Lewis County Animal Shelter Employees Resign, Consider Lawsuit

Claims: County Finds Retaliation Claims Unsubstantiated, But Employees Say Slew of Allegations Left Unanswered

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After a whistleblower complaint at the Lewis County Animal Shelter, four long-term employees have resigned.

Now, they say their allegations against site manager Jennifer Teitzel — that she misappropriated donations, asked staff to falsify medical records, created a hostile work environment and put animals and the public in danger — are being swept under the rug.

The county’s investigation concluded last month, and Teitzel still retains her position, which she came into last summer. Teitzel again declined to comment on most of the allegations made against her.

Marcie Dekoker, Robin Williams, Lucy Ford and Rita Payne have described their ex-boss as a habitual liar and bully, alleging she stole donations, created “official-looking, but fake” donation receipts, regularly berated employees, asked them to falsify vaccine and leukemia tests and strayed from shelter safety policies.

A recent news release regarding an “imposter” posing as a shelter employee — later picked up by a television news station and The Chronicle — was a lie, the women say, meant to showcase Teitzel’s power.

According to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kevin McDowell, the women’s claims that they were retaliated against after bringing the concerns forward could not be substantiated.

But with regards to their allegations of Teitzels’ behavior, McDowell told The Chronicle via email that “it is often extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to conclusively prove the non-occurrence of alleged events.”

He later added that the county “did uncover problems relating to certain accounting and operational practices,” and that Teitzel will be asked to attend a training “and will likely be receiving a letter placed (in) her personnel file.”

The women say they were asked to return to work last month.

Dekoker said the decision is shocking.

“They didn’t answer any of the allegations of her behavior. They pretty much just buried their heads in the sand of most of all the illegal activities,” said Dekoker, an animal technician and shelter employee of 23 years. “For our own safety, there was no way. There was no way we could go back.”

The four employees’ attorney informed the county of their resignation in a May 25 letter, saying “the county has made its choice to not protect its employees.”

McDowell noted that the women declined to be interviewed individually for the investigation — a decision that was in line with their attorneys’ advice, according to Williams.

“This is fraud. This is a cover up,” Dekoker said. “I don’t know what this gal has on the county that they’re protecting her. But I’ve never seen anything so wrong.”

Some complainants point to the Teitzel family’s deep roots in Lewis County; Jennifer Teitzel’s husband, Bill, is the county’s top code enforcement official, and her son is a sheriff’s deputy. In 2016, The Chronicle wrote about the family’s 80th family reunion held in Centralia.

“They’ve got this county wrapped up,” Ford said. “The county’s going to stick with somebody who’s been there for nine or 10 months? That doesn’t even have the qualifications?”

In resigning, three of the women say their retirement will be impacted. Payne, an employee of nine years, said she was anticipating becoming a full-time staffer. Resigning felt like sacrificing “my whole livelihood,” she told The Chronicle.

“I mean, the whole time, the only thing we ever wanted was our jobs back and her gone. We weren’t going after money, other than hoping our attorneys’ fees would be covered,” Williams said. “Now that they pretty much ignored half of what’s going on, it just blows me away.”

In their absence, the women question the qualifications of who Teitzel has hired. Dekoker said it felt like Teitzel had an agenda to get rid of qualified staffers “that could question anything she was doing,” instead replacing them with “people she can manipulate more.”

“I’m hoping for the shelter’s sake that if they do start hiring people, that it’s people that are qualified, and not just her buddies,” Williams said. “Because that seems like who she intends on hiring.”

As for the future of the shelter, Williams says she hopes people continue to donate supplies to help the animals, “but I would just be careful with cash donations.”

“The people of Lewis County have been unbelievably generous to the animal shelter, and it just pains all of us to just see this money abused, and frittered away,” Ford said.

Meanwhile, the women are considering mounting a lawsuit against the county.

“We feel like we want to stick up for the citizens of Lewis County and the animals,” Payne said. “I think they need to be held responsible.”

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Editor's Note: Lewis County Animal Shelter Manager Jennifer Teitzel is not to be confused with Jennifer Partain Teitzel, a Toledo resident who runs Petunia Grace Craft Company.

 

Comments

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partsgirl

All I can say is wow! If this is true, the County is opening itself up for a huge lawsuit at taxpayer expense. A thorough investigation by someone who doesn't work for the County should be done.

Friday, June 4
Frosted Flake

This seems to happen a lot in this county.

Maybe we should hire that guy who did the voice between the scenes for 'The Dukes of Hazzard'. And maybe the Banjo player.

