Reagan Nominee Files Harassment Suit Against California Education
By George Neill Special to Education Week
Sacramento--A bizarre personnel-relations battle has developed between President Reagan's candidate to head the U.S. Education Department's Region IX office in San Francisco and Wilson Riles, California's state superintendent of public instruction.
The conflict broke into the open on Sept. 30 when Robert G. Buckenmeyer, President Reagan's nominee and currently a consultant in the California Department of Education, sued Mr. Riles and 11 of his top subordinates. Mr. Buckenmeyer charged that they had harrassed, intimidated, and embarrassed him for seeking to expose "wrongdoing."
Mr. Buckenmeyer's attorney, Loren McMaster, said the suit will test the state's so-called "whistle-blowers" act. This legislation was used earlier this year by Mr. Buckenmeyer to report alleged misuses of education funds to the state Auditor General's Office (ago). That agency's findings on the charges are expected to be released in December or January.
The state officials, who include Marion Joseph, executive assistant to Mr. Riles, and Donald R. McKinley, the chief deputy state superintendent, have responded with "no comment" through Vic Biondi, the California Department of Education's public-information officer.
Mr. Biondi said Mr. Riles will answer the charges in court.
Mr. Buckenmeyer, who served as an auditor in the California department at the time of the alleged harrassment, charged that:
His desk, bookcase, and papers were moved from a private office and placed in the middle of a room;
He was relieved of his assignment in the audit bureau;
He was transferred to another office without a telephone, and that
He was given jobs with short deadlines and was denied permission to leave the building to complete them.
In addition to the charges in his suit, Mr. Buckenmeyer alleges that Mr. Riles's staff members are lobbying in Washington against his appointment to the federal Region IX post. Mr. Biondi denied this charge, but he admitted that "Riles wasn't pleased about it."
Mr. Buckenmeyer's appointment will not be official until he is cleared by a routine investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Region IX serves the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands.