Top ferry official placed on administrative leave


SEATTLE — A Washington State Ferries executive has been placed on paid administrative leave and his ticket-seller son is appealing a termination for allegedly stealing.

Operations director Steve Rodgers was administratively reassigned to his home on July 3 in a letter signed by Cam Gilmour, the state Department of Transportation’s chief operating officer. He has to remain there and be available by phone from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday while an investigation is underway, according to the letter obtained through a public records request. Documents provided no reason for the action.

Washington State Ferries fired Rodgers’ son Josh Rodgers on Dec. 6. He is appealing through the Inlandboatmen’s Union.

The termination paperwork states that Josh Rodgers, a ticket seller at the Fauntleroy terminal, took $529 from his working fund. The shortage was discovered during a random cash count on Oct. 20.

Josh Rodgers insisted he didn’t steal the money, he borrowed it. He planned to pay it back the next day. He said he needed it to pay for gas to commute to work for three days from West Bremerton. He drove home through Tacoma.

The termination paperwork, signed by then-ferries director David Moseley and operations and construction director George Capacci, said they determined the violations are “egregious” and termination is appropriate.

Stealing from the ferries system has occurred at least 23 times since 2000, according to a list prepared by human resources consultant Jim Schofield. This case differs in that it involves the son of a high-level official who has been placed on leave, and in the way it’s being handled.

Documents, however, provide no connection between the father’s case and the son’s case.

Schofield, in a letter to Capacci dated Dec. 2, four days before the firing, said the standard is if a person is caught stealing, they’re gone. Normally the union will help them resign in lieu of being fired, but it is aggressively defending Josh Rodgers. Schofield warned that if WSF lets Rodgers keep his job, it will be difficult to fire employees in the future for theft. Union officials couldn’t be reached Friday.

Josh Rodgers has already received real or perceived preferential treatment, Schofield wrote. He received six verbal or written warnings since July 2010, yet terminal supervisors never asked management for disciplinary action. A co-worker at Fauntleroy got eight warnings since 2007 and supervisors requested disciplinary action five times.

“Unfortunately, this entire process has had bits and pieces of nepotism, and this is not the image that employees should have of WSF management,” Schofield wrote.

“I understand terminating an employee is not an easy decision and regardless of favoritism it is difficult when you work closely with the employee’s father. Joshua Rodgers violated the trust of WSF by stealing money from his working fund. The same violation in all other recent instances has resulted in resignation (in lieu of termination). I strongly encourage you to be fair in applying the Code of Conduct, consider the facts of this case, what has been done historically, and the precedence that this case will set going forward.”

Ferries officials had been operating under the belief they didn’t need to provide requested documents on personnel investigations until the investigations were over. They have been advised that they now must make information available as they receive requests, said DOT spokesman Lars Erickson.

Erickson is concerned that reporting on isolated cases could present a misleading image of the ferries system.

“Those incidents are very serious and we use a deliberate process with data and factual information to determine corrective action when appropriate,” he said. “There are 1,800 employees at Washington State Ferries that are committed public servants to keep our vessels moving. I don’t want the public to think there is a systemic problem here.”

 

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