Former city of Yelm Finance Director Joe Wolfe left the city on mutual terms following a third-party investigation into allegations of intimidating behavior that was sparked by complaints from city employees who said he would sometimes become angry and have sudden outbursts, according to records obtained by the Nisqually Valley News through a public records request.
The report on the investigation, submitted May 17 by the Seattle consultation and investigation firm Daphne R. Schneider and Associates, concluded that Wolfe had behaved in an unusual and questionable manner during disagreements or interpersonal conflicts. However, because of the different interpretations of Wolfe’s behavior, the investigation was unable to conclude whether he had violated city policy, which states that “violent or intimidating behavior is unacceptable.”
City Administrator Michael Grayum chose not to comment on the investigation, but he said he was proud of the work he did with Wolfe.
“The big thing is, I can’t say it enough, is how proud I am and the improvements we made to the budget,” Grayum said Tuesday. “Realistically, I’m just excited Joe got a new position, and we look forward to working with him in the future.”
Wolfe has since found new employment.
Wolfe said he was placed on administrative leave on Monday, April 8. Earlier this month, he resigned his position to “pursue opportunities closer to home,” city Communications Specialist Andrew Kollar stated.
Kollar also wrote that the city was better because of Wolfe’s efforts. He held the position for a year and nine months.
Allegations made against Wolfe span the last seven months, according to an executive summary of the investigation. While complaints came predominantly from the city administrator and customer service staff, finance department employees reportedly interpreted Wolfe’s actions differently, and have said that while he may become frustrated at times, “his behavior, even at those times, remains within the bounds of acceptable workplace behavior.”
Investigators interviewed 12 employees, including city customer service staff, finance department staff, a council member, a department head, Grayum and Wolfe.
In an interview with the Nisqually Valley News, Wolfe said he had been looking for a new job before the investigation began and that the city harbors an unprofessional environment, which he described as “toxic.”. It wasn’t a good fit for Wolfe, he said.
“At the end of the day, it was beneficial for both parties for me to move into a new decision,” Wolfe said. “I’m happy that the investigation confirmed that I didn’t violate any workplace policies. Now I can move forward knowing that I did everything for the citizens of Yelm.”
Allegations against Wolfe seemed to begin during a reorganization effort of the customer service and finance department late last year. According to the investigation, the two departments never agreed on the duties of the new customer service department, which had just absorbed two positions from the finance department, or the role of its newly promoted manager, Dana Spivey. Conflicts and disagreements ensued.
On April 2, Spivey lodged a formal complaint against Wolfe and a subsequent third-party investigation was launched.
Allegations of concerning behavior compiled through interviews with Spivey and other employees, included sudden outbursts, cases where Wolfe slammed his phone and desk drawers or pounded his desk, accusations of disrespectful and accusatory discussions toward customer service staff and an incident where Wolfe smashed a coffee cup on the ground outside city hall, afterwards saying he “‘felt pretty stupid” and that it “wasn’t the closure he wanted.”
Grayum, one of the only city employees named in the investigation, said multiple times in the report that he felt intimidated by Wolfe’s behavior. At one point, Grayum said he felt like he needed to “get ready to be punched” by Wolfe because of his behavior.
Conversely, staff of the city’s finance department spoke quite highly of Wolfe and asserted that while his actions weren’t normal, none of them felt frightened or witnessed any concerning behavior from him.
Accounts from finance department staff also contradict other claims that Wolfe accused a customer service staff member of lying about the number of calls she was sending to the Utility Billing Clerk, storming into her office with the intent of playing those voice messages. Staff from the finance department described a “lively discussion about who should be responding to questions about utility billing.”
They also contradicted claims that Wolfe would slam drawers or his phone and said they would have known if that occurred because of their proximity to his office.
None of the finance department staff ever recall Wolfe speaking disrespectfully or rude to anyone. Numerous interviewees did note that Wolfe would regularly apologize for his behavior when he believed he was frustrated.
Wolfe has denied ever slamming his phone or drawer as a result of frustration, according to the investigation. He did confirm that he smashed the cup, and explained that he does become angry and that his frustration does occasionally come through.