Sun 2 Oct 2016
During the 15 years Don Neubacher was superintendent of the Point Reyes National Seashore, he behaved deceptively on a number of occasions. Nonetheless, in 2010, he was made superintendent of Yosemite National Park.
It was a dramatic — albeit absurd — promotion. After he’d been on the job in Yosemite for six years, the Park Service in response to employee complaints conducted an investigation last August and concluded that Neubacher had created a work environment that was “toxic” for many staffers.
National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher (left) at a 2004 town meeting in Point Reyes Station.
Besides the August investigation, 18 Yosemite Park employees a week ago informed the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the House of Representatives that Neubacher had bullied, intimidated, and humiliated staff who complained of misconduct by him and other Park Service personnel.
“In Yosemite Park today, dozens of people, the majority of whom are women, are being bullied, belittled, disenfranchised and marginalized,” Yosemite fire chief Kelly Martin told the committee in written testimony concerning several parks.
During last week’s hearing, committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) quoted an Interior Department investigator at Yosemite as reporting, “The number of employees interviewed about the horrific working conditions leads us to believe that the environment is toxic, hostile, repressive, and harassing.”
The congressman added, “It is our understanding that of the 21 people the investigators interviewed, every single one of them, with one exception, described Yosemite as a hostile work environment as a result of the behavior and conduct of the park superintendent.” The one person who did not agree, Congressman Chaffetz wryly noted, was Supt. Neubacher.
Making matters worse, committee members said, was the fact that Neubacher’s wife Patty has been deputy director of the Park Service’s Pacific West Region, which oversees Yosemite.
But the jig is up, and last Thursday Supt. Neubacher acknowledged in an email to park employees that regional administrators had decided Yosemite needs new leadership. He had been offered an advisory job in Denver but had decided to retire from the Park Service effective Nov. 1. On Sunday, Patty Neubacher announced that she too was retiring as of Nov. 1.
Supt. Neubacher didn’t acknowledge actually doing anything wrong at Yosemite, only that he might have been insensitive. Writing to park staff he claimed, “Until recently I wasn’t aware of these concerns and am deeply saddened by this….”
“It was never my intention in any way to offend any employee.… If I did offend any of you at any time, I want to sincerely apologize.”
He didn’t intend to harass and belittle staff, female staff in particular? It was all a misunderstanding? Just how sincere is this apology?
The crowd of townspeople who heard Don Neubacher (upper right) prevaricate about his own actions after the pepper spray incident in 2004.
That kind of dissembling was on display all too often during Neubacher’s 15 years on Point Reyes. Many examples could be recounted. Here are just a couple: In July 2004, an emotionally out-of-control Point Reyes National Seashore ranger accompanied by a second ranger aggressively pepper-sprayed a teenage brother and sister while in Point Reyes Station. The attack was so savage that in order to spray directly onto the eyeballs of the girl, who was crouched on the pavement in handcuffs, the ranger held her eyelids apart.
The siblings’ only crime was to show up to ask why two friends of theirs had been taken into custody by rangers outside the park. The friends, by the way, were never charged with any misdeed.
The pepper-spraying created a public outcry, and a town meeting was held in Point Reyes Station so people could question park officials about it. To mollify the crowd, Neubacher told them he had asked the Park Service to conduct an internal investigation into the rangers’ behavior. And to allay any suspicion that an internal investigation might be biased, Neubacher added, he’d asked the Marin County District Attorney’s Office to conduct a “parallel” investigation.
The next day after the now-calmed crowd had gone home, a perplexed assistant DA remonstrated that the park superintendent had done no such thing. Neubacher hadn’t asked the DA’s Office to investigate the rangers; he had asked it to prosecute the brother and sister. Many townspeople who had been taken in by Neubacher’s fabrication were furious. In any case, the DA refused to prosecute the teenagers, and in September 2005 the Park Service paid them $50,000 to settle claims growing out of the incident.
In 2007, Neubacher began pushing a proposal to shut down Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Regardless of what you thought of the idea, there was no denying that Neubacher outright lied to the Marin County Board of Supervisors in arguing for it.
When the supervisors held a hearing to express support for the oyster company, Supt. Neubacher showed up to claim the oyster operation was bothering harbor seals. Neubacher had previously asked the US Marine Mammal Commission to look into this allegation, but earlier that same day, commission staff had faxed him that so far there had been no decision to do so.
Nonetheless, Neubacher told county supervisors, “The Marine Mammal Commission wrote us a letter this morning. They’re going to take it up on a national level.”
When an investigator from the Inspector General’s Office of the Interior Department later asked the park superintendent about his deception, “Neubacher conceded that it might have been a little bit misleading for him to say that the Marine Mammal Commission was taking up the issue and had written the National Park Service a letter,” the investigator reported.
What will Neubacher do now? Given his repeated fabrications while administering the Point Reyes National Seashore and his misogynistic style of management while administering Yosemite National Park, there may be a job waiting for him out there — working for Donald Trump.