E&E News on the Tooke Affair

I couldn’t help but notice that this site had a lot of hits to the story about Tony Tooke. Of course, a sex scandal draws a lot of interest :). Some have asked whether it’s an appropriate topic for this blog.. and here is why I think it is. Of course, it’s easy not to read these posts if you prefer, you should be able to tell by the title of the post.

A while back Matthew asked “how do you know things?”- this is a good example of trying to figure that out. First of all: what media carried it? Could they have a political or policy reason? Or even a salacious therefore increased number of clicks reason? (This blog does not have advertising) Who talked about it to the media, what were their motives? Of course, there’s “what really happened and how do we know?” and finally and perhaps most important “what meaning do the stories associate with those facts and how clear are they about the links between facts and interpretation?” We could also investigate “what science has to say about this” in terms of evolutionary biology and older/younger human relationships.

I think that this story would also be interesting to current employees. What are the rules and who follows them or not? If we have a rule about cell phone use while driving (or chock blocks or ….) (I don’t know if this is still a rule), and the “leader” does not follow it- that’s not a good thing because it’s not a good example for others. It could even confuse employees as to whether there was a rule or not. But who is a leader? Everyone with supervisory responsibility, or just line officers, or all of you? My original point in the first post is that based on the information, Tony wasn’t following the rules about “in the chain of command.” Does everyone know these rules? Do only some people get reprimanded for not following them at your unit?

What I like about this E&E story compared to the previous Daily Caller story is that it gets to what I think is the crux of the issue.

“The retiree complained to Isakson’s office that Tooke shouldn’t be in charge of an agency that’s trying to come to terms with a history of sexual harassment — a part of the agency’s past he tried to confront shortly after taking command earlier this year.”

I respectfully disagree with the retiree making that link between consensual breaking of agency rules and being unable to lead a harassment effort. There is a very serious problem with sexual harassment (more on that later) that different administrations have struggled with, including the Clinton administration (’nuff said). I do like the ideas of retirees taking an active role, but once the facts are out, I feel that this should be an open discussion.

Here’s the link to the E&E News (kudos to them for clear and fair reporting). Unfortunately there is a firewall (but if they are paid well and do good work, can I really complain?). They also mention the potential political angle by talking to a forest policy person.
Here’s a snippet.

A Forest Service spokeswoman today referred E&E News to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s office, which didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. The agency told The Daily Caller, “Tony Tooke has a clean personnel record and there is nothing in his employment record reflecting complaints against him of this nature.”

The Daily Caller reported that a USDA lawyer responded to Isakson that the issue had been “properly addressed” at the time of the relationship.

According to the article, the retired employee said that Tooke advocated for the woman with whom he was involved to receive a promotion to a newly created position at the Forest Service, and that he continued to contact her after their relationship ended, and after he’d been directed by a supervisor not to do so.

Tooke moved to the agency’s headquarters and eventually became regional forester for the Southern Region, before taking the chief’s job in Washington.

A lobbyist for a forest policy group that has supported Tooke lamented that the issue could distract from important policies the new chief is trying to pursue, and questioned the motivations of the person who made the complaint.


    • That’s a great question, Andy! Unfortunately, being retired, I don’t have access to all the relevant documents. Anytime between 1979 and 2012 I may have heard it/read it/been at a training session where they said it.
      It’s a rule that makes sense, and when people struck up relationships I think I remember helping people move to other jobs and locations when that became an issue, and being careful to hire people and find jobs for their spouses such that people in relationships did not supervise each other.
      Hopefully employees with better memories can help.

      I did look at the USDA policies here: https://www.ocio.usda.gov/sites/default/files/docs/2012/DR4070-735-001%5B1%5D.pdf and couldn’t find anything specific about that, but did find:

      Prohibited Personnel Practices. Every employee who has the authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action (Prohibited Personnel Practices, 5 USC §2302 (b)), is prohibited from:..
      (10) Discriminating based on personal conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee, applicant, or others;

      This sounds like it is a prohibited practice at USDA to discriminate (for personnel actions) based on this personal conduct or someone who wanted to discriminate would have to prove adverse effects on someone’s performance.

