White will fire back with lawsuit

Ex-county employee says he was target of a political plot by commissioner Mary Zemke and others
News Editor
    May 7, 2003 — Dave White, the former county employee who recently was cleared of allegations that he had sexual relationships with three mental health clients, says he intends to sue Jefferson County.
    White says he was the target of a plot by former county mental health employees, BestCare workers and Commissioner Mary Zemke to get him ousted from his position.
    “I just think this was way, way over the line,” said White, who once served as the county’s mental health director before that position was dissolved. “This shouldn’t be allowed to go unnoticed and people who do this shouldn’t be unaccountable for their actions.”
    On Jan. 28, the Jefferson County Commission voted 3-0 to place White on administrative leave pending an investigation into allegations Zemke said were brought to her attention by mental health clients.
    After a three-month investigation, a state investigations office found those allegations “unsubstantiated.”
    Zemke says she stands by her decision to have the matter investigated because the allegations brought to her attention were serious.
    Further, she said public testimony and the investigation itself raised several additional concerns about White that wouldn’t constitute him being exonerated.
    “Exonerated is not the same as unsubstantiated,” Zemke said. “I’ve read the entire report and I think exonerated is much too strong of a word to use.”
    According to a four-page public document from the Oregon Office of Investigations and Training, the three alleged victims each denied having a sexual relationship with White.
    “The reports didn’t come from those people, but others,” said Eva Kutas, director of the office of investigations and training.
    In one case, a state investigator could not determine the source of the allegation. In the other two, the supposed witness who came forward with the claim of sexual abuse was described as “questionable.”
    White’s job was eliminated by the commissioners in a cost-cutting move on April 3, while he still was on paid administrative leave.
    He said he supports that decision based on its financial merits, but feels that he was defamed by the allegations and believes his civil liberties may have been violated.
    “Based on the information I have, Mary used this as a political platform,” White said. “Basically, it comes down to individual people coming to me saying she made campaign promises to get me fired once she got in office.”
    Zemke denies that claim, and said her only motivation was doing the right thing. She said the county would have been irresponsible to not at least look into what it was being told.
    “You’ve got to realize, I don’t know Dave White,” Zemke said. “I have never even had a conversation with him.”
Public spectacle
    At the time White was placed on leave, he was serving a dual role as director of the adult community corrections and developmental disabilities departments. He also managed the contract between the county and BestCare, a private nonprofit corporation that provides the county’s mental health services by contract.
    A week after the allegations were raised, several individuals showed up at the county commission’s regular meeting unannounced, offering public testimony critical of White and blasting the county for not taking action sooner.
    The standing-room-only crowd of former county mental health employees and clients criticized White as a horrible people manager, a terrible counselor with clients and someone who had a pattern of seeking retribution when confronted with possible wrongdoings.
    At that impromptu hearing, Cathy Howes-Yates, a client, said White enabled her to continue using drugs by illadvisedly giving her her money.
    “As a drug addict, he took care of me,” Howes-Yates said at the time.
    And Peggy Adams, the volunteer administrative coordinator of the Determination Social Center, a self-run, self-help group for mental health clients, told the commissioners: “We deal every day with Dave White’s screw ups.”
    Now, those two and others who receive support at the DSC are saying they were pressured by White’s enemies — including former employees under his supervision and Zemke — to make those statements publicly and cooperate with investigators.
    “Everybody wanted me to say I had sex with Dave White and I did not,” said Howes-Yates, who revealed that she is one of the alleged victims. “I feel like we were tricked into this situation.”
    Said Adams: “You’ve got to understand, we’re not crazy about Dave White. I believe he’s probably his own worst enemy, but as far as inappropriate relationships go none of us knew anything.
    “BestCare had always wanted Dave White out of the picture.”
    Zemke, BestCare and Jefferson County also are now the targets of animosity by DSC members because the lines of communication between their independent organization and the county have deteriorated. DSC clients agreed last week to move out of their facility near the hospital after their landlord served an eviction notice for not paying rent, and they believe some state mental health funds granted to Jefferson County belong to them, not BestCare.
    Zemke said she didn’t coerce anyone to testify against White, and the allegations were corroborated by clients.
    “I don’t understand why they’re changing their mind, but I haven’t talked to them,” said Zemke. When asked, she declined to speculate on whether DSC’s financial situation has anything to do with its client’s sentiments.
    Commission chairman Walt Ponsford said conducting the investigation into White was the right thing to do. He said he began learning of many grievances individuals had against White well before he and Zemke were elected in November.
    “The accusations were made by many people and we by law were required to investigate and that’s what we did,” Ponsford said. “And right now we still have upset people.”
    The three-page report on the investigation into White noted that despite no substantiated evidence of sexual abuse, several concerns were raised regarding his financial responsibilities and “a number of witnesses expressed a fear of retaliation for providing information to this investigator.”
    The recent state investigation into White was not the first. In August 2001, the state substantiated three of five allegations against White: That he had violated state foster home administrative rules in two cases of verbal mistreatment and in one instance of neglect.
    The state told the county to provide White training on therapeutic relationships with mental-health clients and to place him under clinical supervision.
    The previous county commission stripped him of his role as mental health director, prohibited him from having contact with clients and reassigned him to the job he had before it was eliminated last month.
    Commissioner Bill Bellamy said the latest uproar over White was partially a product of bad communication the previous time he was brought up on allegations.
    “These people had strong concerns and they felt they’d been ignored,” Bellamy said. In regard to the unsubstantiated allegations, Bellamy said: “I don’t want to comment on that. That needs to come from Mary.”
    White said he will send a tort notice to the county soon. He said he’s been told by several people that Zemke, former county employee Mark Levno and others recently had a party to celebrate his departure.
    “Mary was carrying on her own investigation and this is not the way commissioners are supposed to act,” White said. “I think she should be held accountable.”