Iowa DCI, State Auditor investigating following Tama Co. Conservation director’s resignation

OTTER CREEK – In the days and weeks since former Tama Co. Conservation Director Stephen Mayne was placed on administrative leave – subsequently resigning on August 17 – the county has enlisted both the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the State Auditor in the fallout, for reasons that have not been made entirely clear.

Following the regular meeting of the Conservation board on Wednesday, Sept. 6, board chair John Keenan told Tama-Grundy Publishing that he has spent roughly “100 hours” managing issues surrounding Mayne’s departure.

When asked why exactly Mayne was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 1 and also why he resigned, Keenan was unable to provide much information but did tell the newspaper that after Mayne resigned, “DCI was there to take in evidence … [Mayne] was bringing back evidence and the DCI was there.”

Keenan further stated that Mayne returned county property to the Tama Co. Sheriff’s Dept. in the presence of Iowa DCI.

“That tells you something wasn’t right,” Keenan said.

Keenan also told Tama-Grundy Publishing that since Mayne’s resignation, the county has enlisted the services of State Auditor Rob Sand’s office.

“The state auditor has been [involved],” Keenan said. “They say [an audit] might take up to three or four months, and that’s where we’re at.”

Last Friday following the Conservation board meeting, Tama-Grundy Publishing reached out to Sheriff Dennis Kucera for comment in regard to Keenan’s statements.

“Our involvement is minimal,” Sheriff Kucera stated before going on to confirm that Iowa DCI was involved in Mayne’s resignation due to “conflict for one county office to investigate another county office.”

Kucera further stated that issues involving Mayne “surfaced” prior to him being placed on administrative leave.

After being placed on administrative leave, Mayne returned his computer, his radio, and other “items like that” to the county.

Then, on Thursday, August 31, Mayne “returned a pickup load of property that belonged to the park,” Kucera said.

“DCI and one of my deputies [were present] as a witness.”

During the September Conservation board meeting, past board member Allan Atchison along with his wife Sandra Atchison spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting — shedding further light on some of the board’s possible issues with Mayne through their allegations.

Allan Atchison’s board term was not renewed this past January. A county audit conducted in 2022 showed he had camped, at least on one occasion in August of 2021, for free in Otter Creek Lake & Park campground while serving as a board member.

For more than 30 minutes, the Atchisons addressed the board which included Keenan, Bryan Wacha, Steve Kenkel, and Jim Allen. Vice chair Carolyn Adolphs was absent.

“First thing is, the bench that we put out here …. [we were] told it was destroyed,” Sandra Atchison began her remarks. “We want to know where it stands, it’s got to be replaced.”

The Atchisons explained they had donated a memorial bench which had been placed on the south loop of the campgrounds on the north side of the boat ramp, but since Mayne was hired it had been taken down, they said.

At various times throughout the next 30 minutes, park technician/ranger Dustin Horne told both the Atchisons and the board that the bench had been damaged, but it was in the shop and the process to replace it was ongoing.

Sandra Atchison also brought up allegedly missing pictures from the walls of the nature center, asking the board, “Where are they?”

She was told they were taken down sometime during the pandemic closure and were now located in the basement.

After several more comments by both the Atchisons and Keenan, Sandra Atchison then brought up the camping receipts discovered in the county’s audit, stating, “But if I’m going to say my piece, I’m going to say it now. … When Carolyn [Adolphs] was here, and [now retired Conservation director Bob] Etzel was here, they had the meeting that said that campers could be free [if] they were on the board.”

Sandra Atchison then stated that Mayne “used” the camping receipts in order “take” her husband off the Conservation board.

“The biggest problem, I wasn’t here-“ Wacha began to say before being interrupted by Sandra Atchison who said Etzel had told her husband that they could camp for free “because we did all this stuff out here” as volunteers.

“We didn’t do it for money. We didn’t do it to camp. It was given to us,” Allan Atchison said.

“It’s against state law, for anybody – whether they’re a volunteer on a board or they’re a paid board member — to take or reap benefits. … It’s illegal,” Wacha replied.

At this point, Sandra Atchison stepped up next to the table beside where Wacha was seated and began to speak directly to him.

“I’m sorry, that’s a bunch of bologna. For all we did out here-“ Sandra Atchison began before Wacha interjected, “I’m not disagreeing.”

