A former dam inspector causes trouble over gifts accepted by his boss

The fliers arrived last January, during a balmy interval between subzero cold snaps. They were tucked under windshield wipers in strip-mall parking lots in Parker and Westminster, stuck into screen doors of canyon homes above Boulder. The print was tiny and grim, and right away you could tell this was not good news.

"As you may know," the single sheet began, "you and your neighbors live downstream of a high-hazard dam. That means if the dam fails, loss of human life is expected.

"The following information may be of great interest/concern to you..."

Former dam inspector John Redding says his boss stopped talking to him after he objected to gifts offered by private industry.
eric magnussen
Former dam inspector John Redding says his boss stopped talking to him after he objected to gifts offered by private industry.
State engineer Dick Wolfe lamented that Redding's complaints had created a "lose-lose" situation.
State engineer Dick Wolfe lamented that Redding's complaints had created a "lose-lose" situation.

The flier mentioned Mark Haynes, chief of the Dam Safety Branch of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, "whose charge is to safeguard the lives of Coloradoans from dam mishaps." Haynes "has admitted to accepting gifts from engineering consultants who design, construct and alter dams in our state," the flier claimed — gifts that included "tickets to sporting events, meals and golf greens fees."

Haynes was never disciplined for this, the letter continued. Instead, another state employee who reported the gifts to DNR officials "was threatened verbally and in writing" and ultimately fired by the state engineer, Dick Wolfe, "even though there were absolutely no documented problems with his performance.

"State officials apparently don't believe that the possibility of compromised high-hazard dams warrants further investigation; however, as someone whose family's lives and property could be in peril, we believe it should be your choice whether enough has been done to make you feel safe and secure living below what could be a 'ticking bomb.'"

The screed urged citizens to contact their state representatives and Governor John Hickenlooper. It wasn't signed, but it contained an e-mail address for something called Colorado Citizens for Dam Safety.

Despite its alarming tone, the flier failed to trigger a flood of angry calls to the new governor. Many recipients probably didn't bother to read the whole thing. And those who read it closely might have suspected that Colorado Citizens for Dam Safety consisted of an army of one: the fired whistleblower himself.

The fliers are, in fact, only one volley in a long and lonely campaign waged by John Redding, a former employee of the Department of Natural Resources who was fired almost two years ago. A professional engineer, Redding claims he was retaliated against and eventually canned because he was asking awkward questions about gifts accepted by Haynes and others in the Dam Safety Branch, an obscure but vital agency responsible for approving and inspecting more than 1,800 water-storage facilities across the state — including 310 dams classified as high-hazard.

Redding has told his story to lawmakers and ethics panels, to no avail. He's exhausted his savings appealing his termination, only to be rebuffed by an administrative law judge and the state personnel board. (His case is now before the Colorado Court of Appeals.) And although he has no evidence that the gifts accepted by state regulators have actually put anyone at risk, he believes it's a question worth considering.

"It probably hurts me more than it helps me to go public with this, but I think it's an important story," he says. "In my opinion, these guys have done some pretty unethical things. The consequences of a dam failure are so catastrophic that, even if there's only a small chance that [Haynes] did something wrong, I think it's worth looking into."

State officials say they have looked into the matter — repeatedly, exhaustively, ad nauseam. Redding's complaints have generated internal reviews and a blizzard of e-mails over the past three years. Wolfe, the state engineer, maintains that the Dam Safety Branch is above reproach. Haynes, a longtime employee of DNR, wasn't disciplined because he didn't violate the applicable state ethics policy at the time, Wolfe says, and the gifts involved were deemed insignificant. He also denies any retaliation against Redding and characterizes him as an unsatisfactory employee who attempted to cover up his own shortcomings by claiming whistleblower status.

"I was good friends with John for a long period of time, and I didn't take lightly that decision" for termination, Wolfe says. "But I have a responsibility to the governor and the citizens of Colorado to make sure we have competent employees working for us."

