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Hasta la Vista, Lupe

Employees say Guadalupe "Lupe" Salinas occasionally walked around Denver's Social Security Administration office downtown crowing about his job and his good fortune. "Oh, it feels so good to be king!" the regional commissioner reportedly would say.

The king is dead.
Salinas, who was appointed commissioner of the agency's six-state Denver region five years ago, stepped down quietly and unexpectedly last week. And though he told staffers his departure was voluntary, it comes after years of unyielding criticism from employees and on the heels of a week-long management review by investigators from SSA headquarters in Baltimore.

A spokesman for the national office said last week that the government hasn't decided who will take Salinas's place or what Salinas will be doing. Salinas "is not giving interviews," says a spokesman at the Denver office.

When Salinas was named commissioner in 1991, he became the first Hispanic to head the regional office. But even then, he had already been plagued by controversy. In 1988, when he was serving as a regional administrator for the SSA's Family Support Administration, employees accused him of manipulating hirings and promotions and telling sexist, racist and off-color jokes. Representatives of the black community actively opposed his 1991 promotion.

And familiarity bred only further contempt. In the past five years, at least nine of Salinas's managers have filed discrimination complaints against him, and two of them have hit the agency with lawsuits ("Social Insecurity," March 28). One of the suits accuses Salinas of age discrimination and of promoting a subordinate, Carolyn Sykes, with whom he is romantically involved.

In March the Denver regional office was visited by a six-member "managerial assessment" team. The investigators met with employees in groups and in one-on-one sessions to determine what was right--and wrong--with the regional office. Peter Taylor, deputy public affairs officer for the Denver region, says such investigations are "fairly common." Other SSA employees claim such investigations are rare.

Two weeks after the assessment team's visit, Salinas attended a regional commissioners' meeting in Baltimore. And in a hastily called staff meeting April 23, he announced that he was giving up his post.

"He came out and said, 'I'm going to say this once and once only, and I will not answer any questions,'" reports an employee who asked that her name not be used. "And then he proceeded to say something along the lines of that he'd been thinking about this for eight or nine months, but that he hadn't wanted to do anything until he felt assured that his name was cleared or that an investigation showed that he was not at fault."

According to the employee, Salinas went on to tell staffers that, based on the assessment team's findings, he had received a vote of confidence from his boss, Deputy Commissioner for Operations Janice Warden. But he said he had still asked to be reassigned permanently, because five years as regional commissioner was enough.

Salinas reportedly also told the gathering that although Warden approved his request for a new assignment on April 22, for the time being he would remain in his same Denver office, at the same $100,000-plus salary, and work on "national initiatives."

If Salinas is aware of the investigators' findings, however, he may be the only one. Phil Gambino, spokesman for the SSA's Baltimore office, says the investigative team has not yet issued a report, nor have its findings been discussed.

But Gambino does confirm Salinas's claim that his departure is voluntary. "It's his decision," Gambino says. "He's requested another position with the agency. He has not been asked by the agency to step down. I know that for a fact.

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Karen Bowers