Sunday, April 27, 2014

Public Records Request Yields Look at Seeberger Complaints

Thanks to the Public Records Act, Monday I inspected several Internal EEO Complaint Forms made against then-vendor Rick Seeberger. Although partially redacted, they are eloquent evidence that the Sheriff and his Chief of Staff have not been candid with news media.

Sheriff Garrison and/or Seeberger have repeatedly claimed: Seeberger doesn't actually give anyone orders; Seeberger's at DASO to improve morale and there are “just a couple of malcontents”; his teachings weren't religious; there's been no retaliation against folks who complained; and Seeberger's teachings were worth tens of thousands of dollars and many lost person-hours. The documents tend to disagree.

Improved morale? KVIA reported Monday that two-dozen employees have approached the station about Seeberger. About a dozen have complained to me.

No mandatory religiously-oriented training?

Officer X, insisting that “religion does not belong in the workplace,” wrote that Seeberger's religiously-oriented teachings “disturbed me so much that it is affecting me mentally, emotionally, physically (stress) and ultimately affecting my performance and enthusiasm for my job.”

Officer Y stated that “the training being mandated is religious-based and the consultant is referencing biblically-based philosophies and mentions Jesus Christ in the training.” He wrote that the Sheriff told officers “they will not be working for the Sheriff if they do not 'buy in' to the training program.” (Several informants say a Captain on bereavement leave, days before or after his father's death, was told he had to attend training at Mr. Seeberger's compound – or find another job.)

Y added that after Seeberger confronted him and “I told him my innermost thoughts and feelings were private and I did not wish to share them with him, Seeberger responded by telling the whole group “if we all did not get on board with the process we would be working somewhere else.” Y called it “disconcerting” to have a consultant threaten him with loss of his job. “I wake up thinking about the situation and it is causing stress and anxiety knowing there is an upcoming meeting with Seeberger. I am distracted at work daily by old feelings that are dragged up by this mandated training. Seeberger directly threatened participants.” He voices fears of being retaliated against for having beliefs different from Seeberger's.

Having “old feelings dragged up” can be healthy, though unpleasant, at a shrink's office or in personal writing or contemplation; but should we be spending public money to force that on people in the workplace?

Officer Z charges Seeberger repeatedly touched him in ways and places he doesn't want to be touched by Seeberger. Seeberger touched him around the neck and shoulders from behind, while he was seated. Z stated that he didn't care for the touching, and Seeberger removed his hands. However, “Rick Seeberger has continued to touch my person. He has done this approximately four times. He always touches me near my shoulder and neck.”

“I do not understand why Rick Seeberger continues to touch me after I told him in no uncertain terms not to touch me. I am a married heterosexual male, and his advances are extremely distressing.”
Whatever the point of the unwanted touching, why are we paying for it?

Garrison's response? He created a “Chief of Staff” position for Seeberger and made him a county employee, without advertising the position or doing the normal stringent background check.
Several officers who complained about Seeberger used to be among the department's top officers. Now they sit off to the side, commanding nobody and doing paperwork. I'm aware of no complaint against them except their failure to share Garrison's fascination with Seeberger. Garrison says they are performing important functions, working on certification and writing policy.

A recent complaint also expresses a deep concern about retaliation, but a stronger feeling that the writer “cannot in good conscience allow what I believe is a violation of County Policy to go unreported.”

I also reviewed email strings in which Seeberger apparently tries to get two senior officers disciplined for not making compliance with Seeberger's demands their top priority.

My conclusion is that while some of Mr. Seeberger's teachings may be capable of improving his students' insights into themselves and others, help them form and pursue goals, and learn management concepts, Mr. Seeberger's own management skills have been severely criticized. I also hear that the two he wanted to discipline or fire are good officers. They shouldn't be tossed on the slag-heap because they won't mouth Seeberger's words.

Further, one can't help wondering about the supposedly dramatic changes Seeberger's being paid to make. We're told there's no problem with the department's law-enforcement skills. I'm hearing no whisper of corruption or brutality. If the changes are as major and necessary as Garrison suggests, then is the problem one he inherited and spent eight years unable to fix – or one he created? And if it's merely a change in "strategic plan," why bother with it when someone else is about to take over and change things?
[The foregoing column appeared this morning, Sunday, 27 April, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  By the way, it's important to note that the "complaints" I got to see are only the internal ones.   Officials conceded that there were several more complaints, but said that since those went to the EEOC, the County didn't have any copies of them.  I do not know the total number of formal complaints filed by officers about this stuff.]
[As part of the IPRA inspection, I waded through a lot of the "teaching materials" said to be used by Seeberger.  Many involve reasonable management or interpersonal skills principles.   Things that aren't clear include:
-- how a possibly useful one-day seminar, even a weekend session, has expanded into $30,000 worth of teaching by Seeberger as a consultant, then a new chief of staff job?
-- why Seeberger's "reorganization" to improve DASO's "strategic plan" has such high priority, particularly when just as he gets it instituted (if he ever does), a new sheriff will come in -- probably one that will bring his own ideas and won't seriously consider a further contract for a non-law-enforcement  management teacher as Chief of Staff; and
-- whether, if Garrison had a longer tenure, Seeberger's "teaching" would ever reach completion; and -- why county leaders, including the new County Manager, have been so patient with all this.  In my humble opinion, what's going on is just plain nutty -- and destructive of DASO morale.  And we continue to shell out public dollars for it, every pay period.  ]


1 comment:

  1. Thank you. I probably wont help because their dug in like ticks but thank you anyway for exposing this clown sheriff and his crooked buddy.