There's no reason for the public to worry about dam safety in Colorado, he insists: "I have 100 percent confidence that there's no issue out there, there's no dam that was in any way jeopardized because of any employee accepting a gift basket. Mark Haynes has a tremendous amount of integrity."

Yet the dramatic turnaround in Redding's status at the agency — he went from being a highly praised and valued employee to one who was supposedly lacking in "core competencies" in a matter of months — isn't easily explained, unless you believe (as Redding does) that there were other agendas at work. He had a rocky relationship with Haynes before the gift issue was raised, but his harping on the practice seemed to strike a raw nerve.

He became the odd man out in a three-man office, the guy who didn't fit in, the unassimilable Other. He was shunned like a flatulent leper, given the silent treatment and cut out of projects and meetings. And then fired.

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7 comments
Kay Sieverding
Kay Sieverding

Did Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency insure the dam? I know they insure other dams.

I think CIRSA is some sort of RICO but that they don't get investigated because over the years they have been involved with various government officials. The Colorado Secretary of State has no record of CIRSA, no articles of incorporation. It is not a local government agency. Its director Tim Greer is not appointed by the governor nor elected. He is the only director CIRSA ever had. I sued CIRSA and the State Assistant AG Christine K. Wilkinson filed in case 05-cv-5485 in Denver County court that "the State has no control over CIRSA" .... "CIRSA is not an arm of the state". CIRSA doesn't pay income taxes and doesn't file IRS 990 Nonprofit forms. They aren't listed on Guidestar and didn't respond when I requested their tax forms or 990 forms, which are required to be made public. State Insurance Commissioner Peg Brown confirmed to me in writing the State Division of Insurance has no record of CIRSA paying income taxes.

CIRSA insured the City of Granby but when Marvin Heermyer destroyed it, CIRSA didn't pay, the State of Colorado paid. Heermyer paid Dietze and Dietze $50K to sue the City of Granby and the newspaper in a color of law dispute. The records should be in Hot Sulphur Springs. His case was dismissed by retired judge Doucette, brought in from Steamboat.

CIRSA sold errors and omissions insurance to the City of Steamboat Springs CO with a $5 Million max and a $10 K deductible. I sued in federal court because city officials pretended that convicted drug dealer Kevin Bennett who was president of the city council built a garage when really it was over 2000 sq ft, two stories, heated, plumbing and only 40% accessible to automobiles. I lived next door and had a boundary dispute w Bennett. I sued for First Amendment Retaliation and had everything required for that to be a valid tort. I was criminally prosecuted without a warrant based on a police form claiming stalking that was signed only by Jane Bennett, the city council president's wife. The form is only supposed to be signed by police officers and only when they are actually witnessing a crime, which is impossible with stalking. There was no arraignment and the registry of actions shows an order by Judge Garrecht saying he got no information on the case at all. The prosecutor was married to a real estate speculator. She violated procedural rules by dismissing without an oral hearing and she gave a press conference saying Jane Bennett was my victim but a trial was too expensive. Jane Bennett got a sua sponte ruling that I had molested her which was impossible because we were never alone and she said under oath that there was no offensive touching. I am married and don't have a criminal record.

The attorney bills paid by CIRSA include about 20 ex parte calls to and from the federal court. My case was reassigned to Judge Nottingham (who resigned in disgrace). He dismissed my case without writing an opinion. Sean Harrington analyzed Nottingham's finances and believes that Nottingham couldn't afford to pay for his own prostitutes and couldn't have done so without his 3rd wife finding out, since she was going thru his receipts and that's how she found the $3,000 bill for the Diamond Cabaret lap dance club. Nottingham ordered me to pay $103 K in attorney bills with no Rule 11 c. 6 order. See pending 10th Circuit mandamus petition 11-1227.

