Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Ethics troubles mount for state minority biz unit

by Matt Rosenberg September 18th, 2012

In a civil case settlement agreement approved last Friday, the Washington Executive Ethics Board fined a former manager for the state Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises named Jean Wheat $2,500 for ethics missteps. OMWBE helps business get certified as owned by women or minorities in order to help them qualify for government contracts. According to the settlement, Wheat twice skated too close to violations of the state Ethics in Public Service Act. She sought contributions of shared medical leave from other workers in her office for her daughter, also a state worker, during the daughter’s difficult pregnancy. And without the knowledge of her co-workers she directed that an agency holiday gift basket for a family in need be directed to her son, and his wife and two children. As she was being investigated by the state, Wheat’s annual pay (not including benefits) rose from $63,864 in 2009 to $72,968 in 2011. She worked supervising management analysts and administrative and office staff, and held other managerial and IT positions at other times.

Wheat departed from OMWBE last month as a reorganization was unfolding under new management, and she declined placement in another position to which she was entitled, said Debbie McVicker, OMWBE Deputy Director.

The settlement last Friday in Wheat’s ethics case, follows another sanction the board issued in June of this year in a $1,500 civil penalty settlement with OMWBE Management Analyst 4 Gerald Ballard for using his work computer to trade stocks. He is still employed at OMWBE, as are fellow Management Analysts 4 Jose Diaz and Les Ling, for whom the ethics board has issued determinations of reasonable cause in two more cases of alleged ethics violations. The ethics board preliminarily determined that Diaz may have violated state ethics law by using his work computer for personal purposes in at least 320 instances and that Ling likewise went beyond allowed minimal use of his work computer for personal purposes. Both are appealing the determinations and the cases have not reached the final decision phase, says McVicker.

According to the settlement with Wheat, she urged co-workers by email in March, 2009 to consider donating some of their leave time under a state shared leave law, to her daughter during her medically difficult pregnancy. McVicker, of OMWBE, confirmed Wheat’s daughter worked for the state, in the Department of Social and Health Services. Wheat’s email read, in part: “My daughter…As you are all aware she is pregnant and recently diagnosed with…(redacted)…These conditions can be fatal to her and her unborn baby. The doctors have asked her to slow down…She was recently approved from her office to receive shared leave beginning now. My request from you is, would anyone be willing to share some leave with her to get her through this rough time. any little bit will help and would be forever greatly appreciated. I have attached the form for you to use, if you would like to help.”

In the other incident which led to the $2,500 settlement that Wheat agreed to pay, she took charge in early December 2010 of an established agency practice to put together a gift basket for a family in need. As detailed in the settlement document, she successfully nominated a family of four but did not reveal their name, and then posted a list of requested gifts for them which other OMWBE workers bought and wrapped for Wheat to deliver to the family. Later, staff learned the family consisted of Wheat’s son and his wife and two children.

RELATED:

  • Mismanagement Plagued WA Agency In Charge of Minority Contracting Program,” KING5-TV, Seattle.
  • Data Ferret’sEthics archive.

  • Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

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