POCATELLO — The former Bannock County official who was in charge of the Portneuf Wellness Complex is speaking out after he was terminated from his position last month.
Aaron Greenwell worked for the county for a decade before he was fired shortly after the November election.
He said he believes that a major reason why he was fired is because he brought up a long list of problems at the Portneuf Wellness Complex. Greenwell also disputes the county commissioners’ stated reasons for firing him and said county officials have gone so far as to persuade the Idaho Attorney General’s Office to investigate him over what he calls blatantly false allegations.
Greenwell said there have been “a ton of rumors” about him ever since the county commissioners put him on paid leave in August. He said his only goal in sharing his story is to defend his reputation.
Before he was fired last month, the Bannock County Commission sent Greenwell a letter on Aug. 15 that stated he was being placed on paid administrative leave while the county solicited an outside financial audit of the parks and events department, which includes the Portneuf Wellness Complex and the adjacent Pocatello fairgrounds.
Greenwell, who earned an annual salary of $65,000, oversaw the operations of both facilities and the Downey fairgrounds as Bannock County’s facilities and events director for the last six years. The Bannock County commissioners were Greenwell’s direct supervisors.
“I was suspended on Aug. 15 and there was not a reason given other than it was a personnel issue and that the county was launching a full investigation,” Greenwell said. “Since that time, nobody contacted me or asked me any questions. I heard nothing from anyone until I received a letter of termination the day after the election stating I was being terminated on Nov. 14.”
Bannock County Clerk Robert Poleki said the financial audit of the parks and events department should be completed before the end of the year.
County commissioners Ken Bullock, Terrel “Ned” Tovey and Steve Brown declined to comment about any of the specifics concerning Greenwell’s termination.
Bullock did say that the timing of Greenwell’s termination had no correlation to the general election last month, adding that “the main reason (Greenwell) is no longer with the county is because he violated county personnel policies.”
According to the termination letter from the Bannock County Commission sent to Greenwell, he violated multiple policies including approving and submitting his own timecards, asking an administrative assistant to approve country employee timecards, arbitrarily approving waivers for fees users pay to use the Portneuf Wellness Complex or Pocatello fairgrounds, allowing groups to use county facilities without a contract, and failing to report striking a deer with a county vehicle.
The county commissioners said in their letter that they also had evidence that Greenwell had parked a county vehicle outside his house without permission.
On Nov. 19, Greenwell and his attorney, Reed Larsen of Pocatello, met with the county commissioners to appeal his termination and to provide evidence that he should not have been fired.
Greenwell contends that in terms of the timecard issue he had been submitting his timecard in the same fashion for the last three years with no notification he was violating county policy. He also said he only asked an administrative assistant to approve his employees’ timecards when he couldn’t be present to do so.
Furthermore, Greenwell said that he did not approve any fee waivers for any county facilities, adding that it is the responsibility of the county commissioners to approve such waivers.
In terms of allowing groups to use county facilities without a contract, Greenwell said the first occurrence was approved by the county commissioners because the group in question exchanged work completed for the county for permission to use a county facility. The other occurrence involved offering a reduced usage rate to a group that had used the Pocatello fairgrounds in the past. In this instance, Greenwell said he told the group he needed to get approval of the reduced rate from the commissioners first, but before the request was approved he was placed on paid administrative leave.
After striking the deer while driving a county vehicle this past June, Greenwell contends that he did report the accident in a timely fashion, both to Tovey the same day of the accident as well as the county’s human resources department the next day.
Greenwell said he doesn’t dispute that he had a county vehicle parked in front of his home because there were occasions when he did drive a county vehicle home after using it for work.
But Greenwell said the alleged policy violation regarding parking a county vehicle outside of his home quickly turned into what he calls false accusations that he used county equipment and taxpayer dollars to build a shop at his personal residence. Greenwell said this led county officials to ask the Idaho Attorney General’s Office to investigate him.
Greenwell says he’s innocent of the county’s allegations against him and should have never been fired.
“There were blatantly false allegations that came out that I was using employees for personal gain, or that I was using taxpayer money to build my shop at my house,” Greenwell said. “I have all my receipts and I was waiting for the county to confront me about it and not once did they ever question me about it.”
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office this week denied the Journal’s request for information on the Greenwell investigation stating that the requested documents were exempt from disclosure because they were part of an active investigation.
