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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

DMV Whistleblower Exposed Health And Safety Concerns Then Terminated

Call Center CSR Praised By Management Then Fired Shortly After...by Jack Swint
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In October 2010, the Director of Regional Office and Call Center Services praised Tim Halen for his professionalism and efficiency at his job as a customer service representative. In fact, Director D.P. Lake cited that in a letter to Halen, which also included, “Your actions reflect great credit on yourself, the Call Center and the WV Division of Motor Vehicles.” Also, in October 2010, Regional Office Operations Manager, John B. Haynes commended Tim Halens work performance and that Halen was one of the "key components in their ability to provide customer service to the State of West Virginia."

Shortly after these praises, Halen, who had worked as a DMV customer service representative since 2007, was promoted to the “Lead CSR” in the Call Center located in the Kanawha City Department of Motor Vehicle office. Halen says that his promotion ultimately cost him his job because being in a supervisory position on the management team opened his eyes to see and be subjected to the covering up of serious problems inside the Department of Motor Vehicles day to day operation.

Halen states he is very much a team player, but not on a team that he feels is condoning and covering up possible health hazards, government waste and circumventing federally mandated audits. And when he voiced his concerns to superiors, he claims management began strategically creating an undeserved disciplinary record over a 6 month period that ultimately caused his unlawful termination March 5th, 2012. 

Their listed reasons to terminate include insubordination, not being considerate of or able to work with female employees, inappropriate use of state records, e-mail violations, and misrepresentation of the agency.

Blowing The Whistle(s)

Tim Halen says that he not only voiced his complaints and concerns while being a supervisor, he used e-mail and letters to detail what he witnessed and or learned. In fact, his e-mail account was suspended permanently in November 2011 after management discovered he was creating a written record of each notification to superiors of the work related problems and hazards he was now aware of. Their reason for shutting his account down was because it was felt his communication content was disruptive and not productive. 

Halen says that while being “in the loop” he became aware of the potential health hazards facing the employees at the Parkersburg DMV. Not just the former building that was shut down because of a leaking roof and black mold, but the location that now houses the DMV until a new building is completed in August 2012. He learned that even the Commissioner and Governor are aware of the possible presence of asbestos in this current building.

In fact, according to written correspondence from Tim Halen to several higher ups, (including Governor Earl Ray Tomblin) he learned from Pete Lake and Earl Reynolds that prior to the opening of this current Parkersburg DMV office, both men did a walk around of the building and discovered a large crack in the wall by the loading dock where “white granular powder” was leaking out. The letter goes on to state that “per Reynolds” they also discovered black mold in the area used by the CSR’s. They called in a construction crew to make repairs. When the dry-wall was being replaced, evidence of mold, water and termite damage was visible.

DMV Employees there have filed FOI requests for documentation to verify any air quality problems up to and including a “baseline” audit performed before they moved in.

According to Halen, it’s his understanding that every employee working at the Parkersburg DMV office has filed a grievance on the potential health conditions there. This would include Pam Gainer, wife of West Virginia’s State Auditor Glenn Gainer, who reportedly works in the DMV Parkersburg office. Halen reports that during a conversation with Glenn Gainer about the problems at the Parkersburg DMV, the chief auditor said that his wife (Pam) had complained about the same concerns of health risks that all of the office employees share.

He feels that officials are now trying to keep this under raps because it is only a few months before they move. At the time, management placed plastic and duct tape in doorways, blocking any foot traffic to other parts of the building that may be contaminated. “If my claims have no merit, let's do one specific test for particulate matter found on the tops of furniture,  If the tops of the furniture haven't been dusted already, the samples attained can show an accurate assessment of everything they've breathed in the period from opening to present.”

Another problem Halen raised was the results of conversations by the contractor that did the remodeling construction work for the DMV location in Kanawha City. Reportedly, this contractor said that they “ran out of money” and elected to use some substandard and or used materials including breaker boxes and wiring. This is a two-fold problem. Besides the fact the state did not pay for used or substandard materials, theirs the safety factor of the quality.

Note: He also noted that the DMV has approximately 7 years remaining on their lease of the building at approx. $100,000 a month. But with the mall’s owner filing bankruptcy in January 2012, who knows what could happen.

Then in August 2011, Halen says his boss, Pete Lake directed him to personally call, not e-mail, 8 of the 23 DMV offices throughout the state and warn them that EEO state employee Pat Whirley was going to be conducting a surprise unannounced inspection-audit of their offices to ensure they were in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) for the handicapped. Why did they need to tip off the offices of the impending inspection? Because of poor audit results in the past when the inspector showed up unannounced.

Halen says he was instructed to tell each office manager to make sure all wheelchair ramps were accessible and that there were no boxes or obstructions in areas that could hinder any disabled person. According to Halen, Pete Lake and Earl Reynolds also made calls to offices to warn them. The results of the inspection showed improvement from prior audits. He says that he “reported these potential problems repeatedly throughout my chain of command up to and including Commissioner Miller and his attorney in 2011.”

A scheduled meeting on December 27, 2011 with the commissioner turned into a conversation with the Commissioners attorney who told Halen she “did not care in the least about the scenario in which my management team warned all 23 of our Regional Offices of an impending ADA audit.” He claims she also told him… “The goals are the primary concern, the methods used are secondary.” He disagreed and went to the Personnel Office and filed a complaint.