  1. It’s worth repeating what’s missing from The Daily Caller and E&E News stories — any evidence of sexual harassment. Without a harassee, there is no harassment.

    Taking the Daily Caller story at face value, here’s what we know. A female retired Southern Regional Forester wrote a letter to Senator Isakson (GA-R) alleging that Tooke had an extra-marital sexual affair with a Forest Service employee he did not supervise directly. She also alleges that Tooke endorsed the woman for a promotion. The letter insinuates that Tooke acted immorally (“extra-marital”) and unethically by endorsing an employee for a promotion she didn’t deserve on the merits of her work.

    The retired regional forester, who was more levels above Tooke than Tooke was above his lover, had access to Tooke’s personnel information, whether in written form or by word-of-mouth from Tooke’s immediate boss, the forest supervisor. Using this personnel-related, privileged information, she blew the whistle on Tooke. She does not allege Tooke sexually harassed anyone. She does not allege that his two-year love affair was anything other than consensual. She does not allege that the female employee was undeserving of a promotion on the merits of her work.

    The real story here is the mis-use of privileged personnel-related information by a retired regional forester. What and/or who motivated her to do so?

    • I don’t know what motivated her, Andy. But I have to confess I did call the Department when they were considering Chief candidates and tell them that I would have to publicly “out” another Chief candidate for unethical behavior (according to written rules). Fortunately the folks in the Department weren’t considering him (whew!). So I can’t argue that using personal information is OK but I can understand the idea of warning about potentially unethical Chiefs. As retirees, we can openly talk about things without fear of reprisal, so those of us who stay involved in retirement can serve a useful function.

  2. Andy’s comments seem to view things only through a legal lens. No documented sexual harassment, no foul. Really? Is this the only standard that applies here?

    Andy seems to suggest that it’s OK for agency leaders, leaders with influence or power over junior employees, to engage in presumably consensual relationships with highly influenceable and perhaps intimidated employees.

    Isn’t the conflict of interest between the workplace and the relationship apparent to you? Fraternization is what the military calls it and it’s not allowed for obvious reasons.

    Ignoring the legal aspects for a brief second, we expect more from our leaders in terms of character, ethical behavior and judgement. And, hasn’t our country been saying the same thing this past year?

    I think we deserve better and expect more of our leaders.

  3. So my read of the article is two fold. 1) System failure. The young lady did report the affair to her Director and according to Forest Service process the Director is compelled to reported the incident to the Forest Supervisor. What should of happen Forest Supervisor is compelled my Forest Service personnel manuals to report this type of Misconduct to Regional Forester. A investigation should have taken place to determine the facts. Once the investigation was concluded Employee Relations would review the facts and offer a opinion. During the time of the investigation the Deputy Forest Supervisor would be probably be reassigned probably to the Regional Office or the Washington Office. Pending the outcome of the investigation. The Forest Supervisor does not have the authority to issue a verbal reprimand (which I have never even heard of). As I recall letter of warning, letter of reprimand with or without time off and/or removal from the supervisor position, or letter of termination. A letter of warning is not a disciplinary action the rest are. The system failed the young lady because I think the Forest Supervisory acted inappropriately and out side of her scope of authority.

    Folks seem to be stuck on “sexual harassment” it’s generally viewed as Supervisory Misconduct and the Forest Service manual does have appropriate recommended disciplinary actions. A verbal reprimand is no one of them.

    The question of Consent. I have removed employees from their Supervisory position, issue letter of reprimand all in accordance of Forest Service Manual for exactly what is stated in the article. Consent didn’t matter, the Forest Service doesn’t condone this type of conduct.

    Whether you agree with with how the Forest Service handles cases like this or not that is how it’s done.

    Chief Tooke got a pass. The Forest Service failed this young lady. That is why his personnel file is clean.

    • Willie- In my experience of the last 40-5 years, I found that this (not having consensual romantic/sexual relationships with people below you in the chain of command) has not been always enforced in all the ranger districts, research labs and such across the country. That is not to excuse the behavior, but I think there is something going on in the organization that is worthy of attention. Intermittent enforcement drives employees crazy (sometimes you get a pellet and sometimes you get a shock) or if you’re good you follow all the rules, if you’re not, only random people are held accountable.

