Federal Investigation Clears Monument Managers

Federal Investigation Clears Monument Managers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A federal investigation has cleared the managers of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument of allegations of wrongdoing, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Friday.

The probe, initiated at the request of Sen. Orrin Hatch, D-Utah, looked into allegations that monument management used illegal hiring practices, intimidated staff and sought to eliminate livestock grazing on the 1.9-million-acre federal reserve in southern Utah.

"No evidence was found to indicate that any illegal activities or violations of regulations occurred related to the grazing program. The investigation also found no evidence of illegal personnel practices," according to a U.S. Department of Interior memorandum obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act.

Monument manager Dave Hunsaker said he was pleased with the outcome of the investigation.

"It's time to move on and do the good work that we've been doing," he said.

Hunsaker and former monument manager Kate Cannon have been frequent targets of rural politicians still angry over the monument's surprise creation by President Clinton in 1996.

Last August, county commissioners in Kane and Garfield counties, along with the Kanab mayor and a state legislator, asked the Bureau of Land Management to fire Hunsaker.

The rural leaders accused Hunsaker of illegally restricting grazing and firing employees without cause. The allegations were based, in part, on what they had heard from former monument employees.

On Feb. 20, 2003, former employee Kevin Shakespeare sent an e-mail to Hatch's office, complaining that he was fired because he refused to "go along with Kate Cannon's plan to remove grazing from public lands." He named another BLM employee who was allegedly fired for blowing the whistle on illegal hiring practices.

A month later, Hatch sent a letter to Interior's Office of Inspector General urging an investigation.

Deciding the accusations were not criminal in nature, the Inspector General referred the matter to Interior's National Human Resources Management Center, based in Denver, which conducted an "administrative inquiry."

From August to October of last year, two investigators interviewed 21 former and current employees, including Cannon. In October, the investigators concluded their inquiry.

The Tribune received a heavily redacted copy of the report this week.

The report noted that most monument employees believed that Cannon, now a manager at Grand Canyon National Park, held "a strong anti-grazing management philosophy," but found no evidence that she or Hunsaker broke the law.

Likewise, there were no illegal personnel practices, but "widespread lack of understanding by employees ÛofÝ why or how personnel decisions were made."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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