Investigation Finds Chrobocinski In Violation Of Three Sections Of Code Of Conduct

Former County Councilor James Chrobocinski
 
By MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Daily Post

The results of an investigation into a Code of Conduct complaint filed in February by two Los Alamos County employees have been issued to County officials.

The 74-page report, prepared by Albuquerque attorney Debra J. Moulton under contract to the County, was in response to a complaint filed Feb. 15 by Fire Marshal Jeff Wetteland and Chief Building Official Michael Arellano against former County Councilor James Chrobocinski.

The report states the investigation finds Chrobocinski violated three sections of the Code of Conduct:

  • the section addressing the standard of conduct for public officials;
  • the section pertaining to conflicts of interest, recusal and disqualification; and
  • the section addressing misuse of a public official’s position.

It finds that there was no violation of the Fire or Building Codes in Chrobocinski’s failure to file an appeal after he received a citation/stop work order from Wetteland because following the appeals provisions of those codes is optional not mandatory.

Wetteland and Arellano’s complaint stated that they had been harassed, intimidated and threatened by Chrobocinski on several occasions, that they felt they could no longer do their jobs for fear of further retaliation and retribution by him, and that he had “made their work environment a hostile place”.

The complaint also alleged that Chrobocinski used his position on the County Council to manipulate Code Enforcement by badgering the two employees on Facebook, in the newspapers and by word of mouth.

Wetteland and Arellano accused Chrobocinski of violating sections of the County Code pertaining to conflict of interest and exerting undue influence and abuse of office in public service. The circumstances of the complaint centered around the interaction of Wetteland and Arellano with Chrobocinski in connection with the renovation of a property owned by him on Sherwood Boulevard in White Rock, which is now home to the Pig & Fig Cafe.

Moulton’s report indicates that as part of her investigation she interviewed Wetteland, Arellano, Chrobocinski, County Manager Harry Burgess, Fire Chief Troy Hughes, Community Development Department (CDD) Director Paul Andrus, and LAFD Senior Fire & Life Safety Coordinator Stephen Rinaldi as well as CDD employees Adrienne Lovato and Lee Brammeier. It lists almost 70 documents reviewed by Moulton including emails, voicemails, newspaper articles and social media posts.

Moulton found that Chrobocinski did not maintain a high standard of conduct when he called Wetteland a “motherf…..”.

“Likewise, Councilor Chrobocinski commenting, ‘That’s putting it mildly’ in response to a comment on Facebook that the actions of Mr. Arellano were unethical and suggesting to Facebook readers to ‘bombard’ Mr. Arellano with the expressed hope that he would quit does not maintain integrity and ethically discharge the high responsibilities of public service,” the report states. “In the public’s eye, county councilors are at the top of the county government structure. Such comments by a county councilor, whether it be in person or on social media, does not advance the public interest.”

The report also discusses a text sent by Chrobocinski to Burgess in regard to Wetteland stating, “Since you are incapable of controlling your employees I have no choice but to try”.

“This text illustrates Councilor Chrobocinski’s unwillingness to allow the County Administrator to manage the process and an intent to interfere with Harry’s job of managing employees,” the report states. “It is not an individual county councilor’s job to manage employees. Even if Mr. Burgess had mismanaged the process as Mr. Chrobocinski alleged, any county councilor ‘controlling’ county employees would violate Section 30-13 of the Code of Conduct, Interference with Administration.”

The report maintains that by interfering in Burgess’s management of county employees and failing to bring his concerns about Burgess’s management of personnel to the entire County Council, Chrobocinski violated the County Code in that “these actions do not reflect a high standard of conduct, do not advance the public interest and suggest the pursuit of private individual interests”.

The report analysis indicates that the sending of a letter to the County Council making allegations against Wetteland and Arellano was not problematic, but that sending it to the press when the County had not had a chance “to investigate and determine whether or not the allegations are correct is problematic”.

“Some of the information in the letter is false; hence Councilor Chrobocinski is basing his fairly serious allegations of incompetence, abuse of power and retaliation claims on incorrect information … Councilor Chrobocinski should have allowed the County Administrator the opportunity to address these personnel issues with County Council, rather than publicize information that was erroneous or for which there was reasonable explanation”, the report states.

The report states that Chrobocinski maintains that his comments about Arellano on Facebook are in the public interest because Arellano has “created a bad situation”.

“In his view, Michael has been given direction to fix the problem and has not. Councilor Chrobocinski does not believe he was crossing the line by making these comments public or by pointing out the problems, but was doing his job … Chrobocinski does not know if there are some internal personnel matters that should not be publicized. However, he believes that when one is discussing the job performance of a public official, it’s always a public issue because their job performance directly affects the public,” the report states.

