MSPB judge upholds firing of Park Police chief

A Merit Systems Protection Board judge this week upheld a decision by the National Park Service to fire Teresa Chambers as chief of the U.S. Park Police, saying that reinstating her to the force "would impair the agency's ability to carry out its law enforcement mission."

Judge Elizabeth Bogle issued an initial decision Wednesday upholding four of six charges against Chambers, who has been fighting for 10 months to be reinstated as chief of the Park Police.

Lawyers representing Chambers vowed Friday to appeal the ruling. She has until Nov. 10 to file an appeal with the full three-member board, and can also file a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Chambers was placed on administrative leave in December 2003 after telling The Washington Post that her 620-member force required as many as 800 additional officers to meet increased demands, faced a $12 million budget shortfall, and needed up to $8 million more than the administration had requested for fiscal 2005.

After the article ran, Don Murphy, the Park Service's deputy director, proposed to remove Chambers from her position. Murphy put Chambers under a gag order and charged her with improper budget communications, making public remarks regarding security on federal property, improper disclosure of budget deliberations, improper lobbying, failure to carry out a supervisor's instructions, and failure to follow the chain of command.

Chambers was fired on July 9, and appealed to MSPB.

Bogle sustained the charges of making public remarks about security, improper budget deliberation disclosure, failure to follow her supervisor's instructions and failure to obey the chain of command.

The judge rejected all of Chambers' defenses against these charges, and several times wrote that she did not find Chambers' testimony credible. Bogle also ruled that Chambers failed to show she engaged in protected whistleblowing activity.

"Based on my analysis of the agency's evidence of the charges in the removal appeal, I find that clear and convincing evidence supports Mr. Murphy's decision to place the appellant on administrative leave and propose her removal," Bogle wrote. "The agency, I conclude, could show by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same actions in the absence of the alleged whistleblowing activity."

"Moreover, because the appellant has accepted no responsibility for her conduct and has expressed no remorse, her reinstatement would impair the agency's ability to carry out its law enforcement mission," Bogle also wrote.

Lawyers for Chambers said Friday the ruling has set up a First Amendment fight.

"Public servants should not be fired because they tell the truth; we will vigorously appeal this initial decision," said Richard Condit, general counsel of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is leading Chambers' legal defense. "The judge made several errors of law and leaps of logic that will not stand up under review."

The Interior Department, which governs the National Park Service and Park Police, issued a brief statement Friday in response to the ruling.

"We welcome today's ruling by the Merit Systems Protection Board that affirms the agency's decision to remove Teresa Chambers from her position. The ruling also rejects her claim to whistleblower status," the department said. "We are proud of the men and women of the United States Park Police. We support and honor their important mission, including the protection of our visitors and the icons of our American democracy."

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