By Sheila G. Miller
The city of Prineville on Tuesday afternoon released the investigation report that precipitated the firing of former Police Chief Eric Bush, and it shows a variety of misconduct from July 2010 to August 2013 that the investigator found constituted ethics violations and misuse of city property and funds.
The 277-page report by the Local Government Personnel Institute cost the city nearly $50,000 and includes 259 exhibits to support the findings. Bush served as chief of the department since 2003 and as a member of the force since 1990. He was fired this month after nearly 10 months on paid administrative leave. One day after his dismissal, Bush filed a lawsuit against the city of Prineville, the Local Government Personnel Institute and Capt. Michael Boyd, who has served as interim chief since Bush was put on leave. The suit seeks more than $2.5 million and alleges the investigation and subsequent dismissal of Bush was retaliation for his service with the Oregon Army National Guard. Bush’s attorney, Roxanne Farra, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Bush is a brigadier general with the National Guard and was on assignment in South Korea for nearly a month before he was put on leave on his first day back at the department in September 2013.
Aaron Olson of the LGPI conducted the investigation and compiled the report. According to the report, Olson received a call on Aug. 28, 2013, from Prineville City Attorney Carl Dutli and City Manager Steve Forrester, who asked Olson to look into Bush’s use of flex time. Forrester told the investigator he’d found Bush’s flex time was inconsistent with other department managers and didn’t match up with Bush’s Outlook calendar and other methods used to measure his work time.
Thirteen people were interviewed in the course of the investigation. In addition to Bush and Forrester, Olson interviewed Boyd, three police sergeants, administrative assistant Mary Dethman, Communications Director Tobie Reynolds, Human Resources Manager Mary Puddy, IT Director James Wilson and Finance Assistant Jordon Anderson. Two members of the Oregon Army National Guard were also interviewed.
The city initially refused to release the investigative report, but last week the Crook County Legal Department sided with The Bulletin and other media organizations, overruling the city’s denial and compelling it to make the report public.
At the close of the investigative report, Olson provided a summary of allegations and findings of fact.
Olson found 39 instances in which Bush reported earning flex time but the computer-aided dispatch hours didn’t reflect the same time. “I noticed there was a demonstrative pattern that showed he padded his time or rounded his time to benefit his flex time earned hours. Although occasions of underreporting of flex-time did occur, the majority of events were in over reporting.”
According to the report, Bush documented 95 hours of flex time, but the computer-aided dispatch indicated only 50 hours of flex time earned.
The city’s policy on flex time, which, according to the report, Forrester described as an honor system, allows salaried employees who work extra hours in a given day or week to take that time off in the future.
Olson noted in the report that it was unclear whether the over-reporting on flex time was intentional or “gross negligence” on Bush’s part.
“The consistent and aggregate pattern of overstating flex-time earned shows a calculated disingenuous and misleading practice which only serves to benefit Chief Bush in gaining additional work hours typically used to cover other non-job related priorities,” the investigative report states.
The investigation also found allegations of falsifying time records were sustained, noting Bush admitted to doing military work on city of Prineville time, and that he “repeatedly conducted non-police and non-city activities while on duty that were linked to his off-duty employment with the Oregon Army National Guard.”
Among those: He worked on his military laptop from his office; used the city’s scanner and printer for non-city work; drove his city vehicle to military assignments on city time; and ignored his staff when he was using his military laptop.
Bush had two computers and two Internet lines running into his office, one for the city computer and one for his military laptop. The investigation found that Bush routinely forwarded emails from his military computer to the city computer to print and sign documents.
The city was not reimbursed for the documents Bush printed and scanned.
In the course of the investigation, Bush told Olson he also used the military laptop for emergency management work.
Reynolds, the police communications director, told the investigator Bush was not often in the office and “when he is, his mind is somewhere else.” Others interviewed said they were concerned about whether Bush was being honest about how much city work he was doing, and noted some work — such as approving an updated policy manual — was not completed in a timely fashion.
The investigation also concluded Bush misused his city gas card twice: once, in May 2012 when he was traveling to the valley for a meeting with Oregon Emergency Management and then on to military duties, and on a trip to Baker City in March 2013. Essentially, he drove a city vehicle to the meetings, filled the city vehicle up with gas using the city’s gas card, and then also received mileage compensation from the military.
The investigation further found he misused the city credit card once on March 6, 2013, by charging $10 at a restaurant in Baker City. Bush was on duty and attending a meeting there, but he was also on military orders with the National Guard and got a $146 per diem from the military.
“Chief Bush misused his city credit card because he received a monetary per diem from the military and did not reimburse the city for the $10.00 he charged to his city credit card,” the report states.
And the investigation found four instances over the years when Bush used his city vehicle while traveling for the military.
In an interview, Olson wrote in the report, Boyd said “it was (his) opinion that Chief Bush would make a trip for his own personal use and then stretch it to justify it as city business.” And he told the investigator that he thought Bush was doing military activities on city time and getting compensated by both the city and the military.
On a trip to Israel in December 2011, Bush toured a variety of places, including the Masaa National Park, significant religious sites in Galilee and Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. According to the investigative report, Bush went on the trip with Forrester’s blessings and was paid his salary by the city during the trip, which featured an emergency-preparedness conference. The trip was paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation and the military, and Bush created a presentation on emergency preparedness from the trip that he showed to City Council and other organizations.
“It is clear from Chief Bush’s trip to Israel in December 2011 there were tours and presentations that were job related and benefited the City of Prineville,” the investigative report states. “It is also clear there were several tours and presentations that were only military and personal in nature. These did not provide any value or benefit to the City of Prineville and Chief Bush was not authorized to claim this as City time.” The investigative report suggests Bush should have told Forrester about the non-work activities and should have taken vacation leave.
The investigation states Bush was described by people as a micromanager, unapproachable and arrogant, and as having “earned a reputation of not being present as the City of Prineville Police Chief.”
But not all those interviewed agreed with the assessment of Bush’s leadership skills and behavior. Prineville Police Sgt. Jimmy O’Daniel told the investigator “the allegations against Chief Bush stink and it is a witch hunt to get Chief Bush,” the report states, noting O’Daniel thought people were “jockeying” for Bush’s job.
Sgt. JoAnne Bauer told the investigator that Bush was a skilled leader who was “frugal and conscientious with the city’s money.”
Finally, the investigation found Bush failed to perform his police chief duties in a variety of ways, among them by being inattentive to employees, failing to meet training requirements and failing to participate in the remodeling of the police department building.
All these things, the investigation states, point to ethics violations on the part of the chief.
The city found out in October 2013 that the Oregon Department of Justice was investigating Bush for official misconduct and possible theft allegations. That investigation is ongoing.
— Reporter: 541-617-7831, email@example.com