The former head of procurement services at the Arizona Department of Administration alleges that he was forced out for questioning what he says were inappropriate practices of a staffer who is close with Gov. Doug Ducey.
Ashoke Seth, who worked as the State Procurement Office administrator at ADOA, submitted a handwritten resignation letter on February 20, stating only, “I resign effective today.” But in a wrongful termination complaint he submitted to the state Personnel Board on March 2, Seth said he was told to either resign or be fired by Gilbert Davidson, Ducey’s chief of operations and the acting director of ADOA. Seth is claiming whistleblower status.
Seth told the Arizona Capitol Times that he was forced out for asking questions about several state contracts that he said were questionable contracts pushed by Kevin Donnellan, a deputy director at the agency and policy advisory to Ducey. Donnellan worked for Ducey while he ran Cold Stone Creamery, worked on his 2010 campaign for state treasurer, and worked for him at the Treasurer’s Office before moving to ADOA after Ducey became governor.
There are numerous contracts that Seth said Donnellan inappropriately pressured ADOA procurement officers to enter into, but he pointed to three “major” contracts in particular. Seth said Donnellan is responsible for contracts between the state and Goodman’s Furniture and Amazon, and for a $100,000 settlement with Honeywell “that just wasn’t needed,” he said.
“The people who did that, they did it behind my back and abused the authority that I had given to them,” Seth said of Donnellan and the procurement officers he worked with.
Seth said Donnellan would inappropriately go behind his back and that of former ADOA Director Craig Brown to talk with procurement officers about contracts he wanted.
Brown abruptly resigned as ADOA director in January. In an email to staff, Brown said he’d been clashing with Davidson, who took over as Ducey’s chief of operations in October and has served as the agency’s acting director since Brown’s departure, and said Davidson had been micromanaging the agency. But Seth said Brown was also forced out under similar circumstances, and the two of them had been asking questions about contracts. Both resigned midweek, effective immediately, without submitting any notice.
“Him and I, we were trying to find the truth. So they first got him out, and then obviously me,” he said.
Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the governor, denied the allegations against Donnellan.
“They are completely false and without merit,” he said.
Scarpinato would not comment on the details of Seth’s departure from ADOA, saying only that Seth is no longer employed by the state and that the administration doesn’t discuss personnel matters. But he provided the Capitol Times with two memos written by Davidson after he took over as ADOA’s interim director in which he criticizes Seth’s conduct as head of the State Procurement Office.
In the first memo, dated February 12, Davidson informed Ducey Chief of Staff Kirk Adams that in the three weeks since he’d taken over at ADOA, SPO “consistently captures my attention as an area ripe for improvement,” and that he had chosen Ben Henderson, chief deputy operating officer in the governor’s office, to manage SPO. Davidson wrote that Henderson was off to a great start, making moves to improve workplace culture, process adherence, customer service and budgetary issues, but that “due to the complexity of this office,” he was requesting an independent evaluation.
In a second memo written on February 19 to Elizabeth Thorson, ADOA’s assistant director of human resources, Davidson took numerous shots at Seth by name, and said that he’d ordered that Seth be removed immediately. He wrote that “Seth has failed to properly manage SPO.” He wrote that SPO’s organizational chart “promotes a dysfunctional office environment with key management positions not providing any functional value and oversight.” Davidson said multiple prior audits of SPO had found “procedural and operational deficiencies” during Seth’s tenure, though he did not elaborate on what those deficiencies were. And he said a SPO purchasing card had been suspended for lack of proper processing and payment over the course of several months.
Seth alleged in his complaint to the Personnel Board that Davidson gave him only a few minutes to decide whether he would resign or be fired. He chose to resign. A Personnel Board hearing on the complaint that had been scheduled for March 28 has been postponed because Seth wants to amend his complaint, according to Robin Van Staeyen, the board’s interim executive director. Seth has until April 6 to amend his complaint, and the Attorney General’s Office will have until April 20 to file a motion to dismiss that complaint, if it so chooses.
Once the meeting is rescheduled, the board will decide on both Seth’s complaint and the motion to dismiss, if Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office files one. Because Seth has invoked whistleblower status, he will have to show that he was the victim of “unauthorized personnel practice,” Van Staeyen said.
Once both sides have presented their cases, the Personnel Board will make a recommendation and send it to Davidson, who will have the final say on the matter. Donnellan is a member of the Personnel Board, though Van Staeyen said he will recuse himself in the matter.
Seth said he has documentation and at least six or seven witnesses who will back up his allegations at the Personnel Board. He said Brown will be one of those witnesses.
Seth also alleged that the recent expulsion of former Rep. Don Shooter from the Arizona House of Representatives is linked to corrupt procurement practices. Shooter, a Yuma Republican who was expelled following myriad allegations of sexual harassment, claimed that he was forced out for trying to expose corruption in procurement practices by the Ducey administration. Ducey has denied Shooter’s allegations.
Seth on Monday set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to hire an attorney. It has raised $750 from three anonymous donors. In his solicitation, Seth wrote that he is a procurement professional “who was wrongfully terminated as I was not willing to allow corruption in procurement,” and that the money he raises “will allow me to get the facts out in front of a judge/jury and expose/eliminate corruption by high level politicians and employees in Government.”