Monday, February 23, 2009

News---US Inspector General's Staff Quizzes GNMP Superintendent

Latschar Under Fire By Feds, Scot Andrew Pitzer, Gettysburg Times, February 21, 2009

The Inspector General’s Office is investigating Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent John Latschar in what the veteran battlefield boss describes as “an inquiry into everything that my critics allege that I’ve done wrong over the past 15 years.” In an interview with the Gettysburg Times Friday afternoon, Latschar was confident that the investigation would result in a “complete exoneration of all these false charges that have leaked out.”

“I don’t think it’s any surprise to you or anyone else around here that people are trying to get me fired,” Latschar said. “They’ve written to the Park Service, congressmen, the Department of the Interior, everyone. All of those letters have piled up, so eventually, someone is going to look into it.”

“I believe that they’ll find there’s nothing to the allegations, and it will close this door forever,” Latschar concluded.The Inspector General’s Office is a branch of the Department of the Interior. Investigators there declined to comment Friday.

“It was a lengthy interview. They asked about everything,” said Latschar, adding that investigators returned a second time. “They had in their arsenal every single slander that has ever been printed in the newspaper or posted on a blog. They swept up the crumbs over my 15 years here.”

“Being a public figure, like any other public figure out there,” Latschar said, “people that are opposed at what we do think that the best way they can get back at me is to tarnish my name.” A cover story in The National Journal written by Edward Pound reported that the IG is looking into whether Latschar misused $8,700 in park funds to build a fence on four acres of park land, adjacent to his home.

Latschar’s wife, Terry, uses the pasture to exercise her horses under a park permit. The park’s nonprofit partner at the time, Eastern National, paid for the fence as part of what Latschar said was an annual monetary contribution. “If you write the Interior Department a letter that says John Latschar is misusing funds, they’re eventually obliged to see if there’s anything to the allegations,” Latschar said.

According to Latschar, the inquiry stems from his retirement in October 2008, when he planned to transfer to the Gettysburg Foundation and replace President Robert C. Wilburn. Federal ethics officials later advised against the move, so Latschar isn’t going anywhere. “They (the Inspector General) told me that they came here because it was an exit interview,” said Latschar. “They were closing the file.”

Investigators questioned Latschar about what he calls “street rumors.” At one time, his wife’s nephew David Deal worked at the park’s book store, operated by Eastern National. Deal and at least two other employees, according to Latschar, “were caught with their hands in the till” stealing money. They were successfully prosecuted, Latschar said. Cheryl Cline was previously the head of the reservation office at Eastern National. She later took a similar job with the Gettysburg Foundation when Eastern violated its contract with the park in 2006. Critics allege that she downloaded proprietary and credit card data from Eastern’s files — including reservation lists and customer information — and gave it to the foundation. Eastern threatened legal action to keep the data, Latschar said, but nothing transpired.

“Eastern tried to sue Cheryl for giving this so-called proprietary information to the foundation, when in essence, it was the park’s information all along, and we gave it to the foundation,” said Latschar. A spokesperson at the Inspector General’s office said Friday that questions about the investigation are being handled by the National Park Service Public Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. “My understanding is that the Inspector General is doing a review about John Latschar taking the job at the Gettysburg Foundation,” said David Barna, NPS Chief of Public Affairs. “He decided to stay, so I don’t know what they’re looking at now.”

Mainly, according to Latschar, investigators probed the park’s partnership with the Gettysburg Foundation, and fundraising for the $103 million Visitor Center. The inquiry is unrelated to an ongoing probe by the Government Accountability Office, which is looking into park fundraising. Among other issues, Latschar said that the Inspector General’s office talked to him about the park’s relationship with developer Robert Kinsley, who is also chairman of the Gettysburg Foundation Board of Directors. According to The National Journal, Kinsley’s construction firm and another company owned by his son were paid $8.5 million for their work on the visitor center project. The park’s controversial relationship with its former service partner, Eastern National, is also being probed.

Text and Image Source: Gettysburg Times February 21 2009

CWL: The newspaper's headline is incorrect. An interview with the US IG staff is an inquiry, not a firing squad. Check the readers' comments on the Gettysburg Times website. Looks like four to one in favor of Latschar.

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