Sacramento 911 dispatch still lacks a leader as restraining order against director is extended

Joseph Thuesen and one other unidentified employee were put on paid administrative leave April 12, while the Center’s board of governors investigates alleged “accounting irregularities”


Michael McGough
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The executive director of Sacramento County’s main fire and emergency medical dispatch center, who as of Monday remained on administrative leave and the subject of a workplace violence restraining order, is in the first full year of an at-will employment contract that would pay nearly $200,000 by its third and final year.

Joseph Thuesen’s contract, provided to The Sacramento Bee in response to a public records request, commenced Aug. 28 after he had served for months as interim executive director of the Sacramento Regional Fire/EMS Communications Center, shortened in recent litigation to “the Center.”

Thuesen and one other unidentified employee were put on paid administrative leave April 12, while the Center’s board of governors investigates alleged “accounting irregularities.” The position of executive director at the Center remains vacant, and has not yet been filled on an interim basis.

A temporary restraining order came in response to an incident April 8, when Thuesen allegedly had an emotionally charged conversation with employees in which he referenced “vigilante justice” and owning an “arsenal” of guns.

That incident prompted the Center to file for a restraining order seeking protection for the Center’s two deputy directors and for Sacramento Fire Department Deputy Chief Chris Costamagna, who is chairman of the Center’s governing board and Thuesen’s boss. It has also banned Thuesen from entering the Center.

Costamagna said Monday in a statement to The Bee that the process of naming an interim executive director is “ongoing,” with daily operations managed by the board and the Center’s two deputy directors, as has been the case since mid-April.

A regular board meeting that was scheduled for Tuesday will not proceed due to a lack of quorum, the statement said. The board of governors for the Center held a special meeting last Friday at which appointment of an interim director was discussed, but no action was taken, according to meeting minutes.

Costamagna’s statement did not address the status of Thuesen’s investigation.

Thuesen’s contract shows that he is in an at-will employment agreement with the Center’s board of governors, meaning his contract can be terminated by either party with or without cause.

If the contract were ended without cause, Thuesen would be allowed to return to his former position of dispatch supervisor at the Center. He would also receive a severance pay of six months base salary.

Termination for cause would bar Thuesen from returning to his old job, the contract states.

A list of possible causes for termination found in his contract includes “theft or misappropriation of Center property;” “any act injuring, abusing, or endangering others;” and “any act that might tend to bring Executive Director into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule.”

Thuesen’s annual base salary for Aug. 28 to Aug. 27, 2019 is $168,068. The contract calls for increases to $176,914 Aug. 28 of this year, $182,221 on Jan. 1, 2020, and $191,332 on Aug. 28, 2020. His contract also states he could receive additional raises for positive evaluations by the board.

Thuesen’s contract makes clear that the executive director reports directly to the board of governors. It lists his duties as including operation and organization of the Center, as well as hiring and disciplining non-contracted employees and making purchasing decisions.

The executive director is also in charge of developing and proposing “preliminary and final budgets for consideration by the Governing Board,” according to a job description for the position.

Thuesen was also to be provided with a credit card for reimbursement of necessary expenses, his contract states.

No further details have been released by Costamagna or the Center regarding the reported accounting irregularities.

The contract also calls for at least one annual formal evaluation by the board. Agenda minutes show Thuesen’s performance was evaluated in closed sessions of every regularly scheduled board meeting since his contract started, though the most recent, on March 26, was referred to as an “informal” evaluation.

Thuesen’s contract also allowed the board to give the executive director yearly extensions at the position, up to a maximum term of five years.

‘If I could pack a gun I would’

The temporary restraining order, filed April 12 in Sacramento County Superior Court and granted April 15, included declarations from Costamagna and deputy directors Diane House and Kylee Soares.

House, Soares and Costamagna wrote in their court filings that they were fearful or concerned for their safety or that of co-workers due to remarks reportedly made by Thuesen on April 8.

In her declaration, appended to Costamagna’s petition, House wrote:

“During our conversation (Thuesen) appeared to be emotionally charged – he was crying and very upset. (He) shared that one of his friend’s sons was a victim of a suspicious death. He also made comments to the effect of:

  • ‘I have an arsenal at my house’
  • ‘There is such a thing as vigilante justice’
  • ‘It will be on like donkey kong’
  • ‘If I could pack a gun I would.’ ”

Soares’ declaration reiterated those allegations, and said that an unnamed finance employee “expressed to me that she fears (Thuesen) will commit a ‘murder-suicide.’” Costamagna’s petition notes that Thuesen’s “demeanor changed from sad to more angry” as he walked with Thuesen off the property on April 12.

On April 8, the same day the concerning remarks were allegedly made, House and Soares had met with Costamagna to discuss concerns that Thuesen had been misusing Center funds, according to their declarations filed with the restraining order.

Costamagna told The Bee previously that Thuesen is on leave pending an investigation of “accounting irregularities” recently brought to the board’s attention, rather than in relation to the incident that became the basis for the restraining order.

A hearing regarding a permanent workplace restraining order against Thuesen originally set for last Friday has been rescheduled to May 31, with the temporary order being extended through that date.

The Center is managed under the joint authority of Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department, Folsom Fire Department, Sacramento Fire Department and Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, with a board member from each agency. The Center handles fire and medical calls for those four jurisdictions as well as those of the Courtland, Herald, Isleton, Walnut Grove and Wilton fire departments, and the River Delta Fire Protection District.

The Center handles more than 350,000 emergency calls every year, according to its website.

House and Soares have not responded to The Bee’s requests for comment. Efforts to reach Thuesen for comment were unsuccessful.

A friend of Thuesen’s and longtime employee of the Center, Tina Dungan, came to Thuesen’s defense when details of the alleged incident emerged.

Dungan told The Bee last month that Thuesen has never owned guns and is not a violent person. She worked for the Center for 21 years, 15 of them with Thuesen, she said.

In response to a court order requiring him to turn over his firearms or provide proof that they had been sold, Thuesen wrote three separate times that he does not own any guns, despite claims by the current deputy directors that he talked about them frequently.

Dungan described Thuesen as having risen through the ranks from dispatcher to running the dispatch center. She additionally told The Bee that the second person put on administrative leave was Thuesen’s executive assistant, and that it would be standard procedure for an assistant to be put on leave at the same time as their boss.

Costamagna and the Center have declined to comment on the identity of the second person placed on leave.

Dungan said she has had limited contact with Thuesen since retiring from her dispatch career three years ago and moving to Oregon.

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©2019 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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