Today in New West news: sexual harassment allegations across national park system, U of U launching refugee center, and Gardner breaks ground on downtown Boise site.
According to the Missoulian, Robert Hester, an employee who worked in Yellowstone National Park’s special projects division has come forward with a number of accusations against coworkers, alleging sexual harassment was a regular occurrence—including an instance of a supervisor abusing a drunken employee.
Although he initially spoke to Montana Pioneer magazine earlier this month, Hester’s allegation gained traction when he submitted a statement to the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. From the Missoulian:
“From the date I started to work at the park, I was shocked and amazed at what I saw and heard in regard to the talk and acceptance of sexual exploitation of female workers,” Hester wrote.
He worked from 2010 to 2012 in the special projects division, which Hester described as being like a “men’s only club.” He now has a permanent job as an engineering equipment operator at Yellowstone, which includes portions of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho and was the nation’s first national park.
The accusations also include misuse of government credit cards. Hester said he and another employee had been instructed to violate rules about purchasing repair parts and maintenance.
The investigation would focus initially on the special projects division and expand as needed, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said Monday. He said no one else has stepped forward with claims similar to Hester’s.
Wenk initially planned to bring in outside investigators to eye the claims. Those plans were canceled when the Inspector General’s Office stepped in, he said.
Hester’s complaints follow an inspector general’s report that found male employees at the Grand Canyon preyed on female colleagues, demanded sex and retaliated against women who refused.
At Yosemite, at least 18 employees have come forward with allegations of harassment or other misconduct so severe that a recent report labeled working conditions at the park “toxic.”
At Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore, the park superintendent was recently reassigned after female employees had long complained of sexual harassment and a hostile workplace.
A senior NPS official acknowledged the agency has a longstanding problem with sexual harassment and has failed to hold perpetrators accountable and make work environments less toxic. Inspector General’s Office Director of External Affairs Nancy DiPaolo has said their investigation of Hester’s claims will “go wherever the leads take us” and look at Yellowstone as a whole.
Several officials, including U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), agree that Wenk had no prior knowledge of the allegations and did not ignore or try to stifle them.
Over in Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the University of Utah will establish a Center for Research on Migration and Refugee Integration to aid and study the state’s growing refugee population. Indeed, approximately 1,200 refugees resettle in the Beehive State very year; around 65,000 refugees currently reside in Utah, all from a “wide variety of backgrounds and circumstances.” U of U research professor Caren Frost told the Tribune that refugees differ substantially from immigrants, as the former did not necessarily choose to resettle elsewhere. From the Tribune:
The center, led by Frost, will operate as a coordinating hub for refugee and immigrant services, as well as an academic resource center for newly arriving Americans in the state, Frost said.
The center will not be a physical location on campus, but instead will consist of a network of U. faculty and community leaders. “It’s more about people than an actual physical space,” she said.
It will also be the first center of its kind west of the Mississippi, Frost said, generating research on how to best welcome and integrate immigrants and refugees into mainstream communities.
“It’s needed because we are a resettlement state, number one, and a very successful one,” Frost said. “We have a number of people who immigrate in from a variety of other countries.”
Frost said the center will initially be focused on refugee research, but will broaden its focus with the help and support of community groups.
A 2015 study for the Utah Nonprofits Association found at least 220 separate organizations offer 388 programs to help refugees in the state — but efforts often are not coordinated and may not give refugees what they really need.
Frost said the center’s goal is to provide some of that coordination by sharing information and plans between campus researchers and organizations like the Department of Workforce Services and Catholic Community Services.
The center also intends to combat some of the stereotypes surrounding refugee groups, Frost said, which have become increasingly politicized around the country.
“It’s a current issue and it’s an important issue,” Frost said. “I think this is a really timely center.”
Finally, up in Idaho, according to the Idaho Statesman, Gardner Co. has just broken ground on a five-acre plot in downtown Boise—the latest in a development frenzy that’s reshaping downtown. Gardner’s project, Pioneer Crossing, will comprise a 150-room Hilton Garden Inn, a future restaurant, 1 132,000-square-foot office building and a 644-space parking garage. The estimated cost is $65 million; the first phase (parking garage and restaurant) should open fall 2017, according to Gardner Co. COO Tommy Ahlquist. From the Statesman:
Ahlquist said the hotel on the northwest corner should be complete in the spring of 2018, and the office building on the southwest corner will be done that summer.
Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency, will pay $5.4 million to make 250 of the spaces in the parking garage available to the public, executive director John Brunelle said.
The site is immediately west of the site where the Simplot family has built Jack’s Urban Meeting Place and where the Simplot Co. is building its new headquarters.
In the past five years, no developer has done more than Gardner to reshape Downtown Boise. The company completed Eighth & Main, Idaho’s tallest building, in early 2014. It is now putting the finishing touches on City Center Plaza, a retail-office-convention-transit complex on the Grove Plaza.
Gardner bought the Pioneer Crossing site, previously known as Parcel B, from the Greater Boise Auditorium District early this year for $7.9 million. The company had been negotiating with the district since at least spring 2015, and its ideas for the site evolved. Its ideas have included hotels, an office building, condominiums, retail space, a parking garage and, briefly, a sports stadium.
Gardner struggled to reach an agreement with CCDC on which parties should pay how much for the parking garage. CCDC owns and operates parking garages throughout Downtown and wants more covered parking space in the project area.
In January, at Gardner’s request, the auditorium district removed a condition of sale that required Gardner to build a hotel on the lot. That ended Gardner’s plans to build two hotels with more than 300 rooms.
That was a disappointment to some who had hoped for a major convention-style hotel to complement Boise Centre, the convention venue on the Grove Plaza. The auditorium district owns Boise Centre, which is expanding as part of the City Center Plaza work.