Lewis County Manager Responds to Animal Shelter Allegations

County Manager Statement: Attorneys Claim Lewis County Trying to ‘Gaslight’ Former Employees

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After weeks of relative silence, Lewis County has issued a formal response to ongoing concerns regarding the animal shelter.

Four long-term employees lobbed allegations against Shelter Manager Jennifer Teitzel earlier this year, saying their boss misappropriated funds, bullied employees, lied to the public and asked staffers to falsify medical records.

As the four women — who have since resigned — consider mounting a lawsuit or asking the state to investigate, Lewis County Manager Erik Martin’s written response breaks precedent.

“While we typically do not respond publicly with respect to pending matters, in this instance we believe it is important to share some more information to assure our community that we are remaining consistent with our values as a fair and equitable employer and ethical steward of public funds,” Martin wrote in a news release Friday.

He noted that county personnel were asked to refrain from public comment regarding the animal shelter as the county investigated, creating a “one-sided narrative that, I’m sure, was very painful for them to hear and very misleading to the public.”

An investigation by the county found no evidence of retaliation against the complainants. And while the investigation found that the use of cash donations was not in compliance with county policy, cash funds “in its entirety is an issue, not just when it was used by Ms. Teitzel,” the investigation findings read.

“No evidence” of a hostile or toxic work environment was found, according to the county.

Allegations of falsified vaccination records or that Teitzel adopted out a dog without properly quarantining it first “were unfounded.”

Attorneys for the four women, however, say the investigation was “incompetent” and “a farce,” failing to look into several specific allegations lobbed by the ex-employees.

In his news release, Martin said Public Health Director JP Anderson found no evidence behind several of the womens’ claims. But public records requests for the investigations’ findings only show an investigation conducted by Luis Garcia-Flores, at the Prosecuting Attorney’s office.

“If JP Anderson conducted a different investigation, why isn’t it documented?” said Marissa Jay, an attorney at Buzzard O’Rourke involved with the case.

Jay also said the investigation did not delve into one key allegation: that Teitzel concocted a news story about an “imposter” posing as an animal shelter employee.

The shelter’s news release assured the public that “all shelter employees carry county-issued photo identification.” But emails included in Marcie Dekoker’s affidavit show Teitzel asked staffers for photos to create said IDs only after the fact.

The county’s investigation also did not address Dekoker’s claim that Teitzel inappropriately asked staffers to connect animals to a Lewis County Sheriff’s Office case number in order to access a $50,000 fund specifically set aside for abused animals.

In a public record containing Teitzel’s statements regarding the allegations, the manager denied using donations for personal reasons, but admitted to an “error in judgement” in which she “flippantly stated” the shelter could transport a cat without completing a blood draw. She said no felines actually left the shelter “with the false assumption of having services provided which were not completed.”

And while the investigation also found no evidence of retaliation against the women, their attorneys contend that putting them on paid administrative leave was a form of retaliation. It’s a claim Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer called baseless in a letter to attorney Jim Buzzard.

Regarding the investigation, Martin said the allegations were taken “very seriously, as they came from long tenured employees with a long history of dedicated service to Lewis County.”

He said the women “declined to participate in interviews” before they resigned. It’s a sentiment echoed by Meyer, who in a June 3 letter to Buzzard said the women “refused the county’s request to be interviewed in conjunction with the investigation.”

That’s “disingenuous,” according to Jay, who said the county is trying to “gaslight” its former employees. According to the law firm, between March 18 and April 12, Dekoker was interviewed three times, and Robin Williams, Lucy Ford and Rita Payne were each interviewed twice.

More “investigatory interviews” were declined, after attorneys said county officials “refused to inform whether our clients were being investigated.”

The county concluded that Tietzel would “benefit from supervisory workshops and other classes to expand her knowledge and understanding in her role,” also stating that “she is not the reason the shelter is failing.”

The county has said that many issues at the shelter predated Teitzel, who took the job last August.

“In addition, the employees who filed the complaints apparently knew about these practices but did nothing to change them,” Martin wrote.

Lewis County, Jay said, is “blaming their own failure to supervise on employees.”

Lewis County is currently looking to fill two animal shelter technician positions.

 

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partsgirl

This story stinks of cover up by the County. Why would they want to protect this manager, who obviously isn't competent to do her job, over long term employees. Also, how do employees change the practices without management. I sincerely hope the employees prevail in any lawsuit against the County.

Tuesday, June 15
Bill Serrahn

“The county concluded that Tietzel would “benefit from supervisory workshops and other classes to expand her knowledge and understanding in her role,” also stating that “she is not the reason the shelter is failing.””

An admission by the county that our once very highly regarded Lewis County Animal Shelter is failing. That’s the sad fact of this story. The animal shelter is well funded in the Lewis County Budget and funds have also been allocated for a new facility, yet it has been nearly destroyed by this new manager.