      Maybe a good thing that will come out of this is a taskforce that will clarify policies and accountability procedures.

  4. Sharon -Just because it has been done in the past, does that make it right? “Times They Are a Changing” -there is a new generation and with the MeToo movement, people are just not going to put up with it any longer. The buck has to stop somewhere.

    Tony might just have to take one for the team on this one. Unless, he can prove he is a changed man and has not conducted the same behavior repeatedly over the past 12 years -which I don’t believe he can. The credibility of the Agency is the top priority. If the Chief, who is otherwise a good leader, needs to resign in order to protect that, so be it. Agency first.

    It is a very good thing that the light is being shined on this topic. If Tony were not Chief would this discussion even be taking place? Probably not. Ultimately, I can’t help believe that good will come of this as it will drive the agency to look at our policies, values, accountability, and training to employees -hopefully, challenge our current status quo on this issue and undergo a culture shift.

    • Just thought I’d repost Tony’s invitation from his 5 national priorities: (http://forestpolicypub.com/2017/11/20/chief-tookes-five-national-priorities/)

      “1. Uplifting and empowering our employees through a respectful, safe working environment.
      I have enormous respect and admiration for the work every employee does. I am committed to ensuring our work environment is safe, rewarding, respectful, free of harassment, and resilient—that every one of you works in an environment where you are recognized and valued for your contributions. I want every employee to be empowered to continuously improve our work.

      My questions for you are: What do you see standing in your way? What are you experiencing that we can collectively learn from?”

      (By the way Dale, I liked your Freudian slip “help restore tryst.”)

  5. What I witnessed in 10 years at USFS was incredible compared to my time in forest industry, academe and two non-USDA agencies. Favored district ranger using purchase card inappropriately or SO employee engaged in Tookish behavior? Promote them and move them out rather than discipline them and/or have leadership above admit their supervision was lax. A timber tech stops to pull down his tree-stand 20 yards from the road as he leaves a compartment? Fire him.

    • Bill- the thing about the Forest Service is that every unit is somewhat unique. Some units are like the Sound of Music (without Nazis) and some are like the Lord of the Flies (don’t ask me how I know this), and everything in between. I have had bad experiences of different varieties in academe, but not in another agency (it was tiny and not decentralized).

      If your comments refer to other land management agencies, though, I think it would be worth an interdepartmental ethics review to see if there is something that makes the FS worse, given similarly local offices and similar kinds of work. Another..maybe Interior does it better? and if they do, can the FS adopt their practices or move?

      • I’ve worked for three federal natural resource agencies. One far far worse on sexual harassment and one way way better. There are reasons for culture in FS that lead to a culture of harassment. That culture also has some very strong plusses. Until there is a serious effort to identify what the “drivers” are in the culture I think it will be very difficult and maybe impossible to “root out” the parts of the FS culture that evidently allow this to continue to be a sad reality for the majority of dedicated employees. I’m not sure how to approach an unbiased trusted look at culture since there have been so many. But, it must recognize that those of us who work and/or work for the FS have a deep loyalty to the agency and each other. That is a good thing and must be respected while sorting thru “why after decades of enlightenment” this cancer still ruins lives and detracts from an agency with such dedicated employees. The focus cannot be solely on the cancer and it’s cures but must consider the broader agency culture.

        • Sandra, thanks for your comments. I’d be interested in the previous efforts to get at culture. I’d also be interested in your own experiences across the three agencies and your own ideas for cultural reasons for the differences. Please consider writing a blog post on this! There is so much we can all learn from others’ experiences and you have some that many of us don’t have (holding the mission, decentralized nature and federal government requirements constant, what is different among the agencies?)

  6. I find it interesting in this day and age, that ethics in ones private life is a factor. There is no evidence that there was anything more than a recommendation for an unqualified advancement, and that may be more opinion than fact. I know of many advancements that were given to incapable individuals.
    So what are the ethics? Is an extramarital affair unethical, but a same sex relationship ethical? Is it ethical to promote a candidate based on sex, race, or sexual identity instead of the most qualified individual based on skill, experience, and knowledge? This is a rabbit hole that has been created by today’s PC crowd. If a person is not a supervisor of the person they are in a relationship with and doesn’t possess power over that person, then I think that the whole condemnation is on pretty thin ice. Just because you may not agree with a relationship is no longer grounds to restrict it.

