Eldon Vail, the Secretary for the Washington Department of Corrections, submitted a letter of resignation on July 1, 2011 when it was publicly revealed that he had been having an affair with a subordinate.
Shortly before Vail resigned, several Seattle-area television stations received copies of a video purporting to show Vail and a subordinate employee leaving a motel less than two miles from the Department of Corrections (DOC) head-quarters in Tumwater after a noontime tryst. According to the person who shot the video, rumors of the affair had been circulating throughout the DOC.
The unidentified videographer said he waited outside the motel for about an hour and caught Vail and the woman, a 49-year-old program manager, as they exited and left in separate vehicles. A Seattle television station verified that the white pickup shown in the video was registered to Vail.
“Being as he is the head of an agency, I don’t feel that it is right for him having inappropriate contact with a subordinate, possibly on state time. And the department should hold themselves to a higher standard,” said the videographer, an anonymous DOC employee.
Vail, 59, who is married, acknowledged having an “inappropriate” relationship with an employee and said rumors of the affair forced his resignation.
“Once I became aware of that possibility, I knew I had only one choice, and that was to resign,” Vail stated. “This is no one’s fault but my own. It’s not the employee’s fault. It is not my wife’s fault.” He had been Corrections Secretary for more than three years and received a $147,000 annual salary.
Washington state law does not prohibit manager-employee sexual relationships, but does forbid state workers from having a conflict of interest in the performance of their duties.
Executive Ethics Board director Melanie de Leon said that, while not specifically prohibited, such relationships are fertile ground for violations if a manager exhibits favoritism toward the subordinate employee.
“We don’t like to say how you live your life, but it just screams conflict of interest right out of the chute,” she observed.
Department policy prohibits interoffice relationships if the parties involved are in the same chain of command. Obviously, anyone working at the DOC would be in the Corrections Secretary’s chain of command, since he’s at the top of the chain.
Vail denied having granted the employee any non-sexual favors, privileges or benefits, and said he didn’t use state resources in pursuing the affair. He also said he did not plan to speak publicly again about the incident.
“I’m going to try to work that out with my wife,” he stated.
Vail announced his resignation just days after a prisoner was shot and killed during an escape attempt from the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, which was initially thought to be the reason for his abrupt decision to resign before details of the affair were made public. [See: PLN, Feb. 2012, p.39].
Washington DOC Prisons Director Bernie Warner, who was formerly employed as the Chief Deputy Secretary of Juvenile Justice for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, was appointed to serve as Corrections Secretary following Vail’s resignation.
Sources: Seattle Times, www.seattlepi.com, www.opb.org
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