The final straw for Mr. Halens attempts to right any potential wrongs he perceived came from his December 5th 2011 letter to state officials addressing the major changes in requirements for DMV documents needed after January 31, 2012 to obtain a license or other state issued documents. He had become involved in several e-mails and written correspondence about the states new policy that would require each customer to provide their social security card that has to have the full legal name on it.

Social Security has never required the full name, only the first, middle initial and last. Halen says he contacted SSA as a private citizen whose family members just have the middle initial on their card and spoke to a representative who explained they don’t require it. In fact, he produced a 2005 e-mail where SSA outlined their procedures, and they also requested the DMV “not to send applicants to their (SSA) office just to have an initial replaced with a name.”

Halen finished his letter warning state officials to include the SSA in any upcoming changes so that the SSA doesn’t make a “bee-line to the Governor to ask why a state agency is mandating policy to a federal agency.”

In Closing

Tim Halen calls himself a team player. Just not on the team he was placed on in 2010 when his positive work ethics got him a promotion to Lead CSR at the DMV Customer Call Center Operation.

Once in a supervisory position, he was taken into confidence by his managers as one of them, only to find being near the top allowed him to witness, be apart of and learn sordid details of ongoing problems within the agency that he would not have learned if still just a CSR.

With a strong belief in doing what was right, Halen reported what he perceived to be wrong. Problems that have the potential to be health concerns, and even life threatening if not addressed. First, he notified his department supervisors, when that didn’t get results, he went up the ladder. At first, officials wanted to transfer him to another DMV department. When that didn’t materialize, they allegedly began discrediting him and built a case to terminate this man so they could keep these issues a secret. His supervisors went from trusting Halen as their team comrade to disassociating him from everyone else.

Was the cancelling of his work e-mail capability due to his correspondences being disruptive and not productive? Or, was it really damage control?  

During the course of researching for this story, we obtained copies of e-mails and letters written by Tim Halen that both back up his allegations and create a record of his earnest effort to bring attention to a basic cover-up by some state officials. Who, may be covering up potential health hazards, circumventing federally mandated audits and government waste.

Tim Halen has filed the necessary grievance forms to appeal what he calls an unlawful termination of a whistleblower. 

End Of Story…

Jack Swint-Publisher
West Virginia News
E-Mail:  WestVirginiaNews@gmail.com
Website: http://WVNewsOnline.com 
Blog: http://WestVirginiaNews.blogspot.com
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1 comment:

timhalen said...

Sir Jack,

There was certain "sworn testimony" by the DMV (Mr. Lake & Reynolds)at the appeal for my UC benefits. It was either disingenuous and/or outright perjury.

Lake testified the Capitol Police were there due to their "fear" of my possible meltdown when they installed a new manager the morning of my termination. I say, no other police agency would respond to a "possible future" crime.

The state asked for and was granted a reduction from gross to simple misconduct at the UC office, significantly lowering the state's burden of proof for the recently reduced charge(s) for my dismissal.

The DMV apparently did not report this extremely important (to me) reduction of charges to the WV Personnel office; and, I continue to be permanently banned from any future DOT positions...period.

I then mailed a timely appeal letter to Personnel that included the "charge reduction" issue. The reply touched only on the grievance filing as my last chance to prevail and be made whole.

Three Personnel employees told me via phone that the action against me was based upon the contents of the official termination letter...period. As the DMV provided Personnel with no specifics supporting the termination charges, Personnel banned me from the DOT only...instead of all state agencies.

Is it possible that there can be one set of charges for WorkForce WV (UC), and another set for the State of WV Grievance Board/Personnel office?

An analogy may be one keeping a set of "cooked" financials for IRS reporting; and a second, completely accurate set that reflects the true financials...The IRS regularly sends people involved in this "dual" recording method to prison.

At the DMV's initial appeal, Mr. Lake came perilously close to testifying that I had provided state documents to a potential employer with ties to the State of WV workers compensation claims (HealthSmart???); but, Ms. Fulton, Sr. AAG representing WV, extremely quickly cut him off at the knees while he was mentally searching for the firm's name. Lake also mentioned some heresay as being fact...about a black male customer coming to KC and trying to find a "DMV employee that wears a dew-rag and drives a black PT Cruiser." Lake went on to state I had done something to this gentleman's girlfriend to initiate the man coming into the office. to the best of my knowledge, Lake received this "fact" from another DMV employee.

The transcript is absolutely riddled with errors. An example would be my actually saying, "I don't want to burn any more bridges at work." It was then transcribed as, "I don't want to make any more enemies at work." A small error on its face; but, it never came from my mouth.

At the Board of Review appeal, one of the three gentlemen asked Ms. Fulton if the transcript was accurate. She replied words to the effect of, "I have no problems with the transcript." The three judges did not bother to inquire of my perception of said transcript. Maybe there is a legitimate reason that they were concerned with her and not me. It is a moot point.

Mr. George Stephanoupolis's (sp?) first cousin here in Charleston has given me some much needed assistance as the DMV has apparently not only scared their employees into not involving themselves with my problems; but, they have apparently poisoned the local media as you are probably aware.

In any case, I fault nobody but myself for considering and taking the Lead CSR position at the DMV. In hindsight, I should have gone directly to the DOT's Secretary and made him aware of my concerns at the time. He was the next in the chain of command before Governor Tomblin. My mistake, I tend to learn my most valuable lessons the hardest way.

Take care and stay C O O L.

Halen

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