Monday, August 26, 2013

University of Arkansas releases reason for firing John Diamond; he responds

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 5:25 PM

The University of Arkansas today released in response to my FOI the letter by which John Diamond was fired as the university's top spokesman. It also released his response.

Hot off the press:

Chris Wyrick's letter to John Diamond

John Diamond's response to Chris Wyrick

Wyrick said he'd intended to reassign Diamond and let him work in a lesser job through the end of the year. But he said Diamond became "irate" and termed his leadership "laughable." He said Diamond had made angry remarks that  Wyrick not threaten him. He said it became clear he could not repair their relationship.

Noticeably absent in this release is what led Wyrick to decide to reassign Diamond as associate chancellor for university relations except to say "senior leadership had lost faith in you."

Diamond responded in a four-page letter, which begins by noting the omission of context and "relevant details." He focused on two things:

* "...a purposeful effort to interfere with the university's obligations to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests from the news media ..."

* "....impulsive, threatening and offensive statements and actions you have engaged in affecting me and other members of the university community."

Diamond specifically notes his disapproval of response to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette requests for information in its ongoing review of the budget deficits and fallout in the university advancement division. He said some responses were not legally justifiable or incomplete. He writes that Chancellor David Gearhart objected July 29 to a plan for meeting the FOI requests that he and university lawyers had presented. The Diamond letter indicates he believes that's when Wyrick began moving to taking responsibility for following the FOI from him.

CHRIS WYRICK: Accused of 'inappropriate' remarks, fighting FOI.
  • CHRIS WYRICK: Accused of 'inappropriate' remarks, fighting FOI.
As for work environment, Diamond complained of Wyrick "imposing serious, disruptive and secretive changes in personnel appointments with little regard to the stress it places on affected individuals" and others. He said Wyrick had threatened to fire him if he persisted in speaking about such matters. He faulted Wyrick, too, for "inappropriate" statements, alleging that:

* Wyrick once identified Diamond to others as a Catholic and said, "y'all travel in packs."

* Wyrick asked an associate vice chancellor if he was the only "white guy" who attended a Black Alumni Society scholarship dinner and twice referred to him in that meeting as "Brother Honky."

* Wyrick had asked him to replace an "old guy" who worked part-time on his staff because he didn't help another staff member during equipment setup for commencement.

* Wyrick threatened to fire an employee if she told anyone but her husband about a job reassignment — a reassignment of an employe with "long and impressive service" that was never explained to her or Diamond.

Diamond also disputed Wyrick's account of their last meeting and said he had not notified media of his situation, as Wyrick implied. "the way you dealt with me on Thursday and Friday has contributed further to the toxic environment that currently exists within the Division and which has permeated other parts of campus." He acknowledged that dealing with FOI requests can be disruptive and time-consuming, but it is a reasonable burden for a public institution to bear.

He added that Wyrick's "disregard"of  the FOIA continues to jeopardize the UA's status with "internal and external constituencies."

ON THE JUMP: Find a statement from Chancellor David Gearhart to UA trustees and UA President Donald Bobbitt. He defended Wyrick for attempting to build a relationship with Diamond. He said Diamond had for months resisted new leadership. He turned suspicion on Diamond by saying he'd remained supportive of the fired Brad Choate, who hired Diamond. He said Diamond had remained defensive of Choate and continued a close relationship, in appropriate under the circumstances. Funny thing for Gearhart to say since it was he who hired Choate and kept him on long after discovery of financial problems. Gearhart said the relationship with Diamond had become 'irreparable.'

FURTHERMORE: Gearhart has distributed an e-mail, also on the jump, that he says provides further context to Diamond's assertions about his supposed resistance to meeting an FOI request from the Democrat-Gazette.

This matter seems destined for more development. A conference call is scheduled with reporters at 3:45 p.m. today.

UPDATE: A roomful of university administrators including Wyrick and Gearhart took telephone questions for more than an hour from three reporters, including from the Times. To summarize, they said: Diamond had been resistant to the leadership change but had been difficult to work with before that. Gearhart said he thought it inappropriate for Diamond to speak publicly around campus in defense of Choate while he was taking questions as university spokesman on mismanagement. But Gearhart also defended not firing Choate, saying he still had value to contribute to the university as he worked out his $340,000 salary.

Wyrick reiterated that Diamond had been highly upset at meetings last week and because he'd seen Diamond's temper before, had a witness for their meeting. She, agreed, that Diamond's behavior had seemed "threatening," though neither she nor Wyrick indicated a directly threatening act by Diamond, except a step Wyrick said Diamond took in his direction.

