National Park Service Leadership Shaken Not Stirred
Top Woman Out; Top Men Remain Amid Sex Harassment, Ethics & Other Scandals
Washington, DC — In the face of a rising chorus urging his firing, National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis has been asked to remain through the end of the Obama term, according to meeting minutes posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, the number two NPS official and highest-ranking female, Margaret (Peggy) O’Dell, will be leaving by the end of July.
In this its centennial year, the Park Service has been buffeted by a series of scandals, including highly publicized reports of female staff being propositioned or otherwise harassed in places ranging from Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park to Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore. In a radio interview last week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell admitted that these incidents may be “just the tip of the iceberg…I’m sure that as we investigate this, we will find there is a bigger issue, a culture that allows these things to go on that needs to change …What needs to change is really a function of leadership.”
Yet change at the NPS will not start at the top. Minutes from a July 11, 2016 meeting of the NPS National Leadership Council, consisting of Jarvis, top deputies and regional directors, indicate that:
“Jon Jarvis will NOT be resigning. The Department has asked him to stay and given him their full support. He will be retiring in January 2017.” (Emphasis in original)
Meanwhile, Peggy O’Dell, a 37-year agency veteran and Deputy Director for Operations since 2011, is abruptly retiring, a departure thus far not marked with the usual official announcement. She is slated to be replaced on August 1 by Mike Reynolds, currently the NPS Associate Director for Workforce, Relevancy and Inclusion, the post directly responsible for preventing sexual harassment and related problems.
“Ousting your top female executive while keeping or promoting the responsible senior males does not bode well for improving the Park Service’s gender culture,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that no reason was given for O’Dell’s sudden stepdown. “Until these serious personnel knots are unraveled it may be imprudent to elevate the official who has been in charge of workplace ‘inclusion.’”
Jarvis has been recently reprimanded for ethics violations in fundraising and PEER is currently suing NPS to force release of records showing Jarvis’ potentially improper reliance on corporate jets. Last month, he was taken to task for failure to hold miscreant park superintendents and other employees to account in a brutal oversight hearing in which Jarvis’ nonresponses fanned bipartisan frustration. Citizen petitions are now circulating which call for his removal, a call echoed by a few Republican Congressmen.
The July meeting notes indicate that “Jarvis is focusing his last six months on workforce…in developing a more ‘inclusive, welcoming, respectful’ organizational culture.”
“By virtually every measure, Jon Jarvis has been the worst Director of the National Park Service in memory,” Ruch added, pointing to a litany of resource protection retreats, overlooked violations and highly questionable maneuvers during Jarvis’ tenure. “If he has failed to inspire any positive change in more than six years why would one expect him to be able to do so in less than six months?”