Valvo's complaintsCAVALIER, N.D. — Besides Tony Valvo’s allegations of conflict-of-interest in working for farm program recipients and inadequate oversight of certain conservation programs, he has a collection of other complaints about the Pembina County office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service:
By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek
CAVALIER, N.D. — Besides Tony Valvo’s allegations of conflict-of-interest in working for farm program recipients and inadequate oversight of certain conservation programs, he has a collection of other complaints about the Pembina County office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service:
- Safety concerns. On April 15, 2010, Josh Hanson, Pembina County district conservationist, directed Valvo to join him on a field scouting mission, using a Honda all-terrain vehicle. Valvo says he doesn’t know why he was being taken on the trip. The field had deep ruts.
“Hanson instructed me to mount the ATV and sit on the metal rack on the back” as Hanson drove. “I asked Hanson if we were required to use helmets or headgear. His response: I’m not wearing any.” During the ride, Valvo says he twisted his ankle and bruised his groin in the procedure.
Valvo notes that Mary Shuh, an NRCS employee in Dickinson, N.D., died Aug. 5, 2010, near White Sulfur Springs, Mont., in an accident on a similar vehicle. She was not wearing a helmet. Officials investigating the incident said it appeared the vehicle struck a boulder and overturned, landing on Shuh.
- Government property. In the first week in April, just before lunch one day, Valvo says Hanson told him to accompany him to take some pictures in the field. Instead, Hanson had a piece of his hunting rifle in his truck and drove seven miles to Wilson’s Gun Shop along Interstate 29.
“I said, Josh, we live in the world of surveillance. Look at where we are,” Valvo says he told his boss.
Valvo notes that the vehicle itself carried stickers, saying it was for official, government use only.
Valvo says that when he came out of the gun shop, “we drove the vehicle back to the office.” There was no business being taken care of, except for his personal business in a federal vehicle. He called Hanson a “jackass.”
Hanson later would say he heard the “jackass” comment was a secondhand comment and cited it in a review of Valvo’s insubordination. Hanson said he went to the gun shop to collect a signature for his EWP contracts, not to do gun business. Valvo says he saw no signatures collected that day.
- Working weekends. Andy Wingenbach, assistant state conservationist in Devils Lake, N.D., told Valvo he’d heard that Valvo at times had told particular clients he would “give” his own weekend time for free to help them properly document their projects in a timely fashion. Valvo acknowledged he made such an offer to a particular farmer in Cavalier, about making such an offer on a WRP contract involving 17 drainage ditch plugs.
Lundquist had reported this to Wingenbach, who emphasized this was an act of misconduct: “We’re federal employees: we don’t work weekends,” Valvo says. “He banged his fist on the desk and said ‘No, no, no.’”
- Checking blood sugar. Valvo has been a diabetic since his mid-30s, but says job stress knocked it out of whack. He says Hanson refused to allow him a private space in the office — perhaps 10 minutes in a conference room — to prick his finger for blood sugar levels and inject insulin, if necessary. Complicating this is that he’d had Type C hepatitis since about 2003, which he says he likely contracted from his wife, who works in medical care.
The disease can cause fatal liver problems, but the Veteran’s Administration and local doctors told the NRCS that normal hand washing and sanitary conditions was not a danger to himself or coworkers. Valvo says Hanson questioned him for using government time and phones to call his doctor and also questioned why he didn’t go to local doctors instead of 2½ hours to the Veteran’s Administration in Fargo, N.D.
Hanson denied that he ever denied Valvo’s request to check blood sugar. He says Valvo was reluctant to go and said he “didn’t like being in the field or being hot, sweaty or dirty,” failed to get EWP contracts completed in a timely fashion and “felt certain field work was beneath him.”
He said Valvo’s doctor’s letter on Aug. 4 indicated he needed to work inside.
Valvo says he was willing to go to the field.
- Mileage, location records. Valvo alleges that field visits in the NRCS county office were improperly documented. His previous experience with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Nevada was that that agency used Global Positioning System software to log wherever they went. Instead, the Pembina County NRCS workers were using paper, even though they had $14,000 in GPS equipment (Trimble GPS data receivers) unplugged in battery charging cradles.
“They were using them for nothing and said they don’t know how to use the software,” Valvo says he was told. “On one, they said the satellite receiver doesn’t pick up a constellation of satellites” as it should. Valvo says he questioned this and Hanson said, “Don’t worry about it. The whole state does it that way and as long as Bismarck says we can do it that way, we can.”
Conversely, the superiors accused Valvo of improper time reporting, but he claims he properly trained on the software until Sept. 15, 2010.