Ex-chief of Census office files complaint
A complaint by a former manager depicts the Grand Junction census office as a den of backbiting and turf battles, as well as anti-Semitism, drug use and several varieties of unprofessional conduct.
The office at 573 W. Crete Circle also was hindered by frayed communications with meddlesome upper management in Denver, former manager Bill Hugenberg said in his complaint filed with the Census Bureau’s Office of Civil Rights.
The Grand Junction building is the same as the one in which a malodorous marijuana-growing operation left several census employees overcome and the temporary manager, Russell Copelan, complaining that employees were being subjected to questionable working conditions.
Hugenberg was the first of four managers to be in charge of the office for the 2010 census and, according to his complaint, he feuded with Copelan, who originally was hired to be a regional technician for the head count.
Copelan did not respond to a request for an interview on a note left at his building, and his phone number was no longer working.
The Census Bureau also told The Daily Sentinel it would not comment on the personnel matters Hugenberg raised.
Copelan, according to Hugenberg’s complaint, might have arranged for Hugenberg’s dismissal by complaining about “my alleged but non-existent anti-Semitism” to higher-ups in Denver, Hugenberg said in the complaint.
Copelan also might have provided higher-ups with “maliciously false” information about him and a woman who worked in the census office, Hugenberg said in the complaint.
His dismissal was for “bogus, unjustified, and unlawfully discriminatory reasons, and the policies which allow local managers to be made scapegoats for the well-documented incompetence of others at higher levels,” Hugenberg wrote.
Although he was hampered by relationships at the Grand Junction and Denver offices, he managed to complete the update-leave phase of the census on time, Hugenberg wrote.
“I overcame numerous obstacles to successfully manage the preparations for (update-leave) selection, orchestrated the acceleration of recruiting efforts so that the (Grand Junction census office) ended up with ‘just enough’ qualified applicants ‘just in time’” to complete that phase of the operation, Hugenberg wrote.
Higher-ups “knew that there were no valid operational grounds for my termination,” he said.
Hugenberg said he was doing well enough that he was told on Feb. 16 he was being considered for promotion. A week later he was terminated, he said.
Several times in his complaint, Hugenberg called for officials in Denver to be questioned under oath about their dealings with him.
Hugenberg said he suspected Copelan of some improprieties in the Grand Junction office, and when he communicated his concerns about Copelan to officials in Denver, Hugenberg said his concerns were dismissed as personal attacks on Copelan “because (Copelan) was Jewish.”
Hugenberg said he wasn’t allowed to forget that he had once compared Copelan’s job as regional technician to that of a commissar in the Red Army, which was invidious given Copelan’s religion. Hugenberg said he apologized profusely to Copelan.
Hugenberg said in his complaint that he was uniquely qualified to head the Grand Junction office because he had represented several American Indian tribes across the West as an attorney. The census had hoped to make inroads with Utes and the Navajo Nation in completing the head count.
His termination could have been the result of religious discrimination, age discrimination or several other causes, all of them subjecting him to violation of his civil rights, Hugenberg wrote.
“Prompt payment of $46,000 accompanied by a letter of apology from the bureau” would show his termination was wrongful and unlawful, “thereby restoring my stigmatized reputation,” Hugenberg wrote.
The Census Bureau, meanwhile, “should utilize this thoroughly documented case study of its poor planning and ‘gross mismanagement’” to ensure the Grand Junction office is properly staffed for its job, Hugenberg wrote.