DON'T TREAD ON JESSE

HIS FEDERAL EMPLOYER SUBJECTED HIM TO A DIZZYING ARRAY OF INDIGNITIES. NOW HE'S FINDING JUSTICE.

But Moore, who is black, knew Myers' days were numbered. "Yuma is something else," he says. "I knew he wouldn't have this job very long. That's a position of power in Yuma. It's not for blacks."

It didn't take long for Myers to clash with the new state director, Richard Smiley, appointed by Ronald Reagan to oversee the FmHA staff and its 8,000 active loans in Arizona.

On top of that, Myers' second in command, Larry McKeighen, had once been the county supervisor himself. McKeighen had been transferred out of Yuma, demoted and transferred back. Myers thought McKeighen would want his old job back, and he was right. Fowler Malone, a building contractor, wrote at the time that "after Myers became McKeighen's supervisor, McKeighen always inferred that Myers was incompetent in an apparent attempt to discredit Myers."

After the confrontational Myers began to have disagreements with his staff members, even criticize them, he became a marked man.

The recriminations took many forms. He was harshly punished for procedural violations that his white colleagues got away with. In the pickup-truck incident, for example, Myers' superiors claimed he had violated a regulation that prohibits employees from doing business with a borrower without the state director's permission. Although it was the first blemish on an otherwise stellar record, Myers' punishment from Smiley was a two-day suspension without pay. A year later, a white FmHA supervisor contracted a borrower to provide feed for the supervisor's cattle. Smiley gave the violator a letter of caution.

Officers for the FmHA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture--FmHA's parent agency--portray Myers as a disgruntled worker who believes he is beyond reproach. They say he is disruptive and abuses government property.

"If you keep filing complaints, one day you're going to hit the jackpot," says Walter Dent, national head of the FmHA's Equal Employment Opportunity Office. "I think Jesse Van Myers is one of those guys that overloaded and that tried to use the EEO complaint process to defend everything he wanted to do." Dent and others say Myers has been successful because it's easier to accommodate workers who allege discrimination than fight them in court.

"It has been the policy of the federal government to settle the case whenever you could," says Dent. "The philosophy is, 'Let's just get rid of the case.'"
@rule:
@body:Jesse Myers' co-workers in Yuma went to great lengths to make his life miserable.

One evening, before Myers was to take an early-morning business trip to Phoenix, he took a government car home with him--a standard practice among workers. Nevertheless, his underlings called police and reported the car stolen. Because a secretary was technically responsible for the car, police made him return it.

Myers was accused of stealing $50 from the office's cash drawer. It was money he borrowed because he couldn't cash a check on a Sunday. He left an IOU and returned the money the next day, informing staff of his actions. But when his supervisor found out, he told the state director, who proposed firing Myers.

A USDA inspector general's investigation found no evidence that Myers intended to steal the money, and Myers was suspended, instead--one of several suspensions that the government has repealed or offered to strike from his employment record.

The accusations continued to fly. When Myers made a trip to appraise property in California, he was accused of taking a government car on a vacation. Smiley called the inspector general in, but no evidence of wrongdoing was found.

Still, those incidents, along with Myers' purchase of the pickup truck, led Smiley to abruptly revoke Myers' authority as county supervisor in March 1982. In punishing Myers for breaking the rules, Smiley himself trampled on FmHA procedures. An EEO counselor later noted that in revoking Myers' authority, "Standard disciplinary steps . . . were not used." Myers claims Smiley didn't even speak to him before the action was taken. Later, after a brief meeting with Myers, Smiley told the counselor that he "would not consider [the proposed] resolution which involved allowing Mr. Myers to have his full authority reinstated."

Farmers and homeowners around Yuma, fed up with the treatment Myers was receiving, circulated a petition demanding Myers be reinstated.

"When I met Mr. Myers the first time, I was surprised to see a government man with intelligence, ability and compassion who could relate to you," Charles Barber, a Yuma homeowner, wrote to the FmHA. "We count ourselves lucky to have Mr. Myers in our area and we want to keep him here. Where is Jesse?"
Jones Osborn, then a state senator from Yuma, wrote to U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini to say he was "deeply concerned about the possibility that Mr. Myers is being forced out of his job."

But the testimonials had little effect. Myers retained his job title, but was not allowed to do his job. He was shipped to work details in other parts of the state while he waited to hear what was to become of him.

On weekends, Myers returned to the Yuma office to pick up his check and be with his live-in girlfriend, whom he would later marry. One Friday, McKeighen reported confronting Myers in the Yuma office and accusing him of taking office files. McKeighen claims Myers threatened him and left. After searching the office, McKeighen admitted that no files were missing. Although there were no other witnesses and Myers denied threatening McKeighen, state director Smiley wrote that Myers' version of the incident was "not sufficient for me to determine that Mr. McKeighen was not truthful when he provided a statement regarding your conduct."

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