Documents point to reasons behind OLCC regional manager resignation

Complaints led to regional manager’s resignation

By Claire Withycombe / The Bulletin

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s former Bend regional manager resigned during an investigation into allegations she misused a commission car, failed to report leave and fostered a hostile work environment by retaliating against an employee who filed a sexual harassment complaint and rubbing a subordinate’s back, commission records show. Katie Siefkes managed licensees and the OLCC’s staff throughout Central and Eastern Oregon in her role as Bend regional manager before resigning Nov. 20.

A pre-dismissal letter, sent to Siefkes on Nov. 16 and released to The Bulletin on Tuesday , outlines a slew of alleged violations of OLCC and state Department of Administrative Services policies, including exclusive use of a state vehicle, harassment of and hostility toward employees, failing to report leave time and accepting a gift from a licensee.

A pre-dismissal letter does not always lead to dismissal, but it allows an employee another opportunity to make his or her case as to why a disciplinary action isn’t warranted, according to Christie Scott, an OLCC spokeswoman.

In a Nov. 20 email to Human Resources Director Bonnie Barasch, provided to The Bulletin through a public records request, Siefkes said the allegations against her were false. Siefkes, reached by phone on Tuesday, declined to comment further.

“I found most of the ‘charges & supporting facts’ to be untrue, misleading and unsubstantiated,” she wrote to Barasch. “Though it is true, and for a very long time, there is and has been a toxic environment in the Bend Field Office. It seems however you have laid the blame squarely on me and this could not be further from the truth.”

The pre-dismissal letter alleges Siefkes retaliated against an employee who’d filed a sexual harassment complaint against her by giving the woman who made the complaint “the silent treatment” and requesting access to her calendar. That complaint, made in May 2015, was found to be substantiated.

According to the pre-dismissal letter, Siefkes received in June a formal reprimand for “rubbing a subordinate’s back during a retirement event.” The back rub was described as “unwelcomed by the receiver.”

As a result of that incident, Siefkes received what’s called a letter of expectation, which “defines unacceptable behavior, outlines a desired outcome going forward, and creates clear expectations of what an employee will be held accountable to,” Scott wrote in an email Tuesday.

The Nov. 16 pre-dismissal letter also alleged that Siefkes appropriated for her exclusive use a new 2013 Ford Fusion purchased for commission business.

The letter alleges Siefkes used the Fusion for personal use, a violation of OLCC and Oregon Department of Administrative Services motor vehicles policies, claiming she used the car for personal shopping and errands, gave someone — whose name is redacted from the record — a tour of her home, and showed someone where she bought stone for the house. The car was inspected after Siefkes was placed on leave in late August, and the two employees who inspected the car found dog hair and a puncture mark in the back seat, the letter states. State policy states cars need to be kept clean, and nonstate employee passengers are not allowed, including pets.

And, after an employee complained about the work environment in March 2014, the letter further states, the commission determined there were “serious issues in the interactions between (Siefkes) as the manager and the Bend region staff.” Although a complaint that Siefkes created a hostile work environment was not substantiated, the letter states employees “expressed problems with trust, professionalism, fairness and concerns they were targets for various reasons.”

A mediator was hired to spend a day and a half at the Bend office; he said a longer-term mediation process was necessary. The second, longer mediation process ran from May to September of 2014 and was described in the letter as “not successful.” The cost of the day-and-a-half mediation process was $1,000, while the longer mediation cost $8,500, according to Scott.

The letter also contends Siefkes accepted a bottle of wine from O.J. Merrill, an Oregon vintner, a violation of state policy. Siefkes said she’d purchased the wine but did not produce a receipt and later said she dumped it out “because people had been talking about it.” The wine was reportedly placed in a display case in her office, then reportedly disappeared and was replaced by growlers.

In 2013, Bend Police investigated an incident involving Siefkes. Employees accused her of recording an internal meeting without permission, according to Bulletin archives. OLCC staff had alleged the recording was a violation of policy, as well as a state law against interception of communications. Siefkes and her employees gave differing accounts of the meeting to investigators.

In the spring of 2014, the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Siefkes or Barasch, the human resources director, who was also accused of recording the meeting without permission, according to the district attorney’s case notes.

Scott said there was “no conflict of interest” in having Barasch write the pre-dismissal letter to Siefkes.

“The HR Director was not involved in any of the complaints listed in the pre-dismissal letter,” Scott wrote in an email Tuesday. “While Ms. Barasch did draft the pre-dismissal letter, she was accompanied by a senior manager throughout the investigation and she is not the person who would have made any decisions on possible disciplinary action. The Executive Director would be the decision maker regarding any disciplinary action to a management-level position.”

Scott said Portland Regional Manager Shannon Hoffeditz is still filling in while the commission searches for Siefkes’ replacement. The commission received about 30 applications as of Tuesday afternoon, Scott wrote in an email.

­— Reporter: 541-383-0376,

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