OLYMPIA – Washington state parks officials have canceled a pair of contracts totaling up to $ 120,000 after manager Peter Mayer resigned over workplace complaints, including an allegation suggesting that he had lobbied to run a contract.
A contract authorized up to $ 100,000 was to facilitate executive meetings and coaching of the agency’s executive team, according to documents obtained by the Seattle Times on Friday in a public disclosure request. That contract was with BerryDunn, a Maine-based accounting and management consulting firm.
The other contract, authorized up to $ 20,000, was to help with communications after an agency spokesperson left for another job.
Washington State Parks spokeswoman Amanda McCarthy confirmed on Friday that both contracts had been canceled within weeks of announcing Mayer’s resignation after 11 p.m. on October 6.
The resignation came after the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission held three meetings to assess complaints against a public official.
Parks officials declined to say whether Mayer was the subject of the complaints, but that he had resigned in “the best interests of his family.”
Documents obtained by the Seattle Times, however, revealed that Mayer resigned after more than a dozen complaints from employees – many of them managers – alleged that he belittled others and used foul language.
These complaints were emailed to the park commissioners, including one suggesting that Mayer had not followed the “proper process” and made reference to a contract with BerryDunn.
The manager had “identified the consultant he wished to work with from his past relationship with them,” according to that person’s email to the commission, and “pressured staff to want the process leads to its choice in a ‘competitive process’.
Since his resignation, Mayer has apologized for using offensive language and wrote that although he was “familiar with a particular consultant who was prequalified to work,” “the supply of all consultants was obtained in accordance with agency and state rules and policies. “
In an email from a spokesperson on Friday, Mayer wrote that when he was hired in March, the commission asked him to come up with a new perspective and, among other things, address concerns about “a lack of progress on the trails and focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“Based on these guidelines, my own assessments, and feedback from staff, I asked the agency to bring in outside consultants to help me with this work,” Mayer wrote. “Although I had worked with some of these consultants in the past, agency staff other than myself facilitated these purchases and I understood they were following the procurement policies and rules of the state. ”
“I was involved in responding to questions about the agency’s needs, scope and timing when asked,” he added.
Documents previously obtained by the Seattle Times in connection with requests for public disclosure showed that members of the commission inquired of staff about contracts that may have been linked to the complaint.
A contract included in these earlier documents was a deal for BerryDunn up to approximately $ 29,000. That contract had already expired in June, according to information provided by the agency on Friday, and the BerryDunn contract up to $ 100,000 was the one that was canceled.
Members of the parks commission and the agency spokesperson declined to answer questions about whether they had looked at potentially affected contracts and canceled or allowed them to go ahead.
That changed after Gov. Jay Inslee, in a regular press conference scheduled for Thursday, publicly encouraged park officials to answer questions about the contracts.
“We would like to have answers to legitimate questions, of course,” said the governor, when asked about the agency’s refusal to discuss its actions. Inslee’s office also did its own survey of the agency.
The Parks Commission is made up of volunteers appointed by Inslee to help run the agency of 1,000 staff who look after the state’s 124 developed parks.
Open government advocates have said this type of government dynamic can lead to a lack of transparency with taxpayer dollars because the agency is not directly accountable to any elected public official.
In an email earlier this week, Toby Nixon, Chairman Emeritus of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, described this as a common symptom among various boards and commissions in the state.
“They never have to run for office through voters and directly justify their actions. The only recourse for voters is to hold the governor to account, or perhaps the senators who confirmed the commissioners, ”Nixon wrote. “But the responsibility is so remote, so diffuse, and other matters so much more important, that Commissioners feel empowered to simply refuse to communicate.”
Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, a Sequim Democrat who chairs the committee that oversees Washington state parks, declined to comment on Mayer’s resignation or questions about the contracts.
Van De Wege chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks.
The committee’s ranking Republican, however, said she expects a briefing from Parks officials when lawmakers meet for their usual fall meetings, or when the legislative session resumes in January.
“We will be asking for a report and I hope they will be very honest and open about it,” said Senator Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake.
Warnick praised the 1972 Public Records Act approved by Washington voters for shedding light on the situation.
After Washington State Parks confirmed the canceled contracts on Friday, Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee wrote in an email, “We’re glad they’ve taken this step.”