Final Thoughts About John Latschar

As many of you are now learning John Latschar resigned as superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park.  You can read the story here.  What follows is my first video blog in which I offer some final thoughts about yesterday’s post.  It is meant to clarify some of my remarks, specifically in response to Eric Wittenberg’s initial comment.  Things did get a bit heated yesterday and I want to extend an apology to Eric for my choice of words in response to his comment.  I hope the video helps to explain the emotion behind my response.  Eric and I may not agree on much of anything, but the one thing we do agree on is that, if it comes to it, our Phillies are going to kick the crap out of Brooks Simpson’s Yankees.

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38 comments… add one

  • crystalmarshall Oct 22, 2009

    Thanks for the videoblog, Kevin. It's a great format and you should definitely incorporate it again, as it allows you to clarify points to a greater degree. I think I understand your point now and your point is especially well taken about losing an ally in the fight for battlefield preservation and restoration. It is rather ironic that in history class yesterday we touched on this topic–what do you do when an important figure or great leader reveals a personal moral failing? Do you lose the leader and risk the loss of your cause for the sake of moral justice? Or for the greater good, should you overlook the moral failing so that the leader can continue to accomplish great things for the wider society? And how serious does the moral failing need to be to even get to this point in the conversation? While I do think this photo issue reveals a moral failing on Latschar's part, I agree that it should be separated from the context of his preservation work. My only disagreement with you, Kevin, was in your word choice and in that using the word “character” it brought the discussion into a wider context–I hope that makes sense :0) Thanks again for the videoblog and hopefully this issue can have a positive impact in that it forces us to reflect on our own moral lives and the intersection of public vs. private life. In the meantime, let's hope that the search for a new Gettysburg superintendent goes well.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 22, 2009

      Glad to hear that you enjoyed the videoblog. I wasn't sure how people would respond to having to look at my mug for nine minutes. Also pleased to hear that it helped to clarify my position. Your points are well taken.

      • Harry Oct 22, 2009

        Kevin,

        According to the article you linked, Latschar did not resign, he was reassigned.

        I despise, absolutely despise, leaks of any kind by government employees, elected or otherwise. Even if the leaked information is true, the person who divulged it cannot by their actions ever be trusted. That person should be dismissed. Fired with cause, with forfieture of benefits.

        • Kevin Levin Oct 22, 2009

          Thanks Harry. I meant to add that little note at the end of the post. It slipped my mind.

          • Terry Johnston Oct 22, 2009

            Kevin:

            I agree with Harry—and you—on this. I wonder if anyone's looking into the leak, which surely was motivated by vindictiveness. My guess is the NPS simply will want to end this chapter asap, and we'll therefore hear nothing more about it.

            • Harry Oct 23, 2009

              Kevin,

              So now we have to wonder what does this all mean for the future. Well, Latschar pissed a lot of people off, that's obvious. And pissing those people off, more so than his use of the computer, is most likely the reason he is gone. So let's look at the reasons why he pissed people off. Well, for one thing it was his personality (apparently, based on what I've read – I don't know the guy). But for another thing, it was his controversial management plan for the park, which has come to be viewed as a great accomplishment. Will future GNMP park supers have the stones to risk pissing people off, and losing their job, for similar ambitious but controversial plans? In fact, will they even be willing to make the tough decisions that are going to be necessary to simply MAINTIAN the clearing that has already been done (trees, bushes, grass and weeds have a nasty habit of growing back, and keeping cleared areas clear costs money)? I think we're in for a pretty timid era coming up. Be careful what you wish for – you just may get it. Or as a very wise Vulcan once said “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

              • Kevin Levin Oct 23, 2009

                You may be right. I have one other concern. What I value most about Latschar's tenure at Gettysburg is that he managed the battlefield not simply for those who already know that landscape and the history like the back of their hand, but for all Americans and especially for those who may only visit one battlefield in their lifetime. I hope that whoever replaces Latschar will not cave into the special interests, but will maintain Latschar's overarching vision.

            • Terry Johnston Oct 23, 2009

              Harry:

              You raise a very good point, one I hadn't even considered, about what will happen to the park alterations that occurred under the Latschar plan. It made me wonder: How much of that plan (can't recall the formal name for it, but I know there is one) has been executed to date? I don't mean the new VC, which obviously is a fait accompli, but other alterations, like the kind you mention: clearing of various grasses and trees, etc. Is there a chance that Latschar's replacement would—or could—take a different path moving forward, i.e., scrap any remaining bits of the original plan not yet implemented (again, if there are any)? I suppose so. Again, hadn't even thought about that.

              And how bad a guy can you be, if you're quoting from what's probably the best episode of the original Star Trek TV series? Spock's the man.

