Phoenix - Arizona State Parks Director Kenneth Travous offered one of his employees a $10,000 consulting contract for his promise to "refrain from any further communication with [the media] regarding the past, present or future activities of Parks or its employees..." The employee in question, Matt Chew, refused the offer and was fired last week by Travous in retaliation for an essay Chew wrote about Kartchner Caverns that was published in the Boston Globe newspaper.
On February 24th, little more than two weeks after Chew's essay appeared in the Globe, Director Travous proposed that in lieu of dismissal Chew could first resign and then "enter into an Independent Consultation Agreement for certain activities associated with the San Rafael State Parks located in Santa Cruz County, Arizona." Director Travous assured Chew that, while the contract was for technically for three months work, "it doesn't matter if it takes you three months." The contract covered work Chew was planning to do anyway; Chew estimated that the work would take three weeks rather than three months.
The document given to Chew, entitled "Confidential Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release," also provided that the terms of the agreement would remain secret. The no-bid consulting contract would have been effective as soon as Chew agreed to resign. Chew is challenging his dismissal as a violation of his First Amendment Freedom of Speech.
On Tuesday, March 14, in an article in the Arizona Republic, Travous was quoted as saying,"We've never abridged or tried to abridge anybody's First Amendment right to speak to the press." Yet the agreement Travous offered Chew forbade him from any further contact with any "newspaper, magazine, journal, periodical, publication, television, radio, Internet, or other media..." about any state park issue.
"I thought Arizona was the 'straight Talk' state but Ken Travous apparently thinks it is the 'No Comment' state," commented Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Who authorized Mr. Travous to pay off employees for their silence? How many other secret gag funds does State Parks maintain?"
PEER, a national employee rights group based in Washington, DC, has retained the Phoenix firm of Miller, Lasota & Peters to represent Chew in connection with the dismissal.