On the FOI, Gearhart said the university was careful about compliance and thought it had always followed the law. "We don't know of anything you have requested — or anyone else has requested — that we have not released."

As to specific remarks Diamond said Wyrick had made:

* CATHOLIC:  Wyrick disputed saying Catholics travel together. He said a co-worker Wyricck had worked with previously at the athletic department was a Catholic and they'd long had jocular exchanges. In April, Diamond was present when Wyrick said he remarked, "what time is the fish fry on Friday?" Said Wyrick, "If that was offensive, it took him until August to complain and that was after he was reassigned."

* HONKY: Similarly, on the Brother Honky remark, Wyrick said that was a nickname given him and used frequently by black former athletes with whom he'd worked on fund-raising. He said he'd been told, but didn't remember, that he might have used the nickname referring to the work of another staff member, again at a meeting in April. He said he didn't remember it, but, if so, "it's kind of ironic that he didn't mention it until August."

* OLD MAN: He categorically denied having referred to the part-time employee as an old-man. He said he had been exasperated while working in the hot rafters of an arena preparing for graduation to see the employee sitting in a chair "and do virtually nothing."

Diamond's departure was announced in a curt news release Friday. He subsequently told me that he was fired because of differences with others, notably his new superior Chris Wyrick, over the university's view of accountability and transparency.

I FOIed the firing letter Friday. The UA was prepared to release it, but first had to give Diamond an opportunity to object to the attorney general. Diamond did so, not because he objected to the release but because he wanted time to prepare a response that could be released at the same time.

Diamond remains on the payroll through Sept. 22. He makes $173,000. He'd been at the university three years, including a time during which controversy swirled about his former superior, Brad Choate, who was removed after $3 million in budget overruns were discovered in the university's fund-raising operation. Another employee was demoted. Since Wyrick took over, two other employees in the division have been removed from jobs.


Members of the Board of Trustees and President Bobbitt:

Over the past several days I have been in close contact with several members of my senior staff as well as Dr. Bobbitt over the personnel issue surrounding Mr. John Diamond. Any time we deal with issues of termination the accounts of the actions taken are paramount. I wanted to send you this email to insure that you too are in the loop on what already has become a public issue. The purpose of this email is to give you some important background information in advance of any further media articles.

For many months Chris has attempted to build a relationship with Mr. Diamond as his new supervisor. Diamond was hired by Choate three years ago and has found it difficult to accept our new advancement leadership team. It has been a particular concern to me for many months. Mr. Diamond has been argumentative, inflexible, insubordinate and aloof with his direct report. He consistently refused to take direction from Chris or many of the senior leaders of my team on a variety of issues.

As you may know, since Brad Choate's dismissal, Mr. Diamond has been interviewed for at least three positions at other institutions in the last several months and has been unable to land a job to date.

Diamond has been very defensive of his former boss, Brad Choate, who hired him, and continued to maintain a very close and inappropriate relationship with Choate during a time he was serving as our chief spokesperson, a clear conflict of interest.

Over the last several months the relationship with Diamond and Chris, and my senior leadership, has deteriorated to the point of irreparable damage.

Thursday, Chris met with Diamond and told him he felt a change was necessary and that his relationship with him was beyond repair. Chris told Diamond that the senior leadership had lost faith in him for a variety of reasons, including his inflexible attitude and his inattentiveness to his daily duties, including his refusal to answer e-mails and phone messages from myself, Vice Chancellors and Vice Provosts.

Chris told Diamond that he wanted to give him more time to find a job, but he should expect to conclude his position by the end of the calendar year. He made it very clear to Diamond that he did not want to harm his reputation or embarrass him.

Diamond became very agitated, hostile and exhibited aggressive behavior bordering on rage. In what appeared to be a premeditated, emotional rant, Diamond accused Chris of racism, harboring ill will toward Diamond's religion and told him his management style was "laughable".

This was all witnessed by one of Dr. Pederson's staff members, Ms. Denise Reynolds, who sat in on the meeting. Ms. Reynolds personally felt threatened by Diamond.

Diamond stormed out of Chris's office and within minutes an ADG reporter called Chris with knowledge of the meeting.

Chris attempted to call, text and email Diamond throughout the day in hopes he had cooled down, but Diamond refused to take the calls or respond in any way. On Friday, Chris gave Diamond an opportunity to resign but only received a combative text in return.

After discussions with me and senior officers, Chris terminated Diamond with 30 days notice. He also asked him to leave his office and finish his 30 days from home so as not to continue his creation of a hostile and threatening work environment.

Diamond contacted several members of the media and has yet to respond to his supervisor.