              Kevin: Sorry for replying to my own post here, instead of yours or Harry's. For some reason, I see no 'reply' button after either of them.

              • Kevin Levin Oct 23, 2009

                I think the thread can only be indented so far, which is why you didn't see the buttons. Thanks for the comment.

          • Harry Oct 23, 2009

            I can't say that I agree that dishonest, illegal behavior is necessary as a check on government's exercise of power. What I find really disturbing here is that the result of the DoI investigation was that no disciplanry action was called for, and that Latschar was reassigned as a result not of his behavior, but simply because information that should have remained private was made public through the leak. I'll repeat Wilfred Brimley in Abscence of Malice: “We can't have people going around leaking stuff for their own reasons.It ain't legal. And worse than that, by God, it ain't right.”

            • Kevin Levin Oct 23, 2009

              Thanks for the comment, Harry. I was simply offering a general response in reference to the role of leaks in keeping government in check (i.e., Watergate). You make a good point and I agree that it was probably leaked by someone who had it in for Latschar. The reassignment was over a concern for public relations, but I find it to be a stretch that this necessarily compromised his ability to manage the staff, etc. Perhaps I am wrong, but if so I want to be shown that rather than speculation. And the other thing that I find curious is this argument that instead of sitting in front of his computer he could have been saving witness trees and preserving monuments, etc. It completely ignores the extent of his accomplishments while in that role.

              I suspect that a lot of people celebrated over his reassignment and that is what it comes down to. The outrage over the nature of the images is so overblown.

          • margaretdblough Oct 26, 2009

            Actually, disclosure by a federal employee of a confidential personnel document to an unauthorized person is a serious federal crime because such action undermines the integrity of the entire personnel system, especially that portion of it that deals with the investigation and dispostion of charges against an employee. This wasn't the Pentagon Papers, although, strictly speaking, Daniel Ellsberg was prosecuted. We'll never know what the outcome would have been if the jury had voted since the case was dismissed because of misconduct by the Nixon administration (attempted tampering with the judge & breaking into Ellsberg psychiatrist's office, IIRR). This is one person deciding to be judge, jury, and executioner of another person's career and reputation, apparently because he/she disagreed with the original outcome. We can never read someone else's mind, but this appears to be a lot closer to the reasons for the leak outing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA operative. spite and revenge, than it does to the Pentagon Papers or Deep Throat.

            I think anyone who is thinking of defending the leaker should ask themselves first “Is there anything in my own employment records that I would mind waking up and finding plastered on the front page of the newspaper in the town where I work and I and my family live because of the unilateral decision of someone who has access to those records?” No points for taking refuge in believing that one is too obscure for the media to care. That's unpredictable. That tends to be a mix of how important the person, how juicy or shocking the item, and how much the leaker and/or the media is willing to distort it or take it out of context, and how slow a newsday it is. Only after thinking about the answer to that question and answering it honestly should the decision be made to defend this leaker. If someone wants to defend him/her, that's their right, but I think this should be a consistent position. If you think it would be wrong and criminal if it happened to you and/or someone you cared about/respected, it's wrong and criminal if it happens to someone you hate/disrespect even in cases where that hatred/disrespect is amply merited.

  • jfe Oct 22, 2009

    Functional, but I wouldn't plan on moving into TV to earn your living <g>.

    Eric is a friend and I stood up for him yesterday because that is what friendship means to me, but Latschar has been a “red flag” to Eric for a long time, and I don't really know why. We all have our “red flag” issues—what is your opinion on black Confederates, Kevin? <g> (It's a red flag to me, too.)

    • Kevin Levin Oct 22, 2009

      I'll take functional for now. :)

      I completely understand where you are coming from. No worries. I very much appreciate the time you've taken to comment on various posts.

      • jfe Oct 22, 2009

        … and my employer has a liberal and realistic policy about use of office PCs ;-)

  • Lizzie Oct 22, 2009

    I also apologize for my heated comments towards Eric. Should anyone be concerned, I submitted an apology on Eric's blog last evening.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the video Kevin.

    Lizzie

  • donshaffer Oct 22, 2009

    I liked the videoblog format, Kevin. Not something you should do all the time, but on special occasions like this it's quite powerful. It certainly was this time. It enabled you to make your point in an effective fashion.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 22, 2009

      Thanks for the feedback. I agree, it's effective every so often.

  • ericwittenberg Oct 22, 2009

    Kevin,

    I accept your apology.

    It is not my intent to fire this up again. However, since you explained yourself, I think it only fair that I get the chance to do so, too.