Nottingham was a customer at the Denver Players brothel. It is already public knowledge that lawyers credit card numbers were on file there. They charged them on-line. Unfortunately the federal prosecution of Brenda Stewart is very secretive. See PACER 10-cr-00580. Everything is sealed up and the public is paying for an expensive defense lawyer Joseph Saint Veltri instead of a regular public defender. It is alleged that state pols were also customers of the Denver Players. A brothel is fertile field for crimes of all sorts -- blackmail as well as bribery.

Johnwredding
Johnwredding

Here are my (John Redding) comment's about several passages within the "Dam Shame" article:

Westword: Redding has told his story to lawmakers and ethics panels, to no avail

Redding: It’s not true that telling my story to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission was “to no avail”. The Commission has agreed to review the ethics of Dam Safety Chief Haynes and State Engineer Wolfe, but not until the Appeals Court has made a ruling.

Westword: State officials say they have looked into the matter — repeatedly, exhaustively, ad nauseam.

Redding: No one has ever inspected any of Haynes’ work, so there could still be unsafe dams in Colorado due to the many gifts Haynes accepted from consultants. Notice how the State officials say a generic “looked into the matter”, but don’t say exactly what was investigated.

Westword: There's no reason for the public to worry about dam safety in Colorado, he (Wolfe) insists: "I have 100 percent confidence that there's no issue out there, there's no dam that was in any way jeopardized because of any employee accepting a gift basket.

Redding: Note how Wolfe doesn’t mention Haynes’ acceptance of Avalanche tickets, Rockies tickets, greens fees, a leather jacket, meals, etc. Wolfe also has no knowledge that “there’s no dam that was in any way jeopardized”; that is just his opinion… it is not based on facts.

Westword: Redding disagreed and began looking around for a job that involved more field work. When a position opened up in the Dam Safety Branch, he jumped at it.

Redding: It should have been pointed out that my pre-dam safety supervisor highly recommended me for the position, based upon my working with him.

Westword: Building and maintaining dams is an expensive business, which makes the notion that state inspectors could somehow be bought off by fruit baskets, denim jackets and other cheap trinkets seem quite loony.

Redding: I don’t consider numerous tickets to sporting events and greens fees to be “cheap trinkets”, and I think leaving them out of this statement is misleading and unfair to me. The fact that it is an expensive business is the reason why the engineering consultants gave Haynes the gifts… in hopes that their gifts would financially reward them. Why else do consultants give gifts?!

Westword: Under the state ethics policy at the time, there was nothing illegal about it.

Redding: I don’t agree with this statement. I believe there have been clear violations of Executive Order D 001 99 (http://www.colorado.gov/dpa/do....

Westword: At one point, when state engineer Wolfe pressed Redding about whether he was determined to pursue his complaint about the gifts, Redding responded that it depended on "the way Mark treats me in the future" — hardly the response one would expect from a man on a righteous crusade.

Redding: This is not a fair statement at all. The definition of “whistleblowing” is being retaliated for bringing up something of public concern. If Haynes had quit retaliating against me, there would be no need to file a whistleblower complaint against him. My “righteous crusade” to announce possible dam compromises by Haynes in exchange for numerous gifts from consultants is a totally separate matter.

Westword: Wolfe disputes Redding's account. He didn't become the state engineer (and Haynes's overseer) until late 2007, and he insists that Redding didn't mention the gifts to him "in any kind of serious way" until July 2008.

Redding: I had talked to Wolfe (a friend at the time) informally about it on several occasions, but I didn’t state anything “formally” until Wolfe asked me to put it in writing almost a year after I had first told him about the situation. You would think that something this serious would have prompted Wolfe to take action immediately! (In fact, Wolfe still has never had an independent engineer review and of Haynes’ dams.)

Westword: But Redding had been hollering about the gifts, along with a hodgepodge of alleged retaliatory actions and other grievances, to various state officials for some time before any investigation began. Passed over for two promotions in 2007 that would have transferred him to Greeley or Durango

Redding: It should have been mentioned that I received the highest test score for the Greeley position and the second highest for the Durango position.