The county commissioners reaffirmed their decision to fire Greenwell by sending him a letter dated the same day as his meeting with them telling him they had denied his termination appeal.
“They never even considered the information we presented at the termination appeal meeting,” Greewell said. “I asked them to hear me out and to actually investigate what happened and they didn’t.”
When asked if the commissioners took into consideration any of the materials Greenwell and his attorney submitted during the Nov. 19 meeting, Bullock said, “If there is any additional information provided during the appeal process then commissioners do have the ability to open other avenues but at that point there was no new information that was offered.”
Bullock added, “It was determined by the commissioners that there were no additional reasons to change our decision.”
Greenwell said that prior to being put on paid administrative leave by the commissioners in August, he had never received any warnings or been reprimanded for his job performance during his 10 years with the county.
“Had I ever committed any of these (alleged policy violations), none of them are termination caliber offenses,” Greenwell said. “Never in my 10 years of working for the county was I ever even written up. This seems really off to me and my attorney. I’m not disgruntled. I am more confused than anything.”
Greenwell said it’s worth noting that a month before the commissioners put him on leave he brought several issues and concerns to their attention.
Greenwell said the most significant issues he raised concerned the Portneuf Wellness Complex, a sprawling outdoor recreational facility that includes a large pond and amphitheater that the county took over from the Portneuf Health Trust in 2015. Greenwell said the entire complex has inadequate water, power and sewer systems that continually plague its operation.
He described the Portneuf Wellness Complex as being under-built. For example, Greenwell said, pumps had to be repaired several times and ultimately replaced to get sewage from the complex’s bathrooms to the sewer lines. He said the complex’s sewer system still doesn’t properly function today and has yet to be tested by a full-capacity concert or event.
The complex’s problems are extensive, Greenwell said, from a sprinkler system that can’t water the complex’s lawns to a lack of electrical connections to support events being held at the complex.
Furthermore, there are no heaters in the facility’s bathrooms, meaning that in the winter the bathroom’s can’t be used because their water lines will freeze, Greenwell said. He added that the county’s solution to this serious flaw was to bring in portable toilets to the complex during the winter months.
Greenwell said that if anything he tried to organize the county’s supervision of its facilities, saying he implemented the use of contracts and purchasing agreements for the facilities and even made sure the county had the proper insurance for the facilities.
But the county still doesn’t have a written policy and procedures manual for the Portneuf Wellness Complex and Pocatello fairgrounds, Greenwell added.
Though Greenwell believes part of his termination is related to voicing his concerns to the county, most of all he said he feels like he is a casualty of a change in philosophy regarding how past commissioners envisioned the Portneuf Wellness Complex and Pocatello fairgrounds would operate and what the current commissioners want from those facilities.
The biggest discrepancy between the former and current commissioners, according to Greenwell, is a difference of opinion regarding whether the Portneuf Wellness Complex and Pocatello fairgrounds should turn a profit. He said the current commissioners want those facilities to be moneymakers and this means increasing user fees, which could drive away large events that have been hosted in Bannock County for years.
Bullock, in response to Greenwell’s statements, said the county needs to increase fees associated with the Portneuf Wellness Complex and Pocatello fairgrounds because the commission doesn’t want to burden taxpayers with the cost of maintaining and operating those facilities.
“It costs us $1.1 million dollars to maintain those facilities for 365 days a year,” Bullock said. “We can’t just let everyone in the world come in and use those facilities without having to pay a prorated share of keeping that facility up.”
Bullock added, “If people don’t like coming here, there are other venues. But we have one of the best venues for all of these events. It just costs money to operate these facilities all year long.”
In response to Greenwell’s termination, Bannock County Commissioner Brown said he and the other commissioners are in the process of reviewing a realignment of some county positions so that the Portneuf Wellness Complex and Pocatello fairgrounds have proper supervision. But Brown said in the end he expects someone will still be hired to replace Greenwell.
Moving forward, Greenwell said he is unsure whether he will pursue legal action against the county regarding his termination, adding that if he does take the route of litigation he would be doing so not with the intent to harm the county, but to set the record straight about his decade of service to the county.
“I don’t want this to consume my life,” Greenwell said. “I’ve done a good job and I’ve worked hard for the county. I have sacrificed my own personal time working seven days a week during the summer event season. I practically lived up there (at the Portneuf Wellness Complex) through the season because that is what it took. We wanted to make sure that facility was run the right way and I am not one bit concerned about the job that I have done.”