Diamond is claiming to the media that he was fired because he had a different philosophy of transparency with the public. In reality, Diamond has always insisted that all communication with the media come through him and that my senior team should not answer any media inquiries directly. Any lack of transparency with the media or the public can only be attributed to Diamond's own failings as that was his primary responsibility. Diamond also refused to allow the university to release the termination letter which describes the reasons for his termination.

My apologies for the length of this message but you needed to have these facts.

Please call me or Chris should you have questions.
Thank you.


From: "G. David Gearhart"
Date: August 7, 2013, 8:10:26 AM CDT
To: John Diamond , "Chris C. Wyrick"
Cc: Scott Varady , Bill Kincaid , Mark Rushing
Subject: FOIA message for your review

As you know, I am a firm believer in the Freedom of Information Law and absolutely insist on full compliance in every instance.
However, I am not in agreement on handling this latest request in this manner nor sending the draft e-mail.
Vice Chancellor Wyrick will communicate with all persons listed here and ask for responsive records and then communicate back to John. As you know, similar information has already been requested by Ms. Dungan, but Mr. Wyrick will follow-up with all those mentioned to be absolutely sure we have captured all responsive records. Any responsive records will obviously be sent immediately to Ms. Dungan.
He will not contact Mr. Choate or Ms. Sharp. They are no longer employees of the University and we have absolutely no jurisdiction over them in this matter. You may eventually advise Ms. Dungan to contact them direct if she is so inclined.
Let me know if you have any concerns.
Thank you.

G. David Gearhart
University of Arkansas

From: John Diamond
Sent: Wednesday, August 07, 2013 5:19 AM
To: G. David Gearhart; Chris C. Wyrick
Cc: Scott Varady; Bill Kincaid; Mark Rushing
Subject: FOIA message for your review
Importance: High

Chancellor and Chris: Below is a draft message which is intended to identify any response records related to Tracie Dungan’s July 22, 2013 FOIA. As you know, we asked Tracie to name the specific individuals or position titles from whom she wanted responsive documents, since the initial request was so overreaching.

With your approval, the following message will be sent to the following U of A individuals per Tracie’s FOIA: Chancellor Gearhart, Vice Chancellor Wyrick, Vice Chancellor Pederson, Associate Vice Chancellor Pontious, Associate Vice Chancellor Power, Associate Vice Chancellor Schwab, Assistant Vice Chancellor Reynolds, Brad Choate, Joy Sharp, and Betty Sharp. FYI, she also submitted requests for responsive documents from Dr. Bobbitt and the BOT; however, we are notifying her that the U of A is not the custodian of those records, and that her request has been passed along to the UAS office for handling. She also requested responsive documents from the UA Foundation and will be informed that the Foundation is not subject to Arkansas’ FOIA.

The draft below has been reviewed by General Counsel.

Ms. Tracie Dungan of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette has submitted a request for “correspondence, including e-mail, memorandums or any other format” to and from Chancellor Gearhart, Vice Chancellor Wyrick, and Vice Chancellor Pederson specifically related to the Advancement Division’s “restructuring, Advancement division budget and Advancement Division budget deficit.” Ms. Dungan specifically asked for “correspondence, including e-mail, memorandums or any other format” on the above-mentioned topics that you and several others received or provided to Chancellor Gearhart, Vice Chancellor Wyrick, and/or Vice Chancellor Pederson from January 1 through July 22, 2013. Ms. Dungan has expressly stated that she is interested in records that reflect "the big picture" on these issues.

As an example, Ms. Dungan attempted to clarify the types of records she is seeking and stated as follows:
"If there are numerous e-mails from rank-and-file employees in which their supervisor asks them, Hey, we're restructuring, what would you think if we shifted your duties from this to that? And the employees respond to this. That is an example of something I'm not asking you to find, because that's an example where there could be dozens of such e-mails, which are more about the process and logistics of the restructuring, and not about the big picture. The big picture we're seeking is overall progress or lack of progress on reducing the deficit, on finalizing the current budget forecast (which I've always understood is a work-in-progress throughout the year, but I still want to see this forecast/plan), and on finalizing the picture for the actual revenues and expenditures for Fiscal 2013, and how much deficit is recorded for that year." (Dungan Email to Diamond July 24, 2013)

Again, Ms. Dungan only seeks records on what she describes as "material" issues that relate to the "big picture."
Please review your hard copy and electronic records to determine whether you have any potentially responsive records and provide copies of any such items to me. If you do not have any of the materials noted above, please send me an e-mail simply stating so.

Thank you in advance for your help.

John N. Diamond
Associate Vice Chancellor
University Relations
University of Arkansas

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