Park police chief canned for candidness

  • Teresa Chambers

 

Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to another news article, "National parks pinching pennies."

U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers didn’t know what to expect when she reported to the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Park Service Deputy Director Don Murphy, on Dec. 5, 2003. "I had no idea I was about to walk into an ambush," says Chambers. But she could tell something was wrong when she noticed four armed Park Service agents flanking Murphy’s door. Murphy asked for Chambers’ gun and badge and handed her a letter, placing her on administrative leave pending a review.

A few days earlier, Chambers had granted an interview to the Washington Post in which she discussed Park Police funding, citing a $12 million shortfall in 2004 and the need for an $8 million budget increase in 2005. She based her comments on a budget analysis by the Fraternal Order of Police, a union, which cited that rising costs for homeland security were dragging down park police services.

Two weeks after Chambers was placed on leave, Murphy wrote her a letter saying she should be fired for failing to follow orders and for her comments in the Washington Post. Those comments, Murphy wrote, constituted improper lobbying and disclosure of budget talks. Since then, Park Service officials have declined to comment about the case.

For the next six months, Chambers sat at home, preparing a legal challenge against the Park Service. During much of that time, the agency ordered her not to talk to the press without approval.

"Employees who deviate from the company line do so at great personal risk," says Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a group that is providing legal assistance to Chambers, as well as to 10 Park Service superintendents who say they fear for their jobs if they speak out about problems.

In July, the Park Service fired Chambers after she brought her lawsuit for reinstatement to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a federal group that protects government employees against managerial abuse. In its preliminary decision, the board said it is unclear whether Chambers is protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act. A hearing is set for Sept. 8.

If she is not reinstated, Chambers intends to appeal the case in district court. "I will take (my case) as far as the courts will allow it," she says. "It’s about federal employees being able to speak the truth without retaliation."

High Country News Classifieds
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]