Lewis County government has historically been plagued by cronyism and nepotism. “Connected” individuals get special access and easy funding for their projects.

“Connected” people want to save their non-profit and call their friends on the BOCC and before long they are getting a park transferred which they hope a quick timber sale might solve their financial and IRS problems.

“Connected” people can’t get a grant for their unqualified non-profit, so they enlist their close friend and commissioner (now a former commissioner) in a conspiracy to funnel funds through one of their qualified non-profits to save the unqualified one.

“Connected” people’s municipal corporation is broke through years of mismanagement, so they call their friends and ask for money and special consideration once again, forgoing their county loan payment and even getting the county to pay their private loan payment. Rather than do what they should have been doing, they can always ask and get more money from their friends at LC. These same people now go ask the .09 Distressed Counties Fund for $275,000 for a buildout of their facility for a special deal for a proposed tenant without doing a general offering of that deal to the public and other businesses. It seems that the non-profit EDC controls these millions in county funds and where they are directed, but that’s another can of worms.

This is just some of the stuff I know about as one individual with limited exposure to Lewis County government. The BOCC and LC Top management have their “goto” people who are in step with whatever the county agenda is in those communities and it works both ways. These “goto” people have special access and sometimes it only takes a phone call to solve whatever problem they have in their organization. It’s loyalty both ways, but also cronyism. Perhaps I am just naïve, and this is the way government works everywhere. Regardless, it is historically systemic in Lewis County government and the root cause of this controversy is probably a result of those long held LC traditions.

In this case, LC county management put an unqualified, but “connected” employee, into a role she couldn’t handle and demoralized employees through questionable acts and practices, resulting in the failure of our once highly regarded Animal Shelter. And, is it true, that they have now moved the proposed new facility to her family’s land?

For the bigger picture, has anyone been following the shuffling of top management responsibilities in Lewis County Government over the last 2 years where the departments have been reorganized under 3 top managers, even though some of those assignments don’t make a lot of sense? It’s all about power centers, and there are a lot of ramifications to that which have not been considered, but you have 3 people there who work very closely together and, between them pretty much run the county.

Tuesday, June 15
Raymon

Let's see if I get this right.

Four long term country employees abandoned their county jobs, medical benefits, and retirement because they were imagining the whole mess? I'm going out on a limb here, but I suspect the next batch of employees just might be someone already known to this Manager. What's this Manager's history? Is this someone who may already have a disciplinary action in their file, or other complaints? If not, then good for her. If so, then it's looking like a little more digging might be in order here. Nobody is perfect, but nobody is irreplaceable either.

Tuesday, June 15
jeanienej

By some weird coincident I went to the shelter today. I am new to the area and saw the sign while heading into town so made a stop. After reading this article I was a little taken back. How can anyone take sides with a new employee vs. 4 long term employees? Who hired her and what was her experience? Why was someone already employed at the shelter not hired for this position? Wouldn't they have had more experience and a better grasp of the intricacies of the running of the shelter? This smells like a litter box needing a good cleaning.

Tuesday, June 15
Bill Serrahn

jeanienej: It's pretty simple. Nepotism and cronyism are long term traditions in Lewis County government. Her husband is a powerful manager in the department which oversees the shelter: Our county manager knows this stinks, but the wagons are circled.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/bill-teitzel-86263317

Wednesday, June 16
LovesDogsHatesGarbage

I believe when an attorney says, "that's disingenuous," it means, "what a lying sack of bull manure!"

Documents retrieved from Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests appear to support the four long-term employees, while painting the quoted managers as, frankly, asshats.

The County would be served best if those proven to have lied are immediately dismissed and the four employees reinstated. Reimburse the four with all back pay and a few grand each for their pain and suffering. Additionally, the County should pay the attorney fees.

A cover up always ends up compounding the issue as FOIA requests turn up MORE garbage, nepotism, illegal and generally immoral behaviors on the part of those looking for cover.

Like most entitled folks, their arrogance will have them double down on their claims of righteous management, adding lies to the pack of lies already visible and costing OUR county millions, rather than thousands of dollars.

It would be cheaper to fire the supervisor and reinstate the four women as stated above. I guess the "silver lining" to all this is the blistering hot light of FOIA requests will clean the manure out of the barn and disinfect it from the weasels and diseased vermin who currently run amok. The final result will be a fresh, clean environment that is more effective and efficient.

It would be nice to not have to sell off most of the herd to get to a shiny clean outcome; but vermin never vanish on their own accord. Disinfecting always requires strength of character, patience and a ton of hard work.

We should not have waited so long to bring in the exterminators , many of us knew this was coming. Time to bite the bullet and start shoveling the -- disingenuous-ness -- off the floor.

I hope the four women will hold their ground. I saw (and donated to) a GoFundMe on Facebook to help pay for their attorney fees. I hope they raise enough to get by while the snakes and rats in LC Management start pointing fingers at one another and the fur really starts to fly.

Wednesday, June 16