There's been so much news on Hatteras and Ocracoke in the past weeks that it's been hard to keep up with the news from elsewhere. Television, these days, is about nothing but the 2016 Presidential election, so I took some time this week to look around on other news sites.
And I found some curious and somewhat surprising news articles about Jonathan Jarvis, the director of the National Park Service.
According to published news stories and documents from the Department of the Interior, Jarvis was reprimanded late last month for an ethics violation. The reprimand came after a report from the inspector general for the department on a book that Jarvis wrote, which was ironically about American values.
The book, "Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks," was published last June by Eastern National, a private, non-profit that supports national parks by, among other things, publishing books and running bookstores for the Park Service.
On its website, Eastern National describes the book this way:
"As it prepares to celebrate its centennial in 2016, the National Park Service now manages more than 400 special places. This book, written by Jonathan B. Jarvis, the 18th director of the National Park Service, examines the evolution of the national park idea. What unites this increasingly diverse system of natural wonderlands and historic sites in an increasingly diverse nation, are the values we share in common.
"Director Jarvis lists more than 50 values—such as bravery, patriotism, honesty, sacrifice, and honor, and provides examples of parks that illuminate them. This book features dozens of color photographs of national parks and includes a preface written by Dayton Duncan."
I searched online for reviews of the book, but found only one rather unflattering review that attacked the book. And I found a lot of articles about the ethics violation flap.
The book, I am sure, is very positive publicity for the national parks, so there's no problem there. But it seems that last June, the Department of the Interior chief of staff, notified the inspector general's office that Jarvis had published the book without consulting DOI's Ethics Office, which is required by the department's policy. The inspector general's office began an investigation, which was published on the DOI website on Feb. 25.
"We focused our investigation," the report said, "on whether Jarvis used his public office for private gain by seeking a book deal with Eastern National and whether he misused any U.S. Government resources in the process. We also examined Jarvis' involvement in Eastern National Matters at NPS around the time of his book deal, and we reviewed Jarvis' decision not to seek ethics advice from the Ethics Office for the book."
Ethics Office guidelines specifically state that government employees who want to do outside work with businesses or organizations seeking to do business with the Department of the Interior must first seek approval from the office, whether payment is involved or not.
Jarvis told investigators that he did not seek to be paid for the book and directed that royalties go to the National Park Foundation, which some DOI officials found also could be an ethical issue since Jarvis sits on the board of the foundation.
Interior officials also were concerned that Jarvis retained the copyright on the book and approved the use of the NPS arrowhead logo on the cover, "giving the appearance of government endorsement."
Jarvis used his government iPad to write the book, and said he wrote it outside of office hours. The investigators said that it "appeared" that there were at least nine occasions when Jarvis worked on the book or corresponded about the book "when he was not on leave and government offices were open."
Michael Connor, deputy secretary in the Interior Department, responded to the inspector general's report.
"The Department takes this matter very seriously and is in the process of taking appropriate personnel actions," he wrote.
Jarvis was reprimanded by DOI officials, relieved of his responsibility to manage the NPS ethics program for the remainder of his tenure as director, and is required to attend monthly ethics training for the remainder of his tenure.
"I am also concerned," Connor wrote, "about the attitude that the (report on the investigation) demonstrates Director Jarvis exhibited toward important Departmental institutions such as the Ethics Office, the Office of the Solicitor, and the Office of the Secretary....Senior leaders, including Director Jarvis must model constructive engagement with these offices."
Connor said he had met with Jarvis and was "satisfied" that Jarvis understood the "unacceptable nature of his conduct."
In a short statement after the report and reprimand were made public, Jarvis said, "I regret that I did not seek guidance on the most appropriate path forward to publish this book. I wrote the book to inspire and engage more Americans in our national parks, especially during the National Park Service's centennial year. I consider it a good lesson learned and will ask for guidance if and when similar situations arise in the future."
I've got to say that I don't really believe that Jarvis was trying to profit from his book on the parks and American values and I really don't care if he used his government iPad, but I am astounded that a public official at his level would intentionally ignore ethics guidelines -- especially since he had to be somewhat politically savvy to have reached the level he has in public service.
And I have to admit that I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read the reason that Jarvis chose not to consult with the Ethics Office.