“Through his sharing the letter to Council with the newspaper and posting messages on Facebook regarding county employees’ job performance, Councilor Chrobocinski has intentionally disclosed matters of Arellano’s and Wetteland’s employment, which violates Section 30-10 of the Code,” the report continues.

With regard to the conflict of interest issue, the report says Chrobocinski has financial interests in a number of Los Alamos properties including 11 Sherwood Blvd., and that as a result if he were to take action that specifically affects property or businesses with which he is associated, a conflict of interest exists between his private interests as a business owner and realtor and the public interest. For example, the report states, if the Council was debating or voting on the permitting process for businesses and Chrobocinski owns properties affected by the discussion or decision, a conflict exists and he would need to follow the procedure established in the Code.

The report also addresses the fact that Chrobocinski received notices of Code Enforcement violations (NOVs) on multiple properties in which he had an interest and met with Burgess and other County officials to discuss them.

“Based on his financial interests in properties that have received NOVs and are affected by the Code Enforcement procedure, Councilor Chrobocinski should have disclosed to Council a potential conflict of interest and followed the process as set out in Section 30-7,” it states.

The report also finds that Chrobocinski’s conversation with Rinaldi in which he “called Wetteland an inappropriate name and allegedly threatened to sue and fire Mr. Wetteland” was not courteous and violates Section 30-12(a) of the Code. It states likewise, the voice mail from Chrobocinski to Burgess following the discussion with Rinaldi was “inappropriate and his requests were not expressed in a courteous manner”. Also, in an email to Burgess ending with the statement, “I need this to be resolved today,” the report states Chrobocinski is misusing his position as a councilor “to promote what is clearly a personal interest because in the email he is arguing that he need not produce an asbestos report”.

“James is misrepresenting his personal agenda as a demand for action to county staff from a county councilor,” the report analysis concludes.

While Chrobocinski has made public his version of the events behind the complaint during the past 18 months, much of what went on behind the scenes is brought to light in Moulton’s report.

In several sections, Moulton refers to a thread of messages she was given by Councilor Antonio Maggiore from a Facebook private messaging group consisting of Maggiore, Chrobocinski, County Council candidate Helen Milenski and Citizens in Action co-founder Heather Ortega. In the thread obtained by the Los Alamos Daily Post and included in part in the report, Chrobocinski discusses an NOV and subsequent citation received on a Los Alamos Housing Partnership (LAHP) property in White Rock. He complains that the LAHP is “supposed to be a partner of the County and Arriano (sic) didn’t even have the balls to talk to the Housing Partnership about it”. He goes on to say that he promised LAHP that he would not publicly say anything about it, “But that doesn’t mean that all of you can’t”.

At this point in the thread, Milenski says, “Wow. Mr. Arellano is a dick. Pardon my language. That is so unethical”. Chrobocinski replies, “That’s putting it mildly”. When Ortega asks what she can do, Chrobocinski suggests starting with a “public information request for any citations” and he goes on to say, “You guys should get someone to ask for all of Michael Arellano’s emails also”. “Ask for all of Michael’s emails for about the last six months. Ask for one month. Once you get those then asked (sic) for another month and so on”, Chrobocinski said.

The report states that Chrobocinski told Moulton he did not agree with Milenski’s statement that Arellano is a dick and that Chrobocinski believes his comments about Arellano’s emails are in the public interest because Arellano “has created a bad situation”. It states that Chrobocinski does not believe he was crossing a line but was doing his job.

An email from Chrobocinski to Wetteland and Arellano sent in early May also was disclosed in the report. In it, Chrobocinski says he is reaching out to the two men in hopes of ending the conflict.

“While we do seem to have a fundamental disagreement about code enforcement in general, I am realizing there’s a lot more to the story about these specific conflicts in question. I have discovered that much of the communication I got from my contractor was either incorrect or untruthful. Much of my frustration was caused by the incorrect facts provided by my contractor. A picture was painted of a heavy-handed, incompetent and unfair government bureaucracy. I’ve since learned that that was not a fair assessment”, the email states.

Chrobocinski goes on to say he believes some of the fundamental conflicts come from the Council itself, that the perspective of the Council on permitting and code enforcement during his first two years in office was extremely different to the last year and a half.

“While my perspective did not change the overall direction from Council did. I believe that has also played a significant role in the underlying conflict. From my point of view, I am done with this and wish only the best for the two of you. I do hope you are also willing to let this difficult time be in the past and move on. I understand if that’s not something you are able to do at this time. But nonetheless I wish only the best for the two of you. God bless,” the email concludes.

Chrobocinski was elected to Council in November 2014 and resigned at the May 1 Council meeting indicating he had been diagnosed with cancer. His term would have ended Dec. 31.

Chrobocinski was not available for comment.

Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess said this morning that the Council has not had the opportunity to discuss or consider any action in relation to this investigation and therefore he will not provide a comment at this time.

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