Probes, leaks show how top public officials let the public down
The leaked Columbia River Fire and Rescue report about Ron Youngberg's vile 20-year history of abuse — not just of firefighters and staff, but also victims in need of emergency service — has something in common with the leaked Columbia River People's Utility District report about the unethical behavior of John Nguyen
What gives in Columbia County?
Here we have not one, but two public agencies that requested and paid for an independent investigation into suspected questionable conduct, and when the final report confirms the suspicion, absolutely nothing is done.
Well, that's not exactly true. In the case of Nguyen, he was rewarded by the board of directors who, after reading the report, hired him as the general manager and gave him a raise that put his earnings above that of Gov. Kate Brown's. And Youngberg was allowed to quietly resign and take his PERS into a comfortable retirement.
This doesn't represent the kind of action we would expect given the information provided in the investigation documents.
How are the citizens and taxpayers of the county supposed to make sense of this? Is the message simply that accountability is not a requirement of employment at these agencies? Does being in a management or supervisory position mean you are given a pass to act with impunity?
What happened to the chain of command? In the case of Youngberg, he was accountable to former Fire Chief Jay Tappan. In order to keep from believing the reported truth about Youngberg, Tappan simply decided to brush it away. He is quoted as saying, "There is a lot of animus toward Chief Youngberg, and apparently this is the way it came out".
Really? We're supposed to accept this as a statement worthy of a fire chief?
And what about CRFR Human Resources Director Marit Nelson? As the HR direction, isn't she charged with being an advocate for personnel who have complaints? If both she and Tappan refused to take action, no wonder it took 25 years for this situation to come to light.
As for Nguyen, there was no one to stop him, except the board of directors. Kudos to former Directors Dave Baker and Richard Simpson for attempting to maintain ethical boundaries at the PUD. They were no match for the other three board members, but they will be remembered as the ones who tried, at great personal risk, to do the right thing.
The same can't be said of the CRFR board who, to this day, remain totally mum. Are we to believe they were unaware of Youngberg's behavior? Are we also to believe they didn't see the results of the investigation? The current board is comprised of all new members, with the exception of Mark Kreutzer and Ron Schlumpberger. Mr. Kreutzer has been a board member for some 14 years and is a retired firefighter. He has been a seemingly fierce advocate for the wellbeing and safety of personnel at CRFR. It is hard to believe he was unaware, and it is hard to reconcile that if he was aware, he did not take action.
Talk to us, Mark. We deserve to know.
Since the report was published we have not seen or read an apology from CRFR to the firefighters who were subjected to this abuse. As a chagrined member of the public I will offer my personal apology for the harassment and unprofessional environment you were subjected to. Had we known, I have no doubt the public would have demanded the agency act on your claims of misconduct.
These incidences and the reports that confirmed them became public only because brave individuals with a strong moral compass leaked the reports to The Spotlight. Thank heaven for leakers. Without them, we would never know the truth.
Nancy Ward lives in Scappoose.