Mesa Verde whistleblower complaint upheld

Rangers vindicated for exposing abuse

A couple who was not rehired as seasonal rangers at Mesa Verde National Park after the husband filed a complaint against a park superintendent under the Whistleblower Protection Act have been vindicated.

A news release from the independent federal Office of Special Counsel said the couple, Bruce and Sara Schundler, were not rehired in part because of their perceived whistleblowing.

Bruce Schundler said Monday in a telephone interview from his home in New Jersey that he and his wife are satisfied. They received $220 (the cost of rescheduling two air fares), jobs next summer at a park of their choosing and public recognition of the settlement of the case.

Ann O’Hanlon at the Office of Special Counsel said Monday she didn’t know if the National Park Service, which operates Mesa Verde National Park, disciplined Cliff Spencer, superintendent on staff when the Schundlers weren’t rehired. O’Hanlon said she assumed the park took no action against him because it wasn’t mentioned in the news release Dec. 11.

In a later email, she said: “The press release includes all the information we can give on this case.”

A call to the park, located near Cortez, wasn’t immediately answered.

Bruce Schundler, 65, is a retired businessman and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Sara Schundler, 63, is a retired physical therapist.

They were seasonal rangers, May to October, in 2007 and 2009 at Mesa Verde, spending the summer of 2008 in Alaska and the summer of 2010 at Statue of Liberty National Monument on Ellis Island, Bruce Schundler said.

He said the scant presence of then-Superintendent Larry Wiese at Mesa Verde and employee gossip about Wiese’s time away – Mexico, Scotland, Hawaii – and appearances on behalf of a company that does digital imaging of historic sites, aroused his curiosity.

Near the end of the couple’s 2009 summer at Mesa Verde, Schundler said he filed a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the park budget. Wiese resigned 10 days later.

The unannounced departure spurred him to action again. Bruce Schundler said he asked the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate.

In 2010, he and his wife were assured three times by their immediate supervisor at Mesa Verde that they could count on summer jobs in 2011, Bruce Schundler said. On the basis of that assurance, they booked air travel to spend four days back East where he was to officiate at a wedding and then return to Mesa Verde.

But in early 2011, they were told by the supervisor that Spencer, who replaced Wiese in late 2010, ordered that neither could return to a park job, Bruce Schundler said. In the meantime, they made a phone call and landed jobs again at Ellis Island.

A filing under the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act resulted in a failed attempt to negotiate an agreement, Bruce Schundler said. This brought the Office of Special Counsel into the picture.

The counsel’s news release said the Schundlers had “spotless work records.” The DOI Office of the Inspector General found Wiese’s action “created the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

The counsel said the Schundlers “received full corrective action.”

Bruce Schundler marveled Monday at the time it took to resolve his requests. Federal employees are told to speak out about perceived wrongdoing without fear of retaliation, he said.

“It’s ridiculous that it took almost three years to resolve the matter,” he said. “It was a clear-cut case of abuse.”