Saturday, June 5
Bill Serrahn

The real loser is the LC Animal Shelter and the animals it takes in. The outcome here may have been influenced by nepotism as Teitzel is a family name within Lewis County Government with some connections and power. I know it's really hard to get rid of a bad public employee, but something has to be done for the sake of the animal shelter.

Saturday, June 5
Bill Serrahn

Did anyone explore how she got this job in the first place? Was she especially qualified for it or was it through connections in Lewis County? Maybe with the recommendations of a former or current commissioner? I guess we will never know.

Saturday, June 5
Pootietwo

Wake up Lewis county. They need to file a law suit.,need to boycott the animal shelter for now. The animals will suffer. I am sure we have an employee that is qualified to run the shelter, obviously she isn't. Please commissioners do your job

Saturday, June 5
MikePaynter

WHY? Why is it so important to keep this person in this position? It shouldn't be that hard to find another, and get rid of the problem. If this comes up again with a new leader of the Animal Shelter, then we know it is the volunteers who are the problem. Then you clean house with new people. This Teitzl lady has no RIGHT to this position, just listen to the 4 ladies who would know. 4 against 1 wins every time.

Dukes of Hazzard, hillbillies? Frosted Flake is a bigot.

Saturday, June 5
That Animal Shelter Supervisir Must Have Dark Dirt on Someone!

I read the original whistle-blower document and 2 items stand out:

1. Teitzel used the license of a veteranarian, WITHOUT his/her knowledge to order med. ThT is no different than stealing a prescription pad, and law enforcement should be investigating this the same way.

2. One of Teitzel's FIRST acts was to remove controls on the cash flow (fake receipts ONLY for cash donations and the fake receipts were NOT part of official flow money flow. Because it was changed for no apparent reason AND over the objections of staff, I would be HIGHLY interested in whether her LAST position, managing money for Jail inmates (marginalized people who's complaints regularly fall on deaf ears) had an "discrepancies."

The DEA regulates veterinarian access to controlled substances and the State Auditor regulates/audits financial processes fir government agencies. I'm personally contacting both regarding these acts. The County response that she needs "management" training is ridiculously stupid.

Anyone who walks in and starts messing with the books, knows EXACTLY what she is doing. She should be removed IMMEDIATELY and an OUTSIDE investigation, using unbiased individuals should be initiated.

She has already taken money FROM the cash donations to purchase a NEW office chair (there are nearly new ones available from SEVERAL govt surplus auction sites, one in Tumwater I've purchased nearly new office chairs for $10 each, (but they are FREE to govt) .

She also paid a volunteer to stay late and assemble the chair, not an activity any reasonable person would expect a volunteer to be expected to do.

She took additional funds and paid her family member to create a new (and not necessary) shelter sign. Any manager knows to NOT transfer ANY funds to their own relatives without a clear need and LOTS of transparency. But since donated cash is no longer tracked by ANYONE outside if the shelter, she can easily hide the amount of money that was transfered. In fact, by creating fake receipts, she could easily shuffle money into any account she wishes, including her own private "Running to the Casino" fund, if she wanted to.

And the County says she needs "management training?

The County needs management trainibg,training, SHE needs to be on ad.inistrative leave while a complete audit of Shelter books AND jail inmate books is undertaken.

Chronicle: you might want to do a public freedom of information act request to the jail to see if they received complaints from inmates regarding cash discrepancies and how those were handled.

All this is in ADDITION to causing the loss of four ling-term employees, two volunteer staff, the veterinarian of record AND. A long-term foster home ALL quitting! This requires FAR MORE than management classes.

What is going on? Does she have some denigrating information she's using to blackmaile others with? Or a secret boyfriend who is highly connected? Why ELSE are our elected officials giving at least tacit approval to such egregiously improper behaviors? We deserve answers.

Saturday, June 5
Raymon

The real message here is if you get stuck with an abusive or thieving boss, it's all about documentation, otherwise it never happened. Since that seems to be lacking, all accusations are therefore unfounded.

Monday, June 7
There IS documentation

The poster above is wrong- plenty of documentation. The County saw it and ignored it saying "msybe" she'd get a letter in her personnel file. Remember 4 fill-time staff, 2 volunteer staff, Veteranarian of Record AND a volunteer foster care home ALL refuse to work with Teitzel. Who can blame them. They have documented she retaliated against the Whistle-blower suit (which is also illegal). Don't tell me shd doesn't have pics of SOMEONE with a goat (or something) because REASONABLE Commissioners would have put her ass on leave and hired UNBIASED staff from a neighboring county. But.... they didn't.

Monday, June 7