    • Foresster: “So what are the ethics? Is an extramarital affair unethical, but a same sex relationship ethical?

      Ethics like other words/terms are going through a åeriod again of definition shell games and a fuzzing process. Remember how the legal world got adultery thrown out and it’s now an affair ? Same with the word homosexuality, it became an alternative lifestyle and so forth. Now ethics is becoming grayer and more fuzzy. Science is losing it’s bioethics in the lab all across the planet. But In the show NCIS, the character Ducky (The doctor) gives a great example of what it is to be a moral person when he said, “The ethical man knows it is wrong to cheat on his wife, where as the moral man actually wouldn’t.” I believe ethics like morals is becoming blurred as well.

      • Kevin morals aren’t blurred, which is my point. Ethics seems to be what is accepted by the society that you are in. I’ve always looked at it as morals are my actual actions, ethics are how I say I will act. They should be one in the same, but we see more and more that people feel the right words are more important than the right actions.

        • Exactly, and that was my point. There is however a movement out there to muddle and cloud up through definition shell games what is good and badm right or wrong, moral and immoral. Given this, it explains the motives behind those who push for policies on either side of the deate aisle. In other words, expect things to continue to deteriorate.

  7. That’s just it Forester. Tony was using his power get women he was attracted to promotions. I was about to be one of them. I was way underqualified for a detail working for him for two years. Before it was supposed to turn into something permanent, he made a pass at me.

    He was my mentor, and I looked up to him. When I discovered that the only thing he wanted the whole time was my body, it hurt in a way you can’t possibly imagine and undermined everything he did prior to and after that point. Did I earn the detail? Was it based on merit or my looks? Did I earn that outstanding performance appraisal? Were all my co-workers right for thinking I didn’t belong there and was only there because Tony liked me? My guess is he saw something “on” me not “in” me. The truth is, the answer doesn’t matter, but the question destroyed me for years.

    It effected my performance and self-confidence more than I can express. All I can say is that I get to walk away from the entire experience with the confidence of knowing my body is not for sale. I put my dignity before my career. I let him take a lot away from me, but that’s mine. I get to keep that.

    After all of this, I still believe he is a good leader. How can that be? I guess there is “a little bit of bad in the best of us and a little bit of good in the worst of us”. All I know for sure is I don’t want any other woman to feel the way I have. I want better for women. I want better for Tony Tooke because he has a lot of wonderful qualities. I want better for the Forest Service because I love this Agency. I want better for you. Thus, I will be praying accordingly.

    • Andrea- I hope you really wrote this.. I mean I hope that you are a real person who had this experience. The internet has made me somewhat suspicious but not enough not to address some of what you said.

      As described here, it sounds awful for you and totally wrong, and something that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Ever. Absolutely.

      I know it won’t help now, and it’s inappropriate for me to try to say anything about Tony’s psychology even if I could understand it, which I clearly don’t. I’m really sorry that his behavior caused you to lost confidence in your own skills and abilities. But I tend to think motivations, especially sexual ones, reside in the unconscious and I doubt that “the only thing he wanted the whole time was my body” . I bet he also admired your work and skills and liked you. Some men of the time (and that part of the US) seemed to think “I like work, I like talking about work, I like Gemma, I like how she works, I can teach her stuff and she can share her ideas and gossip about other people at work, hey we could also do this fun other thing…” My point is not that it’s OK for people to do this (which it is NOT) but that people have mixed motives that they themselves may not understand.

      As to getting assignments, some of my employees have accused others of getting assignments because I liked them and I probably did like them. It’s hard not to like people who are good workers, treat their boss and their coworkers and other staffs with respect, follow directions, and don’t complain about the FS or the Department or their coworkers all the time. From your comment, including compassion for Tony, appreciation for his good qualities, and your love of the Agency, I just bet you were a good employee all along.

        • I’m a biologist and that was a natural history observation.
          I have been around southern charming men who are more or less inclined to have fun in that way. One really famous one was President.
          I have seen lynx in Colorado. That is not to say there are not lynx elsewhere. In fact, we know that there are more lynx elsewhere. But I spend more time in Colorado.
          For assumptions across groups of people, we need objective data which is almost impossible to come by, because people who do studies tend not to be objective.
          That’s why I am a fan of sharing observations openly from different perspectives and not making claims about groups of people. IMHO our public dialogue could use a lot more of this.

