Grand Canyon chief isn't back after being cleared in inquiry
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park has not returned to her job nearly a month after being cleared of accusations that she created a hostile work environment, improperly disciplined an employee and wasted park resources.
Christine Lehnertz was reassigned in October while investigators from the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General looked into the allegations, which weren't made public until Tuesday when the office released its investigative report. The National Park Service announced last month that Lehnertz was fully exonerated.
Lehnertz was expected to return to the Grand Canyon in time for its Feb. 26 centennial celebration as a national park. But her attorney, Kevin Evans, advised her to hold off because of what he says are persistent, baseless accusations against top management.
"It seems that the National Park Service can't get its ducks in a row and its house in order," he said.
Evans said he is negotiating with the agency on Lehnertz's employment status but would not elaborate. Meanwhile, she's working out of the park service's regional office in Denver on a development and training project for park superintendents.
Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said the agency cannot comment on personnel actions or a timeline regarding Lehnertz's return to the Grand Canyon. Lisa Carrico is serving as acting superintendent at one of the country's busiest national parks, with more than 6 million visitors annually.
Lehnertz told The Associated Press in February that she was excited to celebrate the national park's 100th anniversary and get up to speed on work to replace a water pipeline that frequently breaks. She praised employees for weathering the longest shutdown of the federal government.
Lehnertz became the Grand Canyon's first female superintendent in 2016 after a sexual harassment scandal led to the retirement of its former chief. She was tasked with changing the culture at the Grand Canyon after an earlier report by the inspector general's office found that some men in the now-defunct river district demanded sex from female colleagues and retaliated against women who refused.
Lehnertz said she's made tough decisions to hold employees accountable.
She was reassigned during the latest investigation because the park service said it wanted to protect the integrity of the inquiry.
The report released Tuesday found Lehnertz rightfully proposed a one-day suspension for an unnamed senior official who repeatedly failed to follow her instructions. It also found no evidence she bullied or retaliated against male leaders specifically or that she wasted nearly $180,000 to renovate a park residence to recruit a deputy superintendent.
Evans said the allegations were "groundless and malicious" and said the way the park service handled the situation harmed Lehnertz's reputation.