Appraiser hiring process scrutinized
Husband of county appraiser candidate addresses commission with complaints.
By SCOTT AUST
The husband of one of the four candidates who was seeking the position of Finney County appraiser, which recently was awarded to Maria Castillo, claimed during Monday's Finney County Commission meeting that his wife has been the subject of harassment and the victim of unfair and unethical treatment during and after the hiring process.
Travis Dunagan, husband of county appraiser candidate Wendy Dunagan, read a three-page letter to the commission detailing complaints about how his wife was notified she didn't get the job, and accused an unidentified appraiser's office employee of harassing his wife after she was not chosen for the position.
After Castillo was announced last week as the new county appraiser, Dunagan claims his wife did not receive any notice from county Human Resources Director Darlene Lucas about not getting the job. Dunagan said his wife learned of Castillo's appointment from her supervisor in the state Division of Property Valuation. Wendy Dunagan left the county appraiser's office in 2006. She is now employed by the state and covers several southwest Kansas counties, including Finney County, but in light of events asked that Finney County be removed from her area of responsibility, Travis Dunagan clarified in a later email exchange.
"She still has not had any contact, other than a voicemail from your HR director, which is very unprofessional on her part," Travis Dunagan told county commissioners on Monday.
Travis Dunagan also claims an email "degrading" to his wife was sent to the state from someone in the appraiser's office.
"This is the first incident of harassment from within the office," he said.
The other two incidents, according to Travis Dunagan, involved an appraiser's office employee talking about quitting if his wife was named appraiser and raising the Dunagans' property valuation, and the anonymous mailing of a Telegram story about Castillo's appointment to the Dunagans, though he acknowledged he can't prove who sent the mailing.
"If we are able to find the culprit, we intend to pursue ethics charges, as well as federal harassment charges if there are grounds, since the USPS was used to deliver the harassment," he said.
In addition, Travis Dunagan called Lucas "unethical" for announcing to the office his wife had applied for the job, which he said violated confidentiality and provided an opportunity for people to talk bad about his wife to the hiring committee and county commission.
Dunagan asked the commission to investigate and stop the harassment. He also complained about Castillo's hiring, claiming Castillo has filed for bankruptcy in the past and questioning the vetting process.
"What is the liability to the taxpayers, hiring someone to set the values and control the budget as a department head when she has had to file for bankruptcy?" he asked.
When contacted about Dunagan's comments about her personal finances, Castillo declined to comment, calling it a personnel issue.
According to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court District of Kansas website in Wichita, Salvador and Maria Socorro Castillo of Finney County filed a joint Chapter 7 bankruptcy on March 29, 2005, which was discharged Aug. 19, 2005. They listed $101,420 in assets and $121,007 in liabilities. Travis Dunagan told county commissioners there are also rumors that an employee in the appraiser's office is an illegal immigrant and another is a convicted felon.
The commission took no action and made no comment after Dunagan's presentation.
After the meeting, Commissioner Don Doll said the commission is limited in what it can say about a personnel matter.
"Well, he made a lot of accusations, and I don't know if they're true or not," Doll said. "We gave the letters to Randy (Partington, county administrator), and he's going to check them out. I can't comment on it because I have no idea if they're true. It would be a personnel matter. I think we'll look into a couple of them, but I don't know that we're going to go into a lot of detail."
In an interview Monday afternoon, Lucas said she and Partington had met and would be investigating the harassment allegations.
"That's not what we expect for our employees," Lucas said.
When asked about Castillo's bankruptcy, Partington said that the matter would be looked into through the HR department and offered no further comment.
Commissioner Dave Jones said Tuesday that Castillo's bankruptcy does not change his mind about the appointment.
Jones said bankruptcy is a right Americans have, and while he doesn't advocate it, it's not a right that should be taken away.
"I'm assuming she met the definition of the law, and I was not on the interview panel, but I also assume she significantly impressed them to be offered the position," he said.
Lucas said Castillo's references were checked, but the county does not do a credit check on any applicants. The selection committee felt Castillo was the most qualified for the job based on a good interview and her past experience as deputy county appraiser. Lucas said Castillo and Wendy Dunagan were the only two applicants to have an RMA certification, which is a standard required to become county appraiser.
Lucas said the selection committee panel chose Castillo unanimously.
"I know Maria will make an outstanding appraiser," Lucas said.
As far as the specific allegations made against her, Lucas said she was surprised and disappointed, and she disputed the accuracy of the account. She said she announced to the office that four qualified candidates had been interviewed, but never specifically mentioned anyone's name, and she said she never violated confidentiality.
"I never acknowledged that Wendy was or was not a candidate. They all knew Maria was. I don't know where he got that I had announced it. I know my job. I know what I can and cannot say," Lucas said.
Regarding not contacting Wendy Dunagan before Castillo was announced as appraiser, Lucas said the press got out in front of the announcement before she could send letters to the other candidates.
While the commission approved the hire a week ago, they didn't officially sign a resolution to that effect until Monday, Lucas said. Letters to the other candidates went out Monday afternoon.
"That's just standard practice when you inform people," she said.
Lucas said she did leave a message for Wendy Dunagan but did not indicate who had been hired or not hired.
"She wasn't singled out. Everyone was treated the same," Lucas said. "However, with Maria's appointment, we did go down and announce the appointment to her staff, and that's pretty standard protocol."
Lucas called Travis Dunagan's allegations about undocumented workers in the office "outrageous." She said every county employee must provide documentation, using federal Form I-9, about their legal ability to work in the United States.
"All of this is most unfortunate," she said. "As for me, it's my job. My role is to be fair and consistent, and I believe I have been. I take pride in that. In fact, no one named who that candidate was until the commission announced it. Everyone wanted to know, but it was kept confidential until we announced it to the commission."
In response to a question sent by email, Travis Dunagan said Tuesday morning that his wife would have no comment about the issue "due to the delicate nature of her current employment."
Speaking to the commission Monday was entirely his decision and responsibility, he said.