Eldon Vail, Corrections Secretary in Washington State, turned in a letter of resignation on July 1, 2011, after it was made public 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 leaving a Motel 6 less than two miles from the Department of Corrections (DOC) headquarters in Tumwater after a noontime tryst on June 30, 2011. According to the person who shot the video through a rain-splattered windshield, rumors of the affair had been circulating throughout the DOC. The videographer said he waited outside the Motel 6 for about an hour and caught Vail and the woman, a 49-year-old program manager, as they exited to separate vehicles. A Seattle television station verified that the white pickup shown in the video is 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.
The 59-year-old Vail acknowledged having an "inappropriate" affair with an employee and said that rumors of the affair forced him to resign.
"Once I became aware of that possibility, I knew I had only one choice, and that was to resign," Vail said. "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 was paid $147,000 a year.
Although those statements appear to give the reason for the resignation as the rumors of the affair rather than Vail's inappropriate conduct in having an adulterous affair with a subordinate, Vail's later comments focused more on his behavior.
"It is inappropriate to have a personal relationship" with an employee you manage, said Vail. "That's the only reason I resigned."
Washington State law does not prohibit manager-employee sexual relationships, but does forbid state workers from having a conflict of interest of any kind in the performance of their duties. Executive Ethics Board Director Melanie de Leon said that, while not specifically prohibited, those types of relationships are fertile ground for violations with the manager exhibiting 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," de Leon said.
Department policy prohibits interoffice relationships if the persons involved are in the same chain of command. Obviously, anyone working at the DOC would be in the Corrections Secretary's chain of command.
Vail denies having granted the employee any non-sexual favors, privileges or benefits and said that he did not use state resources in pursuing the affair. He said he did not plan speak publicly again about the affair.
"I'm going to try to work this out with my wife," said Vail.
One other item threatens to further taint the Vail legacy. During the resignation week, a prisoner was fatally shot during an attempted escape. Questions are being raised about why the prisoner, and another involved in the escape, both of whom had a history of violence, were allowed to work around potential weapons such as scissors in a prison garment factory with only a single guard for them and 100 other prisoners working at the factory. Sources: Seattle Times, www.seattlepi.com, www.opb.org
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