Westword: An outside investigator interviewed several of the consultants who'd sent gifts to the Dam Safety Branch; they denied any attempt at bribery and described Haynes as tough but fair. Redding: Of course consultants are going to deny bribery! That would implicate them as well as Haynes! Further, if they said anything bad about Haynes, he could make their lives miserable when they submitted future designs, performed construction, etc.

Westword: He asked for a mid-year review from Haynes but didn't get it for months;

Redding: Haynes didn’t even respond to my request for a mid-year review in August 2008. It wasn’t for another FIVE months (January 2009) that Haynes gave me a “mid” year review, and not a single negative statement was made about my performance!

Westword: …he (Redding) finally received a positive verbal evaluation…

Redding: …two months before the end of the review period.

Westword: He shot off e-mails to Wolfe and Haynes asking for other feedback about his work and got no response. At the same time, Wolfe was huddling with Kim Burgess, the director of human resources, about what to do with his feuding engineers.

Redding: It should be pointed out that I had accepted Burgess’ offer to meet with her and Haynes, but Haynes never responded to her invitation.

Westword: One was a hydrology study he'd been assigned earlier but never completed because, he says, he was told it was low priority

Redding: No, I was told by Haynes to put it “on the back burner”, which is why I asked the other dam safety engineers for work… because Haynes wasn’t responding to my requests for new assignments, and he publically scolded me when I offered my assistance to the other dam safety engineers.

Westword: "I was given this workload from hell," Redding says. "A lot of it was things I'd never done before, and I was told I couldn't talk to anybody else."

Redding: It should be mentioned that Haynes said that I could only talk to him for assistance, even though he was going to be out of town for almost all of the days that I was given to do the work.

Westword: And fail he did.Redding: This is harsh, unfair and inaccurate. It would have been more correct to say that “his work on unfamiliar assisgnments was deemed unsatisfactory” after being judged by personal friends of Haynes… and that my requests to have less biased dam safety engineers review my work were ignored.

Westword: Since his firing, Redding has lost every round with state personnel authorities.

Redding: Every round?! There have been TWO “rounds”, and the second one shouldn’t even be considered a “round” since it was still within the very State-biased Personnel Board. Very misleading.

Westword: But he has been unusually persistent, taking his case all the way to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Redding: It is also going to be filed in Federal District Court in the near future. I am persistent because I am clearly in the right, and I have overwhelming evidence to prove it.

Westword: When he studies it in the mirror, he thinks about Lord Voldemort and his own antagonists.

Redding: I actually said “Lord Wolfe-mort in my interview, because of the evil things the State Engineer Wolfe did to me (and, in turn, to my family). Lastly, it is surprising that this article made no mention of the numerous, documented career threats which State Engineer Dick Wolfe made to me if I chose to file a complaint against Haynes’ numerous hostile, retaliatory actions.

Ethicsincoloradogovernment
Ethicsincoloradogovernment

Redding received absolutely no notice that his performance was allegedly seriously declining. Haynes, Redding’s immediate supervisor, never spoke to Redding, nor put in writing to Redding, any problems with his performance during the year between Redding’s 2008 and 2009 evaluations. In sworn testimony, Haynes said:

Q (By Ms. Bangert) Well, during that time period, April 8,'08 to April '09, did you bring up any significant performance problems with John?A (By Haynes) No.

Q (By Ms. Bangert) Did you meet with Mr. Redding outside of the evaluation done in April of '08 at any time to discuss performance issues prior to the evaluation in '09?A (By Haynes) No, I did not.

Q (By Ms. Bangert) Do you know of any writing or discussion that you had with Mr. Redding, that would lead him to believe that he was doing anything other than a satisfactory job during the period April '08 to April '09?A (By Haynes) I do not believe that there was any discussion about his performance during thatperiod of time.