After more back and forth between the board and the Atchisons, Wacha calmly stated, “We’re trying to resolve the situation with the bench to the best of our abilities.”

Shortly thereafter, the Atchisons ended their comments. Before leaving the meeting they stated they would return next month for an update.

“Everything is in the shop,” Horne again told the board.

New director

Long after the Atchisons had left – toward the end of the meeting and following much discussion – the board approved posting the Conservation Director position with a starting salary of $65,000; the position will be advertised for two weeks initially. The former director’s salary was $72,000. The job description for the new director eliminates the housing stipend. “Very few counties have houses for their director,” Keenan explained.

As part of the director discussion, Keenan indicated that the new hire would not be allowed to work from home in a manner similar to what the former director did.

“I’m not going to trust anyone anymore, I’ve been burned twice. … He or she is going to be held accountable,” Keenan said at one point.

“I mean it’s a testament to the staff we have … you guys do a phenomenal job, almost to a fault,” Wacha later added. “Because we can have an absentee director for months and no one’s any wiser.”

Discussion briefly touched on not hiring a new director at all, but as it is part of the Iowa Code to employ a county conservation director, the subject was quickly dropped.

An additional job title for Horne – returning him to maintenance supervisor – was also approved by the board. As part of the motion, the board increased Horne’s annual salary by $4,000 to $52,000.

Just prior to the meeting’s adjournment, discussion again circled back to the director position in regard to how the bills will be approved each month.

“Every single Visa transaction for anything … no games are gonna be played. We’re going to have details every single month,” Kennan said at one point before later adding, “Basically, just more details … it might take us a little longer, but obviously … it’s something we need to start doing.”

Other business

Elsewhere during the September meeting, park staff provided updates. Horne reported that Park Officer Riley Conrad, who was not in attendance at the meeting, logged no incidents in the county parks/areas over the last month. Horne said 160 camping nights were recorded at Otter Creek Lake & Park amounting to $2,610 in receipts; T.F. Clark Park recorded 15 camping nights for $150 in receipts. Horne also reported that materials for planned work on the nature center’s deck had arrived. The deck will be ready in time for the Fall Festival in early October.

Tama Co. Naturalist Raina Genaw reported she had given 15 programs in the last month, reaching a combined 191 participants. OWLS programming – Older Wiser Livelier Souls – would be starting back up on Sept. 12 at the nature center. She also shared she had been organizing the upcoming Fall Festival which is set for Saturday, Oct. 8 at Otter Creek Lake & Park from noon to 6 p.m. Some 5,000 flyers had been printed for distribution throughout the county including in area school children’s folders/backpacks.

A motion was approved by the board to pay for three different permits Genaw had applied or reapplied for including renewal of both the county’s Wildlife Salvage Permit and Educational Project Permit, as well as a gambling license for the Fall Festival raffle. Genaw said that under the Educational Project Permit she has plans to begin using a western fox snake in her programming.

Under the Administrative report which Horne provided in the wake of Mayne’s resignation, he told the board he had been “sorting through grants in order to compile data” on the new playground equipment that has yet to be installed at both Otter Creek Park and T.F. Clark Park.

Horne also provided an update on the lake restoration. He’s been working to finalize the Fish Habitat Program grant. Horne also told the board he received an email just prior to the meeting from the Iowa DNR containing documents that require signatures to finalize the restoration project.

“Basically, when we sign that document … we’re done,” Horne explained. The board elected to go over the documents at the October meeting.

“Are all the fish dead?” Keenan asked Horne at one point during the lake restoration discussion of the fish that had been stocked in Otter Creek ponds in the spring by the Iowa DNR.

“I’m assuming they’re not going to make it through the winter,” Horne responded, alluding to the recent drought plaguing Iowa – the worst in a decade — before adding the fish stocked in the silt ponds will probably be “fine,” but the fish in the pond behind the damn “probably aren’t going to be doing so hot.”

“[The DNR] had [adult fish] for us … they wanted to bring them out, but I told them no,” Horne said a bit later.

The board approved a motion to accept a quote from Scharnweber Inc. of Toledo to replace the nature center office’s geothermal HVAC unit which quit working last month. The bid was significantly under what the board had anticipated, Wacha commented.