The whistleblower who reported missing documents and suspicious accounting issues at Clinton State Park was terminated recently and he believes it was in retaliation for his whistleblowering actions. At least three additional employees were either placed on leave or terminated, potentially as a result of the same report.
The state is currently investigating whether the irregularities are linked to stolen money at the park.
According to an investigation by the Journal-World newspaper in March, the accounting irregularities raised questions about whether entrance fees paid to get into the park had been properly deposited in the state’s bank account. The Journal-World also found that a set of documents that would verify whether the money was lost or stolen went missing.
Employee of More than a Decade Fired after Revealing Information to the Journal-World
The terminated employee, Harvey Irby, was let go in late April after 11 years of working for the park. Irby had given information to the Journal-World regarding its investigation. The paper guaranteed him anonymity after Irby stated he was concerned the information he provided could lead to being fired. Irby gave the paper permission to reveal his identity after his termination.
According to Irby, the article embarrassed the park and they wanted to “sweep everything away.”
Brad Loveless, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, stated that Irby was not fired as a result of the report and that there is a “whole other set of data” that justified Irby’s termination. Loveless stated he could not share that information because it was a personnel matter.
The Journal-World’s investigation was conducted over the course of several months and revealed evidence that people entering Clinton State Park were paying fees but that money never made it into the state’s records. During a one month period during the summer of 2016, there were at least 18 permits purchased that ranged in cost from $150 to $500 that could not be accounted for in the records. Additional permits issued during other months also went unaccounted for.
The state was unable to fulfill the Journal-World’s open records request because someone had removed the documents from the park’s storage shed.
Unclear Whether Employees Were Terminated or Put on Temporary Leave
According to Loveless, the investigation into where the documents went is ongoing and the park has made some permanent and temporary changes as a result of the issue, including “removing some people from their jobs.” He claims it wasn’t because those employee had done anything wrong, but that there were concerns over the missing money and documents.
Based on Loveless’ statement, it was unclear if those employees had been terminated or put on suspension. The secretary stated “… those people were asked to step away from that role temporarily as we really understand the truth about what happened.”
Irby claims those employees, like himself, were fired from their jobs. Other sources have also confirmed those terminations. Irby has been forced to find other living arrangements as a result of his termination because he was living in a camp trailer on park grounds.
The day he was fired, five park rangers from the area came to his trailer and told him his services were no longer needed and that he had to vacate the premises. He claims to have not been given an official reason for his termination.
Irby is considering hiring an attorney to investigate whether his termination was a violation of state law, but called the situation “ridiculously frustrating” and questioned whether he should just move on. He reported having a tremendous amount of support from the community.