He told the investigators that he didn't discuss the project with DOI ethics officials "because doing so would have taken too long, and with the NPS' centennial approaching, the book would be 'really powerful.'"
Jarvis admitted that he knew he would "probably get into trouble."
The investigators wrote in their report that they asked Jarvis if he would have done anything differently.
"Would I have done the same thing?" Jarvis said, according to the report." Probably...I think I knew going into this there was a certain amount of risk. I've never been afraid of a risk....I've gotten my ass in trouble many, many, many times in the Park Service by .... not necessarily getting permission...I've always pushed the envelope."
He also said he felt that the book's values analysis could be "a very, very powerful tool to not only connect to the next generation but to resonate across political spectrums...And it could be a little bit of something that I could give back to the Park Service, to the Foundation, to sort of set the bar in a place that I feel that it needs to be for our second century."
And he said that if he wrote the book "on the job" with all of the "machinations that go on in here, the Department, Communications, Solicitor's Office...it wouldn't happen...So I took the risk knowingly, I guess."
The director of the National Park Service didn't consult with his own department because everything takes so long that he was afraid his project would never happen.
Now, you may say that Jarvis chose not to consult because he is arrogant. I guess it could come across that way, but I have to admit that I felt some sympathy for the guy when I read those passages in the report.
I guess he does know how the rest of us feel about having to live with the Park Service bureaucracy, day in and day out.
Furthermore, apparently no one is going to get rich from the 60-page, softcover book that sells for $7.95.
An Eastern National official told the investigators that it had cost them $11,000 to $12,000 to print the book and they had sold only a few more than 200 copies. They said they didn't expect to recoup their investment.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read The Department of the Interior's investigative report on Jonathan Jarvis.
Click here to read the response of DOI deputy secretary Michael Connor.
REMINDER: COMMENTS ON ORV RULE CHANGES DUE MARCH 18
The National Park Service has just finished a series of five meetings on proposed changes to its off-road vehicle final rule for Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The five meetings were not as well attended as NPS meetings usually are around here. According to the NPS, 51 people attended the Buxton meeting, three attended the Ocracoke meeting, 19 attended in Kitty Hawk, and 22 attended meetings in Hampton, Va., and Raleigh.
Local access organizations -- such as the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association, the Outer Banks Preservation Association, and Cape Hatteras Anglers Club -- want to see comments rolling in from those who support more reasonable access to the seashore's beaches.
Just as this blog was being posted on Friday afternoon, we received information from the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance -- which includes NCBBA, OBPA, CHAC, and local business owners -- with their comments on the NPS proposed alternatives.
"We have repeatedly compromised our positions in an effort to resolve differences with other groups and NPS," the group said in its cover letter to seashore Superintendent David Hallac. "Vehicle access has been reduced from 67 miles to 28 miles plus seasonal routes of 13 miles all of which are subject to closure during nesting seasons which for the most part occur during the prime tourist seasons. Additionally, the number of access ramps has been reduced from 27 to 20."
CHAPA says that it recognizes elements in action Alternatives 1, 2 and 3 "will positively impact the visitor experience at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore," but, the group says, no alternative fully adopts the suggestions for changes to the Final ORV rule submitted in August, 2015, during the public scoping process conducted by NPS."
"Several modifications must be made to the ultimately chosen alternative to achieve the objectives of the legislation which led to this process," the comments say.
CHAPA submitted a "Comparison of Alternatives Table" that provides information to explain its positions. It is a copy of "Table 1. Alternatives Summary" from the Environmental Assessment, modified to include a column which documents for comparison the CHAPA suggestions submitted in the 2015 scoping process. CHAPA believes those suggestions submitted in 2015 remain appropriate today.
Here is the Comparison of Alternatives Chart.
The five areas of the Final Rule considered for modifications in the EA are discussed below here: Full CHAPA, NCBBA Response (10 pages)
Click here for information on the alternatives that the Park Service is proposing for the changes and how to comment.
REMINDER: PRIMARY ELECTION IS TUESDAY, MARCH 15
Don't forget to vote in the primary elections on Tuesday, March 15. Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.
Click here for more information on the elections.
Click here to see the Outer Banks Sentinel's section for voters with more information on candidates, including those who are running for seats on the Dare County Board of Education.