Archive for Sunday, October 1, 2000

Graves replies to lottery issues

Incoming agency director calls allegations ‘small potatoes’

October 1, 2000


— Gov. Bill Graves' administration has issued its first detailed response to questions about the Kansas Lottery. A top lottery official called those questions "small potatoes and dead issues."

The response was a letter sent Friday from Natalie Haag, the governor's chief legal counsel and top legislative liaison, to members of the Federal and State Affairs committees in the House and Senate. The committees monitor the lottery's operations.

Haag drafted the letter and released it to news organizations the same day a 1999 report on the lottery was posted on the Lawrence Journal-World's Web site.

That report, labeled "Confidential/Attorney Work Product," contained descriptions of inappropriate behavior by employees and the firing of a high-ranking official last year.

"I think when the facts are known, people will see that most of this stuff is small potatoes and dead issues," Ed Van Petten, the lottery's deputy director, told reporters later.

The report said lottery employees reported incidents of sexual harassment, inappropriate jokes and activities with sexual overtones, and the perception of preferential treatment for a lottery employee.

The report said Graves' senior staff ordered Greg Ziemak, the lottery's executive director, to fire a high-ranking lottery official. It said that official was suspended with pay for nearly two weeks while an investigation continued before being fired in November.

Nothing in the report implicates Ziemak in any inappropriate behavior, just as Ziemak never was the subject of a criminal investigation this year that led to criminal charges against a former lottery employee not mentioned in the report, Richard Lee Knowlton.

In a Journal-World interview published Saturday, however, Graves admitted he fired Ziemak. He said the firing was because "several ongoing issues" had made it clear Ziemak did not have "a good grip" on the agency's day-to-day operations.

Ziemak, a Lawrence resident, announced his resignation Sept. 11, four days before the criminal charges against Knowlton were filed. Ziemak said then Knowlton's case had nothing to do with his decision. Van Petten replaces Ziemak as lottery director Monday.

The report corroborates information published recently by the Journal-World.

The newspaper has said it was confident of the document's authenticity and that the accompanying story "is well-sourced."

In her letter, Haag wrote, "Appropriate personnel action was taken against a number of Lottery employees."

Personnel records obtained by The Associated Press show that five employees left the lottery between Nov. 22 and Dec. 31, 1999.

However, the records don't indicate why those employees left, meaning their departures might not have been related to the investigation. Van Patten said he could not discuss such personnel matters, other than to say, "The matter has been dealt with and closed."

The report's title says that it is a Dec. 10, 1999, summary from an investigation of the lottery by the Department of Administration in November 1999, prepared by two officials.

As for posting the document, Journal-World editors said it was simply to let the public know the results of the investigation.

The Graves administration has repeatedly said that Kansas law bars discussion of many of the questions about the lottery because they are personnel matters.

"These provisions serve to protect state employees from unwarranted invasion of privacy," Haag wrote.

However, Rep. Tony Powell, chairman of the House committee, said the Graves administration could have disclosed the information in Haag's letter months earlier.

"They could have saved themselves a lot of heartache," said Powell, R-Wichita.

Much of the report centers on the behavior of Bill Griffin, the former lottery sales director it says was fired.

The report said employees who worked for Griffin felt he had made derogatory comments about women. The report concluded he had "displayed an inappropriate attitude."

The report also described lottery employees telling investigators about inappropriate behavior within a division of the agency. It said such behavior was "a serious issue" when the division's employees gathered for functions.

The allegation of preferential treatment involved Griffin and another employee, whose name, along with others, was blacked out in the version of the investigation report on the Journal-World Web site.

The report also said employees had questions about sales promotions, but it did not reach any conclusions.

In her letter, Haag said the lottery instituted a new policy in January to clear up any questions about the legality of promotions involving retail stores.

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