    • The most interesting thing about “ethics” is that they often are ignored for PC reasons, then put back into the forefront when someone rises to power.
      Is it ethical to promote based on gender, race, religion, or age? The PC crowd has decided that it is unacceptable (unethical) to not promote based on these factors, incases, regardless of highest qualifications.
      The simple solution to the underlying problem in this discussion and many more in the news today, is to quit being tolerant – which in itself in unacceptable. If sexual comments were not tolerated regardless of job classification, or gender there would be fewer people in power who act in this manner. If we only promoted based on skill, knowledge, and experience – shown through testing without special treatment, there would be less need for recommendations and less room for manipulation in any form.
      Unfortunately, we now have all manners of exemptions, extra points, quotas, etc to give those less qualified an “equal” chance. With this “equality” comes pitfalls and we are seeing the results rising to the top, and the ones who may have used it to their advantage being called out. My guess is that in the end political correctness will win out over true ethics and best qualified.

    • Wi know exactly what you mean. I’m guessing I’m way older than you but “somethings don’t change”. I admire your ability to see his other qualities but the damage done to you should not have to happen again.

  8. Life is filled with evil. Even men can be harassed or treated unethically. What matters is what you do after the experience. Andrea seems to be a good example of making the best of a bad situation without destroying herself by insisting on perfection from everyone around her.

    Only one human has been without sin. Mercy and forgiveness are so important because if we all got the justice we deserve we’d all be doomed to …

    This is not a USFS problem anymore than any other business.
    Power changes people mostly for the worse – it’s part of the ongoing test of life.

    I’d rather not see us diverted from discussing the basis for forest policy.
    Sin has been around for a long time. We aren’t going to add any new insights to that subject.

    • Gil DeHuff – “I’d rather not see us diverted from discussing the basis for forest policy.
      Sin has been around for a long time. We aren’t going to add any new insights to that subject.”

      Welcome to the latest in the new abnormal. We live in a time where what we knew was going on in modern culture in several groups was indeed happening, but now has become thoroughly exposed. Apparently not all are appreciating this exposure and grand standing their point by displaying phony outrage and self-righteous indignation over others who spotlight this because it inconveniences their worldview. So now we have Political circles, Sports stars and Hollywood being called out, but another dirty sector of human culture was also recently exposed, the holier than thou High Tech World. Now Vanity Fair has published a book excerpt by Emily Chang revealing that Silicon Valley is as sexually debauched as Hollywood, the political world, sports industry and the media. Many of these so-called enlightened titans of the tech world, the entrepreneurs, executives, investors, founders of companies apparently are known to regularly host drug-fueled, sex-laced parties. Wow, what a shocker ? Not!

      So now all this social reform which dates back to those open free love 1960s have brought us to a society where hedonistic ethics pervades all public institutions, which also includes Universities who hold sex weeks where porn stars are speakers and sex toy companies display their wares. And none is anyone else’s business or is supposed to matter or effect anyone’s job performance ? What amazes me is that many of these institutionss and their supporters who are being called out are the very ones who give life & funding to many of these environmental groups, but what’s odd is that I’ve never found Nature to be an influencer of raw animal decadent behaviour. So does conduct really matter ? Yeah unfortunately it does and out planet is not a reflection of that decadent behaviour.


      Europe is not much different over here.

      • Kevin

        We are pretty much on the same page except that this is not a new normal. This is the same normal that has existed since the genus homo began. I ought to know, I’ve been around that long.😎

        • Well, that’s why I always now use the expression, “The new abnormal.” I’ve never seen a time period where so much insanity and irresponsible behaviour is suddenly celebrated. Every single nook and cranny of what was once normalcy is being attacked. Over here in Sweden teachers and teachers aids, even is “Dagis” (government sponsored pre-school daycare), they all can be fired from their job for using male/female gender pro-nouns. Sweden has adopted a pro-noun borrowed from Finnish, “hen” which is basically like calling everyone it. So the traditional ‘Hon’ (she/her) and ‘Han’ (he/him/his) is forbidden. I have friends here whose 3 & 4 year old kids come home from government daycare asking their mother or father if they are a boy or girl. These last two years have become the weirdest times I have ever in my life seen and it doesn’t matter which fingerpointing ideology is accusing who, both sides are running neck and neck in the consensus worldview derby and no matter who wins, Nature and Mankind in general still lose anyway.

