Exonerated by investigation, Chris Lehnertz to return to Grand Canyon
FLAGSTAFF (AP) — A U.S. investigation at Grand Canyon National Park has ended with the exoneration of the park's superintendent and an announcement that she'll return to work soon.
Christine Lehnertz was reassigned in October while investigators from the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General looked into undisclosed allegations against her.
In an email to park employees Feb. 7, National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith praised Lehnertz and said the allegations against her were "wholly unfounded."
Nancy DiPaolo, a spokeswoman for the Office of Inspector General, said the investigative report wasn't ready to be released publicly. The office typically releases such reports to federal agencies about a month before posting either a summary or the full, redacted report online.
Lehnertz told the Associated Press the allegations haven't been disclosed to her, either, and she would know more when the report is released.
"Until I read the report, I'm really not going to be able to comment on it," she said. "For me, I'm excited to get back to the canyon and eager to get back to work."
Lehnertz is a trained environmental biologist who has been with the Park Service for more than 10 years.
She took the Grand Canyon job in 2016 as the park's first female superintendent after a sexual harassment scandal led to the retirement of its former chief. She was reassigned during the investigation because the Park Service said it wanted to protect the integrity of the probe.
Lehnertz spent the past four months working out of the agency's regional office in Denver on a project doing development and training for park superintendents, she said.
The investigation had been a distraction from spending time with her family in Denver, she said, after the recent death of her mother.
She's expecting to return to her job at the Grand Canyon after the Presidents Day holiday and about a week before the park celebrates its centennial. The Grand Canyon is among the country's busiest national parks with more than six million visitors a year.
"Over the months, my resolve only grew stronger to return to Grand Canyon," Lehnertz said. "It's been a rough go, but as I return to the park, my focus is going to be the same — building a respectful and inclusive workplace."
Lehnertz was tasked with changing the culture at the Grand Canyon after an earlier report by the Inspector General's Office found that some male employees in the now-defunct river district demanded sex from female colleagues and retaliated against women who refused.
Then-Superintendent Dave Uberuaga was forced to retire in May 2016. He wasn't implicated in the allegations of sexual assault, but federal investigators accused him of failing to properly look into and report them. He kept his job during the investigation.
Lehnertz said she's worked to create an environment where employees feel safe and supported, using healing circles, talking about organizational resilience and zeroing out the backlog of complaints about misconduct.
She said most employees have been receptive but certain personnel actions have been hard on others.
"It's my job to uphold those and keep people accountable," she said.