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          Front Page

Dantis Stepping Down — Again

By Jeff Proctor
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          County officials announced late Monday — for the second time — that embattled public safety boss John Dantis is retiring.
    Spokeswoman Liz Hamm provided a statement from Dantis in which he said he was retiring for personal and medical reasons effective July 30. Assuming he follows through this time, it could make life easier for County Manager Thaddeus Lucero.
        Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said earlier Monday that if Dantis wasn't gone from his post by the end of the week, she would seek Lucero's removal as county manager.
        "I think it's time we start repairing some of these programs," Hart Stebbins said Monday, referring to county public safety programs including the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services facility and the Community Custody Program that have recently come under fire for policy violations and criminal allegations. "That can't happen until we have new leadership over our public safety department.
        "As a commissioner, I can't say what happens to John Dantis," she said. "But I'm frustrated with the pace of this, and if something doesn't happen soon, we will have to revisit the county manager's contract. I don't want it to come to that, but this is our only avenue."
        Commission Chairman Art de la Cruz said last week that Dantis was stepping down amid controversy over an investigation into allegations of nepotism and mismanagement in the hiring and employment of his son, Jamie Dantis, at the county's detox center, known as MATS.
        But Lucero announced at a news conference the next day that John Dantis had not given him a resignation letter. Lucero announced discipline for other employees but refused to say whether he planned to discipline Dantis.
        John Dantis' retirement would bring to three the number of departures of people with ties to the MATS controversy.
        Jamie Dantis resigned after receiving a termination letter earlier this month for bringing a pellet gun to work. An investigation by an outside lawyer said John Dantis, who had oversight of the detox facility, was instrumental in having Jamie hired even though he wasn't qualified and staff objected.
        Jamie Dantis was involved in other incidents at the detox facility and was arrested several times during the time he worked there. The lawyer's report said he received favorable treatment from supervisors, who reported to John Dantis.
        Lucero said at his news conference last week that he intended to fire MATS manager Dwight Dias for his failures as a supervisor and for lying to him about whether there had been allegations of misconduct concerning Jamie Dantis. Two other supervisors were placed on probation.
        Other troubles
        The executive summary of the investigation report released Friday looked at numerous allegations concerning Jamie Dantis, who was a substance abuse technician at MATS for nearly four years.
        Among other things, the report found Jamie Dantis' hiring violated the county's nepotism policy; that he did not meet the qualifications for his job; that both Dantises violated policy related to sick leave; and that John Dantis failed to report his son's various arrests to anyone at the county.
        The MATS investigation "dragged on" for nearly two months, Hart Stebbins pointed out.
        Lucero received the investigation's findings June 17.
        The county also faces an ongoing criminal investigation into its Community Custody Program, which is similar to house arrest. Bribery, conspiracy and identity theft charges have been filed against the program's top supervisor and court liaison, Vince Peele.
        And an independent audit is looking into the possibility that millions of dollars were overpaid to at least two companies through contracts at the county's massive Metropolitan Detention Center.
        John Dantis has had supervisory authority over MATS, community custody and the detention center.
        Commission questions
        Other commissioners said Monday that it's too early to say whether Lucero's contract should be on the table.
        "I don't want to speak to the Dantis issue because (County Attorney) Jeff Landers has advised me not to," Commissioner Michael Brasher said. "I believe it's too early to say whether we should look at (Lucero's) contract because the county manager was not included in the scope of the MATS investigation.
        "There have been conflicting reports in the media concerning what the county manager knew about the situation at MATS. I do think he should have been included in the full scope of the investigation, and I would need the information in front of me about what he knew before making a decision on whether he's the right man to run the county."
        Brasher was referring to an e-mail obtained by the Journal through a public records request that shows John Dantis ordered an investigation into an allegation against his son involving a missing client file.
        Lucero, who has said he had no knowledge of Jamie Dantis' problems at MATS before the Journal began publishing stories about the allegations in April, was copied on that correspondence.
        John Dantis wrote in the e-mail dated June 24, 2009, that he provided a letter detailing the allegation to Lucero.
        Lucero said earlier this month that he did not recall receiving the e-mail or the woman's letter. He cited a high volume of e-mail, but said he was troubled by the information and would look into it.
        Lucero acknowledged Friday that he had in fact received a report on the matter, and clarified later that he simply had not recalled the request and investigation report until an assistant brought it to his attention.
        Spokeswoman Hamm responded to a Journal e-mail asking Lucero whether he had been questioned during the investigation with a quote from attorney Agnes Fuentevilla Padilla, who conducted the investigation.
        "I conducted a comprehensive and detailed investigation," Hamm quotes Padilla as saying. "I spoke with or interviewed more than 25 current or former employees. County Manager Thaddeus Lucero made himself available to answer questions, provided access to documents and information and made witnesses available to me."
        Commissioner Michael Wiener said he is "disappointed" with how the MATS saga has played out.
        He said he's "not happy with the way this whole thing has gone. But I don't know if it's time for a change in county managers yet or not."
        De la Cruz, in an e-mail through Hamm, said, "The county manager is still in the midst of working through this situation. It is premature to have a public dialog regarding the county manager's performance and status at this time."
        Hart Stebbins made her comments about Lucero prior to the announcement that Dantis plans to retire at the end of July. She could not be reached for comment later Monday.

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