County personnel shake-up continues

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By Carol A. Clark

First thing Monday morning Acting County Administrator Randy Autio terminated Los Alamos Assistant County Administrator Diana Stepan “in the best interests of the county.”

Stepan had been on paid administrative leave since September while an outside investigative firm looked into approximately 80 allegations that she lodged against former County Administrator Tony Mortillaro and other county personnel.

The county issued an official announcement Monday in which Autio emphasized that his decision to end Stepan’s employment was not taken lightly and is not taken in any way as retaliation for the internal and external complaints filed by Stepan last fall against the former county administrator, his predecessor and others.

“I reached my decision only after long deliberation and with considerable regret,” Autio said. “I believe that this personnel action is in the best interests of the County of Los Alamos. I wish Diana all of the best with her future endeavors.”

Stepan was reached by telephone Monday afternoon but declined comment.

Autio said because this is a personnel matter, he would not comment any further beyond Monday’s statement.

“Although I always want to provide as much information as possible to our citizens and county employees, I cannot comment further because this is a confidential personnel matter and I would ask for everyone to respect the confidentiality of those involved,” he said.

Autio said he informed the newly seated county council of his decision before taking action on the matter. His decision does not require council action, he said, in that the assistant county administrator position reports directly to the county administrator and is an “at will” position, meaning that the employee can be fired with or without cause.

Council Chair Michael Wismer said Monday, “This is a personnel matter – the decision was in the hands of the acting county administrator and I really can’t comment beyond that.”
Fran Berting is one of four newly seated councilors. She has been vocal in her opposition to Mortillaro’s termination.

“I’m only just now reading the full investigative report, which new councilors didn’t have access to until this morning, but I think it (terminating Diana Stepan) is probably in the best interest of the county,” Berting said.
Although there was no finding of wrongdoing in the lengthy probe against Mortillaro, he was terminated in a 5-2 vote by county council on Dec. 14.

“While the county has conducted its review of an investigation into allegations made by a staff member (Stepan), we report tonight that the end of the employment relationship with Tony is not based on any one finding or any specific acts,” Wismer said at the time. “Simply stated, the council has determined, after a long and thoughtful debate and deliberation, that a separation of employment with Tony is necessary so we can move the county in a direction that best serves the citizens.”

Councilors Nona Bowman and Michael Wheeler voted against the firing.

“The allegations that were brought forward were in many cases contradictory and in my estimation in no way supported Ms. Stepan’s allegations,” Wheeler said. “However, the assistant administrator position reports directly to the county administrator and not to council.”

Autio said that he intends to leave the assistant county administrator position open for the present time and will discuss a path forward with the county council.

Stepan was hired by the county on Nov. 19, 2001 as the administrative services department director and was promoted to assistant county administrator on May 10, 2004.

Her annual salary before Monday’s termination was $146,000.