Second District GOP congressional candidate Genevieve Atwood lists among her accomplishments her tenure as director of the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey during the 1980s - she was the first woman state geologist in America.
While many at the agency are great supporters of Atwood - they work on her campaign and praise her administration - others say she was the worst thing to happen to the small agency in years.Three former employees and one job applicant filed discrimination complaints with the State Industrial Commission charging they were denied promotions or jobs by Atwood because of their age. The complaints were investigated thoroughly, Atwood says, and were dismissed. "They had no merit," she said.
Atwood was head of the agency for nine years, from 1981 to 1989. The agency has about 50 full-time employees.
The complaints have an ironic twist because Atwood says she has promoted women and minorities in her professional career and sympathizes with the plight of senior citizens.
"I'm very proud of the number of protected classes - women, minorities and older workers - that I hired and promoted. These complaints had nothing to do with age discrimination - and the dismissals (of the complaints) show that. You can file an age discrimination complaint if you're older than 40. Their real complaints had to do with my management. They sued under age discrimination because it was all they had, and you can collect attorney fees for anti-discrimination complaints," she says.
Those who contacted the Deseret News would talk about their con-flicts with Atwood only if their names weren't used. They said they are professional geologists and don't want to be identified criticizing a former colleague.
State Industrial Commission Anti-Discrimination officials will only confirm the names of those who filed claims, they won't disclose whether others may have filed claims unknown to the Deseret News nor discuss specifics of any claims. The Deseret News confirmed four age discrimination complaints. Atwood, who knows of all such claims, says those were the only ones filed against her agency.
Those disappointed in Atwood said she promoted younger, less experienced geologists into management positions because those people were loyal to her. They said she eliminated the job of assistant director, demoting the man who held it, then several years later created the job of deputy director and promoted geologist Don Mabey - hired earlier by Atwood - into that job.
Mabey, a dozen years Atwood's senior, suffered declining health in the late 1980s and resigned from the agency. Several months after he left, Atwood and Mabey were married. When she resigned as director of the agency last year to run for Congress, she and her husband started their own geology consulting firm.
The accusations against her and her husband trouble Atwood. Atwood said she did eliminate the assistant director job, but the man who held it also was a section head. She offered him his choice of section directorships; he chose to leave. Mabey, she said, is an outstanding manager. After he displayed those skills, she decided to promote him to deputy director, a new post.
"My relationship with Don is so precious. He is such a private person - I'm a public person, but he is not. No. It is so unfair to bring him into this (campaign) - to paint this in some kind of seedy light. I won't do it." She says she didn't know Mabey before she hired him, didn't create the deputy directorship just for him and she says they didn't become romantically involved until after he'd decided to resign and told her he was leaving UGMS.
Those critical of Atwood complain of low morale in the agency; of older employees, clerical and professional, being driven from the agency; and of different agency sections being "emasculated" by inexperienced personnel.
Atwood says she made a tactical, but difficult, decision when she entered the job not to shunt aside into warehousing jobs employees, especially well-paid professionals, who didn't measure up. If they weren't serving the public interest, if they wouldn't adjust, she was determined to make changes.
"It is a long, difficult process (removing an employee), supervised by the state personnel department. We worked with those (employees) all the way, over two years." She says she encouraged employees who weren't performing to her standards to change jobs, take a demotion or even find other work in the state system. "As a last resort, they left state employment. All were resignations, no firings."
Dee Hansen, who as executive director of Natural Resources was Atwood's boss, says Atwood was a fine director whom he supported fully. "She's bright, visionary. She did a great job. Some of those employees - who are good people - decided not to work under her management style, and that's their right. I have no regrets at all having her in state government. The charges of age discrimination were ridiculous."
There were success stories in her personnel matters, Atwood said - people who were reassigned and "were very happy in being transplanted - flowers that really bloomed."
Atwood says she understands now - considering the difficult bureaucratic process and the toll on personal lives, hers and others - why many state bureaucrats don't deal adequately with personnel problems.
"They find the (troubled employee) a place out of the way where you hope he's not hurting your agency, drawing pay, but not helping either. I wasn't going to do that, and except for the way two personnel matters were handled - not these anti-discrimination cases, but others - I'd do the same things again."
When she took over, Atwood said, the division had no "clear purpose of vision." Geologists were off in their own areas of research, amassing data that really didn't result in making Utah "safer, richer and better understood geologically," she said. "I tried to change that. I think I succeeded. But, unfortunately, we had these problems."