rather than “a worthless promissory note” (although the L.A. Times reported both); he has sold no EduKits to DASO; and DASO is paying him a little less than had been reported.]
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 9 March; and the newspaper also editorialized on the subject on Friday, 7 March. (I did not contribute to the editorial.)]
[It seems as if people inside and outside DASO question the Sheriff's action in creating the Chief of Staff position specially for Seeberger and placing Seeberger in it without advertising the position at all.
Seeberger is a smart fellow, and can be personable. He is said to have skills in teaching management, leadership, organization, and the like. He's done it for years, and in the past couple of days a couple of former clients told me recently that they were satisfied with their dealings with him (though one added that a former associate whom Mr. Seeberger has blamed for some problems, Ronald Woods, was a better trainer than Seeberger.). Saturday Mr. Seeberger sent me copies of people's rave reviews of him at one-day "Value-Based Leadership and Managing Change" workshops he and his wife have put on at the City of El Paso Supervisory Academy four times during the last 12 months or so. If he were conducting an occasional training session with DASO, maybe no one (except people who complained that he mixed religion in) would be complaining seriously.
But he's never been a cop or a sheriff. Or a patrolman or deputy sheriff.
There also seem to be more than a few people who trusted him or invested with him and didn't make out very well. That doesn't mean he's dishonest. He may just be overly optimistic, and spend his (and perhaps others') money in ways that just don't pan out. He may have run into a lot of bad luck.
These facts, plus a couple of complaints about him, raised questions.
As often happens, the response to those questions raised more questions. Sheriff Garrison and Mr. Seeberger have insisted he actually doesn't order anyone around. Others disagree. As I stated in the column, I doubt anyone's actively disobeying Mr. Seeberger, when everyone sees the hoops Garrison has jumped through for him. Further, I suspect that once I see departmental emails, one subject of my IPRA request, we may find that Seeberger does tell people what to do on occasion.
Mr. Seeberger insisted the other day that Sheriff Garrison didn't make Seeberger's training sessions, conducted as a consultant before this Chief of Staff business, mandatory. Then he retreated to saying, "Sheriff Garrison can answer this but certain training within any organization is mandatory." I think that when the evidence becomes available it may show that Sheriff Garrison told people they had better attend if they wanted to keep their jobs.
Sheriff Garrison and Mr. Seeberger insist that everyone in DASO is completely on board with what they're doing except "a very few malcontents." I'm not convinced. I'm curious. I've heard the department has been "fractured" by all this. Mr. Seeberger gave me a list of five persons he said where wholly on board. I've sought the Sheriff's permission to speak freely with those and the rest of the command staff, on a strictly confidential basis, with the Sheriff guaranteeing that folks who talk with me won't be retaliated against. It will be interesting to see whether he will do that -- or hide behind the fact that he has no legal obligation to do it and the fiction that those who work in DASO do not have reason to fear possible retaliation.
What's next? There's said to be an investigation going on by an outside agency. County Manager Julia Brown confirmed Friday that it hasn't been completed. I don't even know precisely what aspect(s) of the situation the agency is investigating. I've heard informally that additional complaints have been made, concerning Mr. Seeberger's conduct as a DASO chief of staff, but I have no idea what may happen with those -- or what should happen.