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Former Park Police chief ready to return
Wednesday - 1/12/2011, 9:08am EST
Senior Internet Editor
More than seven years ago, Teresa Chambers was criticized for voicing concerns about staffing shortages, funding and security issues within the United States Park Police.
Chambers fought back.
The then chief was disciplined.
Chambers fought back.
She was fired by the Department of Interior.
Chambers fought back.
Throughout seven years of hearings and appeals, when anyone else would probably have given up and gone on with their lives, Chambers fought back.
Chambers told Federal News Radio's Amy Morris, giving up the fight was never an option.
"There was no amount of time that I could put on getting my good name back and standing up for what is right and it's just so good of a feeling this morning to know that prayer and perseverance did pay off in the end, and what a great feeling."
Yesterday, the Merit Systems Protection Board found that Teresa Chambers was wrongly dismissed and ruled that Chambers must be allowed to resume her old position in the next 20 days, and receive back pay and legal fees.
Asked why she'd even want to go back, Chambers explained she had competed for the job in 2001, right after 9/11. "And it was a privilege," said Chambers, "to serve my country and my profession in such a way as serving as the chief of the United States Park Police. You bet I'd like the opportunity to go back there. That's what we have set as our goal for the last seven years."
Returning, said Chambers isn't as complicated as it may sound. "The chief that's currently in the position (Salvatore Lauro) was one of top commanders when I was there - a great guy - and actually retired a few years later. And then they brought him out of retirement" to be the current chief. Interior, said Chambers, "will have to make certain that the current chief is not harmed in any way (by her return) or perhaps he'd like to remain part of the team, which would be outstanding."
The current chief of the Riverdale Park (Maryland) Police Department said she's still not entirely sure what happened seven years ago. She said it was her job to confirm or deny details that had been provided to the Washington Post about staffing needs and budget considerations and, she said, to put some perspective on keeping visitors and icons safe, and how the Park Police could use the public's help.
"To this day, Amy, no one has said 'Chief, you should have done this differently.' Well, when they ask that type of question, in fact, just the opposite. Folks were pleased with my interview and the press secretary for the Secretary of the Interior at that time asked that if there were any follow up inquiries from the media, he wanted me to be their sole spokesperson. You can imagine how surprised I was then when things unraveled a few days later."
Chambers said she will be mindful of the lessons learned as she looks forward.
"Regardless of who's at the helm of Interior, I still have to lead with integrity. I'm a good soldier. I can follow whatever direction that my boss has given. Even under the previous bosses, there were times when an issue would come up that was politically sensitive, or they would ask the team members, 'Look, just defer this to the Secretary's office, defer this to the Director's office.' That's what a good boss does. A good boss doesn't put an employee out there and say 'Go do it, Chief. You always do a great job.' Then for whatever reason not be pleased with what was said, perhaps embarrassed by the truth of what was said, and then have such an over-reaction."
When she left, the major focus was on protecting America's monuments and icons, and resources to do the job. Now things have changed. There's anger towards federal employees and the bureaucracy in general. Chambers said, to her mind, the mission hasn't changed.
"You know, I've never been prouder of a group of employees than the United States Park Police officers when I worked with them because they had that balance that I think every agency should aspire to where they would protect people's right to assemble, to free speech, while at the same time making sure that whoever has assembled isn't going to cause harm either to a building or property or to another group. It was one of the parts of the job that these officers held dear: that they were really defenders of the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution, really playing a part in history. I don't think that part has changed."
Support from the people she worked with has been just as unchanging, said Chambers. "It's been very heart warming to know that they've stood with me." Heart warming, she added, and "this is a very humbling day as well. It's overwhelmed with emotion and excitement but it's very humbling to know that people are looking at this case for its larger applicability."
Unless Interior appeals the MSPB ruling, Chambers could be Chief again by the end of the month.