    • Gil, this will blow over one way or another and we can go back to our usual wonky stuff. I think it’s important for the FS at this time to have a place where some of our logic and analytical skills can delve into internal problems and maybe help by giving people a place to talk about it.

      I understand that this is probably a “bag of snores” for people outside the agency but bear with me for another week or so.

      • Sharon
        This “bag of snores” is a topic of importance across most agencies and private industry at the moment. In my opinion it is another unintended consequence of previous decisions. When we started ignoring qualifications in an effort to be “equal” we also started to turn a blind eye to other actions and behavior as well.

        When I first started in the woods the agency was looked at with almost reverence, in part because that’s where the best foresters went. Employees were presented as clean cut, rarely used foul language and had high integrity, we called them “prim and proper”. The ones that crossed the line were shunned and usually found another home outside the agency. They understood how things worked from the ground up and worked hard.

        Now many on the outside see things completely the opposite, in fact most industry people shy away from applicants that have experience in USFS or BLM because “they want someone who can work for a living”. I can’t count how many times I’ve had meetings with the agency where agency personnel looked liked they had just crawled out of bed and their uniform – if they had one on- hadn’t seen an iron since it was purchased. There have been countless Supervisors and Rangers that are only passing thru on their way to a higher promotion, often with little knowledge of the area they’ve transfered too, and even less about how to get things done, but they can have meetings to plan meetings about which meetings they need to have.

        it’s been a growing problem for 35 years and now that era is in charge. 28 years ago I personally witnessed completely inappropriate behavior by a female employee who simply said “that’s how I’m moving up” and later watched a crew boss get suspended when allegations were made by the same female after she didn’t get her choice of assignments. There was wrong doing on both sides, but after threatening an EEO complaint the female went about her merry way, and eventually retired after making GS 11 and the crew boss was suspended and finally dismissed. That was the final straw that convinced me there were better alternative careers.

        Until there is a clear line drawn there will be more and more of these situations. If you use “ethics” then you are in the rabbit hole of who considers what ok and that usually only lasts as long as it benefits them. The biggest problem is that most people won’t have an honest discussion because it’s not acceptable to say anything not politically correct, even when true. In the end the agency and every qualified person suffers regardless of gender, religion, or race……… or identity, or sexual preference, or national origin, or they felt when they got up this morning…………………….

        • Forester- I, of all people, was not saying that these issues are not important. For folks, including retirees and folks like Andy and future employees it’s really important.

          I was just acknowledging to Gil that many of our blogging community may not be interested in these discussions, but we’re going to have them here for a while.

          Anyway, my first Forest Supervisor in the late 70’s was having an affair with someone else in the building and ultimately got in trouble for flying her around in an FS plane. He told me that it didn’t matter if Regional personnel classified my job as a 12, he would make me a 7 if he wanted to because he was the Supervisor. So we all have different experiences of the “good old days”.

          I would like to ask you and anyone else who wants to.. to share a post of what you think about this… What you would change and how would you change it?

  9. Sharon – I cannot speak to Interior but in industry and DOD, everybody was so busy with “real” goals and targets that had financial or stewardship implications (couldn’t burn TA2 and now the Marines cannot train there or are forced to train 500 miles away at huge costs??? big deal), there was precious little time to do anything but work. Also the FS leadership culture seemed different. Value placed on promotion and moving up, building cadres of loyal underling supporters, leaving messes for the nightshift/next ranger to clean up. Oy vey. I get an ulcer just remembering the Green Team.

  10. Bill… Ha! The R&D Green Team? Thinking you can get me riled up? (Taking deep breaths)

    You raise some interesting questions about leadership and culture. I would be very interested in a post from your perspective (anonymity is fine, we’re all about ideas here). Maybe the top three worst things based on your experiences elsewhere and how you think they could be changed?

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