Sunday, April 6, 2014

Further Thoughts on DASO

I'm still investigating the DASO problems I discussed in two columns several weeks ago.

I've done a few things.

First, I have repeatedly asked Sheriff Todd Garrison, and his new Chief of Staff, Rick Seeberger, to email DASO employees stating that they may speak honestly to me without fear of reprisals. That's what the New Mexico Whistleblowers Act promises, so reprisals would be illegal anyway. Shouldn't we air issues voluntarily, rather than pay for the County to defend costly employee lawsuits later? Still, they've sent no such email. They've not even replied that they will or won't do it.

Second, I filed a public records request. In my view the Sheriff and County haven't fully complied with it.

There are certain emails I haven't yet seen, but that appears to be more a misunderstanding than anyone hiding anything.

There are also complaints that were made against Rick Seeberger, before he was a County employee arguably entitled to confidentiality under the personnel exemption. I contend those employee complaints are public records. County lawyers apparently disagree. I've asked that they respond, either agreeing or explaining their position. I've suggested they compromise by producing these records with sensitive information (employees' identities) redacted. And I've urged them to supply a list of withheld documents, identified sufficiently for someone to determine their basic nature and the basis on which they're withholding each.

County lawyers haven't deigned to reply to informal requests, so I'll send them a letter with a deadline, hoping they respond. Under the law, if I must file a lawsuit forcing compliance, the County could end up paying $100 a day plus my legal fees. I hope the County complies voluntarily.

Third, I've continued to listen to what people who work for Sheriff Garrison tell me. Sometimes DASO employees I don't know just appear beside me somewhere and quietly thank me for shining a light on these matters. Others speak at more length. Of others, I hear second-hand that they would like to voice their concerns to me.

It's my strong impression that for at least some employees Mr. Seeberger is the boss from hell. There are signs that Garrison and Seeberger have seriously damaged DASO morale. As one employee remarked, “It breaks my heart, because there are some very fine officers in the Department.”

And I've been working my way through the documents the County has produced.

Those documents tend to corroborate that in hiring Mr. Seeberger the County didn't give him the scrutiny they'd give a trainee. I also have questions about some of his responses to the written questionnaire he filled out.

An anonymous complaint alleges, “Employees have voiced their concern about Seeberger and have been moved to menial positions.” The new organization chart shows that some formerly major figures in the department have been moved off to the side. Garrison says that's because they're needed to work on the departments' accreditation.

But the main sense I get from the documents is that we have paid too much for something we may not have needed.

The County paid Mr. Seeberger $30,000 or more for training before he was an employee. That “training” also cost extensive lost employee time, with people paid to attend sessions and travel to and from Mr. Seeberger's compound near the El Paso border. Was the total cost $50,000? More?

The training concerned playing well with others, being a good manager, reading people better, and the like – not how to use new weapons or ensure everyone's safety when arriving at a possible crime scene. Reviewing the training materials, I see some good stuff, but a lot of fluff. I see obvious observations about human interactions, maybe worth a short lecture. I see material that seems to use important-sounding names, slogans, and categories to make concepts look so complex that you need continuing help from an expert to master them.

I saw a “Personality Test” of the sort you can find free online. We paid the Seebergers $25 apiece for the tests, and probably something for interpreting results. One DASO officer described taking much the same test online, free, with the same interpretation we paid Mr. Seeberger for.

Let me be clear: this isn't about Mr. Seeberger, although I doubt his contribution as a management and organizational consultant warranted paying $30,000 or $50,000. then hiring Seeberger to do more of the same. (Did he fail as a trainer or are our employees kind of slow?)

This is on Sheriff Garrison. Seeberger's doing what he does, perhaps with the best intentions. It's Garrison who's wasting our money on more of Mr. Seeberger's services than we might have needed. Distracted from their basic duties, officers are spending too much time reporting to Mr. Seeberger regarding the continuing “reorganization.” Sadly, they're looking over their shoulders, uncertain whom to trust.

Maybe the Sheriff could begin restoring trust by assuring DASO employees that they may speak honestly, without fear of the kind of retaliation the NM Whistleblowers Act forbids.
[The column above appeared today, Sunday, 6 April, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.]  

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