Likewise, the State Engineer testified that there was nothing in writing to Redding aboutperformance problems during the April, 2008 to April, 2009, time period. If Redding’s performance was so steadily declining, why is there not a single piece of evidence in the recordshowing that the Department mentioned that decline to Redding? Human Resources Director Burgess testified that she would have expected Haynes to discuss alleged performance problems with Redding

On July 17, 2008, Redding specifically asked Haynes if he was unhappy with Redding’s turnaround time for inspections. Haynes did not respond, though he nonetheless later gave Redding an unsatisfactory score in this area.

On July 29, 2008, Redding wrote an email to Wolfe stating that he assumed that there were no problems with his work because he had not received any comments on his weekly status report from Haynes. Wolfe made no response.

On August 8, 2008, Redding requested for a mid-year review. Haynes simply didn’t respond to Redding’s email. When Haynes finally gave Redding a “mid”-year review in January of 2009 (with just two more months in the review period remaining), Haynes failed to tell Redding that he had any significant performance problems, and did not respond to Redding’s March 9, 2009 email asking Haynes to confirm his oral statements made during the review, namely, that he was happy with Redding’s work product. It strains credibility to believe that problems that were serious enough to warrant an unsatisfactory performance evaluation and corrective action in May, and eventual termination, were never mentioned to Redding during the performance year. This is a clear violation of the Department’s PMP, which states, “Coaching and feedback to employees is required throughout the rating period in order to avoid surprises when the annual rating is issued.”

Ethicsincoloradogovernment
Ethicsincoloradogovernment

If you do look at the findings of the Personnel Board, do it with an understanding of the extreme bias of Board, as demonstrated by its refusal to comment on the clear violations of policy and statute. (Hopefully, something will be done about the Board pretending to be an unbiased venue as a result of this situation going public.) As the reporter wrote in the article:

"Bangert's appeal brief points out that Redding actually scored higher in several measures of his performance in 2009 than he did in 2008, such as the number of dams he inspected and the percentage of inspection reports he completed on time; yet what was considered "satisfactory" the year before had become unacceptable. This is one of the troubling aspects of Redding's story that the administrative-law judge didn't seem inclined to address. The judge also acknowledged that Haynes had given Redding "the silent treatment" for months at a time, exacerbating what appears to have been a classic hostile work environment. Yet the judge somehow decided that this behavior had nothing to do with the accusations Redding had made about the gifts Haynes received."

For an unbiased description of the retaliation Redding experienced, please monitor the current case at the Colorado Court of Appeals, as well as with the soon-to-be-filed Federal District Court case. The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission will also be investigating the situation in the near future.

And ask yourself this: "If Haynes and Wolfe had such issues with Redding's performance, why did they never respond to his frequent requests for input? And why did Haynes give Redding a good interim review just two months before the end of the review period, only to change the rating to "unsatisfactory" shortly after Redding filed his complaint against Haynes? And why did Wolfe tell Redding that a supervisor not speaking to an employee for 3-4 months was acceptable behavior? And why did Wolfe tell Redding that filing a complaint against Haynes would cloud his career with DWR?"

You may also wish to read Redding's submission in the "Letters to the Editor" section of this week's "Westword" (http://www.westword.com/2011-0....

John Redding, P.E.
John Redding, P.E.

This situation was allowed to happen because State Management (well, at least that within the Department of Natural Resources) knows that it can act with impunity because DNR Human Resources will unconditionally support its actions… as will the State Personnel Board (who has a reputation in the legal community for a strong pro-State bias). As the previous DNR HR Director, Kim Burgess, told me, “Ultimately, my position requires me to support those in management positions, regardless of their actions”. And the State Personnel Board demonstrated its bias by not even commenting on my attorney’s listing of DNR violations of policies and statutes.

This is what I hope to accomplish through my "quest":

1)Have any dams that may have been compromised by Haynes repaired immediately;

2)Have the “system” within DNR and the State Personnel Board reviewed and repaired, so that State employees can safely and inexpensively report wrongdoing (e.g. my legal expenses have been in excess of $140K, so far);

3)Be made whole, financially and career-wise.

 
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