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Allegations fly as county administrator probe stalls

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By Carol A. Clark

No one’s talking and speculation is mounting as an investigation that has left many in the community guessing drags on with little sense of urgency.
A month has passed since the Los Alamos County Council hired an Albuquerque law firm to coordinate the investigation into unspecified claims leveled by Assistant County Administrator Diana Stepan against County Administrator Tony Mortillaro.
“Any way you analyze this mess, it has been mishandled from the very beginning,” said Stepan’s husband, Tom Stepan, who has been the only person connected to the case willing to talk.
Seven weeks have passed since county councilors first learned details of the complaint and allegations against the county administrator, he said.
“Council also, more than six weeks ago, had knowledge of the cover-up by county officials of two prior investigation reports, and they had access to those reports, which confirm some of Diana’s allegations, yet they chose not to take action,” he said.
Stepan is referring to two investigative reports in 2009 that stemmed from allegations of gender bias lodged by a former human resources manager against Mortillaro’s predecessor that also implicated
Mortillaro, an assistant county administrator at the time.
Council Chair Mike Wismer acknowledged the reports saying, “Council was not given those reports until Ms. Stepan made her allegations.”
The Los Alamos Monitor received redacted copies of those reports recently from the county and is still awaiting a number of other documents and e-mails related to the current probe, which were requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
County Attorney Randy Autio attributed the delay in the current investigation to a need to interview several more witnesses.
“The investigation should be completed in another week or two,” Autio said Thursday.
Stepan said the delay is because the council has allowed Mortillaro to take another “optional” trip, this week to California, rather than be interviewed by the investigator.
“It is more important for councilors to allow the county administrator and two other county employees to attend an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) conference in San Jose next week than it is to have him meet with the investigator for the first time,” he said.
“This action by council is clearly not a good faith effort to resolve the matter, and can only be interpreted as retaliation against Diana for whistle-blowing, with the added benefit of being engineered to ensure that council can keep the results of the investigation from the public until after the upcoming elections in November.” 
According to its Web site, the ICMA annual conference begins today, runs through Wednesday and is offering attendees educational, information-sharing and networking tools.
“What I see here is a serious matter that is screaming for some timely leadership and no one appears to be listening or responding appropriately,” Stepan said.
“At this point, the situation is simply ridiculous. Sometimes I think we would be better off drawing names randomly from a hat than exercising our right to vote.”
Wismer addressed the delay in the investigation saying, “Yes, the delay is extremely disappointing, however, we are committed to ensuring the investigation is thorough and complete and even though we face criticism for the delay — the more important thing for the community is to have a report that is comprehensive so that council has the best information available with which to make its decision.”

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com