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Federal official retires amid allegations she shielded her husband in Yosemite harassment scandal

Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher, wife of Patty Neubacher talks about the fire situation in El Portal, Calif. Neubacher is retiring after employees complained of hostile work environment in the park.
Former Yosemite National Park Supt. Don Neubacher talks about a fire in El Portal, Calif.
(Associated Press)

A federal official who had been accused of protecting her husband from charges that he mismanaged Yosemite National Park during an ongoing harassment scandal announced her retirement on Monday. 

Patty Neubacher, deputy regional director for the Pacific West Region, which covers 56 national parks in six states, came under scrutiny in recent months as the Interior Department and Congress investigated widespread allegations of bullying, intimidation and harassment of employees throughout  the national park system.

Her husband, Don Neubacher, on Thursday announced his retirement as superintendent of Yosemite National Park, where employees and former employees had complained of a systemic failure to investigate and address allegations of harassment at the iconic California landmark. Some employees alleged that Patty Neubacher had used her position to protect the superintendent. 

At a Sept. 22 hearing focused on reports that the parks have become a hostile work environment, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah) grilled a ranking Park Service official about the situation at Yosemite: “You have somebody on your staff who is essentially protected and empowered by his wife. How do you let that happen?”.

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Patty Neubacher announced her retirement in an internal email on Sunday, She had been with the National Park Service for 33 years.

The email read: 

“Dear Fellow Travelers:

With much sadness but with a heart full of gratitude, I wanted to let you know that I will be retiring on November 1st. This is not the timing that I’d ever envisioned for retiring, but sometimes life takes an abrupt turn.” 

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The email continued: ”From the moment I arrived as a summer intern from my MBA program, I have appreciated your support, your patience, your kindness, your intelligence, and, perhaps most importantly, your good humor. I’ve accumulated a lifetime of wonderful memories working with you and I am forever grateful.”

On Monday, many staffers at the park who had not heard the news expressed surprise.

Among them was Scott Gediman, a spokesman for the park with an office adjacent to the superintendent’s.

“Wow. Oh wow,” he said as he scanned for the first time a report of the retirement on his office computer.

Gediman declined to comment on either of the Neubachers.

The couple’s departures followed a series of reports by current and former employees of bullying, intimidation and harassment within the park service.

In June, David Uberuaga, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, retired in response to sexual harassment complaints from female employees of the park.

Ongoing investigations by House oversight committees and the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General in June, forced Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, to apologize for unethical behavior connected to a book about national parks he wrote for a nonprofit organization that operates stores in many national parks.

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Park officials at Yosemite on Monday were openly encouraging staffers at all levels to report any feeling they had of being subjected to harassment, misconduct or hostile working conditions.  

Woody Smeck, superintendent of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, will also become acting superintendent of Yosemite, beginning in mid-October the agency announced.

“His roles will include achieving reconciliation among staffers and making sure that people feel they can talk to investigators openly and honestly,” said Park Service spokesman Andrew Munoz. 

“There needed to be a sea change,” he said, “so the park could continue to do its business.”  

Louis.Sahagun@latimes.com

@LouisSahagun

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UPDATES:

2:34 p.m.: This article has been updated with the text of Patty Neubacher’s email announcement and comments from Park Service spokesman Andrew Munoz.

This article was originally published at 2 p.m. 


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