Utility district board president asked to apologize for staff dispute
October 28, 2011
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The South Tahoe Public Utility District Board of Directors has asked Board President Dale Rise to apologize for a July incident where he allegedly became verbally abusive to a district employee.
The board voted 2 to 1 on Oct. 20 to ask Rise to apologize to customer service representative Jeri Callian. The board is also expected to review several ethics policies as part of the vote.
“I believe that we do have to address those three policies and make it clear we do intend to hold ourselves to higher standards (than the public),” said Director Chris Cefalu.
Director Jim Jones voted against requesting the apology, suggesting censuring Rise would be more appropriate. Director Mary Lou Mosbacher left the meeting before the item on the apology was heard.
During the July 12 incident, Rise, a contractor, entered the district’s customer service office to obtain a project permit and began talking with Callian. The tone of the discussion gradually escalated and ended with Rise becoming irrational, extremely angry, accusatory and verbally abusive, Callian told the board last week.
“This was not a conversation I had with Mr. Rise,” Callian said. “This was a heated argument on his part.”
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Rise switched from being a contractor assisting a client to a board member trying to correct “alleged wrongs” with district policy during the incident, Callian said.
She said Rise repeatedly pointed his finger at her and accused her of personally harming his client. Callian said she was frightened by Rise’s behavior. She filed a complaint against the board president that month.
Last week, Rise said he did not intend to get into a confrontation when he entered the customer service office. He said the tone of the conversation was not his fault.
“I did nothing wrong,” Rise told directors last week. “It was an escalation of circumstances I had no control over.”
“I believe I did everything picture perfect on this issue,” Rise added.
An independent investigation of the incident found Rise violated three district policies regarding treating people with courtesy and directing complaints and concerns to the district’s general manager.
“In summary, director Rise brought up topics related to his role as a board member and critical of individual staff members that were unnecessary to the transaction and that blurred the line between his role as a contractor and his role as a board member,” Nancy Hussmann, the district’s human resources director, told directors.
She said the investigation identified previous instances where Rise blurred the line between his job as a contractor and his role as a director.
Rise said he does not have a problem separating his job from his elected position. He said the problem is district staff telling his clients incorrect information and obligating him to clarify district policies.
Rise said he was clear about being at the district as a contractor, not as a board member, during the July incident.
Callian said she was initially shocked and disappointed that investigators did not find Rise in violation of district harassment and workplace violence policies, but said she now has a better understanding of the rules.
“I was very disappointed in the investigator’s findings, but now understand that due to the wording of our workplace harassment or violence policy, the investigator could not find Mr. Rise in violation,” Callian said in a Friday email. “I look forward to the District reviewing and revising our policies so that there are consequences if a similar type of incident occurs in the future between a Board member and employee.”
She has said she filed the complaint on behalf of others who had similar experiences with Rise.
On Friday, Rise said the statement shows the accusations of misconduct against him are a vindictive move by staff ahead of an election.
Because a quorum of directors attended the Oct. 20 meeting, but did not cast three votes approving the motion asking him to apologize, the board did not meet policy requirements to approve the item, Rise said.
He agreed with other directors that the board’s ethics policies need to be examined. Rise said he has taken the request for an apology under advisement and has consulted an attorney.
He said he believes his confidentiality rights were violated during the independent investigation.