Wednesday, October 10, 2001
Last week an embattled manager for the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments (MCCOG) departed abruptly from her duties, but officials will not confirm whether she was fired or left voluntarily.
"Daliea Thompson is no longer an employee with the agency and that is the only thing I will say," said Will Carey, MCCOG attorney, citing concern over possible litigation.
Thompson's split from MCCOG follows the dismissal of sexual harassment and discrimination based on sex claims that she filed with the Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI) last fall against John Arens, MCCOG executive director. On Aug. 31, the state agency determined there was not sufficient evidence to pursue those complaints.
Thompson, the former head of MCCOG's Area Agency on Aging/Senior and Disabled Services Division, has come under intense fire during the past 18 months because of management practices that have been termed "abusive" by both past and present workers.
As of press time on Tuesday, she was unable to be reached for comment about her split with MCCOG or whether the planned to file an appeal of the BOLI decision.
The Hood River Valley Adult Center broke off its ties with MCCOG in 1996 because of conflicts with Thompson. Officials from the non-profit organization are pleased that she has now left the agency and believe that action has created an opportunity to heal the deep rift between the two service providers.
"Given her past performance this was inevitable," said Heidi Musgrave, executive director for the adult center. "This is a prime opportunity for the agency to correct its past misdeeds and I hope they use that opportunity wisely."
Since spring, the adult center has been attempting to mediate long-standing management and budgetary concerns with MCCOG officials. The center charges that Hood River seniors are being shortchanged by more than $120,000 per year from their rightful share of AAA funding that is currently channeled through MCCOG, which is based in The Dalles and serves Hood River, Wasco, Gilliam, Wheeler and Sherman counties.
After that concern was aired before the county board in early spring, Commissioners Chuck Thomsen and Bob Hastings agreed to investigate the monetary situation further and sit down with adult center board members to work toward a resolution. However, the long-standing problems between Thompson and the adult center cast a shadow over those mediation talks and recently Hastings and Thomsen decided it was time for the county to investigate running its own AAA program.
Musgrave said the adult center has become convinced that it makes better fiscal sense for Hood River County to administer its own AAA dollars, regardless of Thompson's departure.
The news that Thompson had left MCCOG was also warmly received by Rachel Shields, long-time advocate for Hood River seniors, who resigned from her ombudsmen role last fall in protest over the former SDSD director's treatment of Mosier adult foster care provider Lynn Bruce. Bruce was exonerated last year of a variety of charges leveled against her by the MCCOG office and has since undertaken legal action to recoup losses for the damage to her reputation and the resultant loss of business.
"This is a good thing because Daliea misused her power of authority and I now have hope the administrative practices of this agency will be more fair and equitable," said Shields.
Thompson's Oct. 4 departure followed a demotion in May when she was removed from her post as SDSD director and put in charge of supervising elder home care and meals programs run by MCCOG. In order to avoid litigation, Arens kept her at the same salary rate of $3,778 per month but reduced her supervisory role from 19 full and part-time staffers to only one full-time and 10 part-time employees.
For the past 18 months, Thompson has come under fire from numerous complaints lodged against her by caregivers. Last year 17 of the 18 SDSD caseworkers and support personnel filed a formal complaint against Thompson. The charges they submitted to the state through the Oregon Public Employees Union charged Thompson and two of her staffers with creating a hostile working environment. That four-page document outlined fears of retribution/retaliation for expressing an opposing opinion with administrators, public humiliation during disciplinary reprimands, inconsistent policy making, being controlled through job loss threats, and a general feeling of being under the management's "thumb."
The SDSD workers contract for services with MCCOG, which oversees their daily activities, but are paid personnel of the state Department of Human Resources. They filed the complaint with the state in the spring of 2000 after Thompson issued a written reply to their concerns that claimed "righteous fear" was appropriate in the workplace when an employee's job performance was poor. Although union representatives were able to improve the working relationship between the state employees and the two SDSD assistants, they were unsuccessful in resolving disputes between their membership and Thompson. For that reason they successfully battled MCCOG's plans to transfer the SDSD employee status under "local control" that would have placed them directly under Thompson's authority.