    To begin, I have my reasons for despising John Latschar. I won't bore you with the details. I will simply say that in my world, there are two unforgivable sins: lying to me and wasting my time. He did both. What's worse is that he lied to a group of us and wasted the time of a group of us. Nobody ever gets a second chance to do that with me. So, I have an axe to grind. That has never been a secret.

    At the same time, I have always acknowledged and given the man credit for the good things he has done at the park. The tree cutting program, which is entirely his doing, has transformed the field, and he deserves kudos for it. I personally don't care for the new VC–I think that there is far too much wasted space and too much inefficient design–but a new one was definitely needed. If it took him making a deal with the devil to make it happen, then I give him kudos for getting it done.

    Having said that, you were the one who used the word “character” in your original post, and I was responding to it. With that information out there, how could he continue as superintendent? How, for instance, could he conduct a performance review of a female employee and not have it turn into a bad situation for both after that information became public knowledge? It's simply not possible, and my only point was that, based on information that I had from a former park employee who was interviewed during the investigation more than once and who also spoke to the Washington Post reporter, this was serious stuff that suggested that maybe the sterling character you referenced might not be the case. Nothing more, and nothing less.

    Then you attacked me, which opened the floodgates for attack by your readers. I elected not to respond to one–who has since given me a sincere apology that I accepted–for the simple reason that had I responded to her after all of the really vicious personal attacks she launched, that I would reward the conduct. I was not about to do that. And you attacked me for that, too.

    Yes, this probably went further than it should have, and in retrospect, I probably should have just sat on the information that I had. I certainly have better things to do, especially while I was trying to soak in the joy of the NLCS blow-out last night. Instead, I ended up locked in mortal combat.

    In the end, John Latschar alienated a lot of people for a lot of reasons. At least some were as a result of his perceived arrogance, and that's part of what alienated me. As I told Raffi last night, when one holds oneself out as a lightning rod, one had better be prepared for the lightning strike that will inevitably come, and that's what happened to him. Numerous people have sent me private notes–and some in comments on my blog–suggesting that this is karma paying him back for how he treated people over the years. I don't know.

    Is the park ultimately better off for his stewardship? Absolutely. Is it going to be worse off for losing him? In some ways, for sure. In some ways, it remains to be seen. I can only hope that his successor has a better touch with the public, which will help to avoid some of the alienation and outright hatred that always swirled around John Latschar.

    Personally, I wish him well. I may not like him, and I may deeply resent how he treated me and the others who worked hard only to be lied to by him, but I certainly wouldn't and didn't wish this on him. However, it happened, and it's a fact. All I tried to do was to set the record straight.

    Thank you for the apology, and thank you for the opportunity to tell my side of this. I have nothing further to say about this other than to say GO PHILLIES!!! BEAT THE YANKEES!!!

    Eric

    • Kevin Levin Oct 22, 2009

      Thanks for the comment. I do want to make one point. Yes, I used the word “character” in my post, but I stand by my point which is to say that it doesn't tell me much about his overall personality. I think people are complex and I don't for a minute believe that this lapse in judgment is enough for me to draw broad conclusions about this man. You are right that it does render his ability to manage his staff that much more difficult. But that is not how I read your post or your comment on my blog. It seemed much more personal and vindictive and that is what I was responding to.

      Let's move on to more important things. Thanks again, Eric.

      • ericwittenberg Oct 22, 2009

        Kevin,

        You're welcome, and I agree. We all have better and more important things to worry about, like beating the Yankees.

        Eric

  • msimons Oct 22, 2009

    Sad to see another life and career set back by PC misuse on company or as in this case Governmental time. I hope he has learned his lesson and continue to have a productive career as a desk employee.

    Kevin I am sorry he lied to you and wasted your time. I understand because I too hate being lied to or having my time wasted.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 22, 2009

      I think you mean that you are sorry to hear the Eric was lied to.

      • msimons Oct 23, 2009

        Opps I misunderstood your statement. Sorry Kevin

      • margaretdblough Oct 25, 2009

        Actually, to be precise, Eric posted that Dr. Latschar lied to him and his group. Since we don’t have any account from Dr. Latschar of the meeting, I don’t believe it’s fair to treat the issue of whether lying occurred as an absolutely established fact.

    • ericwittenberg Oct 22, 2009

      Thank you. I appreciate it.

      What made it worse is that we were simply trying to honor the wishes of the veterans who fought there, and all he did was to patronize us and lie to us, and waste the time (and money) of four people, all of whom traveled from out of state to attend a meeting with him.

  • davidwoodbury Oct 22, 2009

    Kevin,

    Just my two cents regarding the introduction of video commentary — I hope you resist the temptation to morph your blog into an online reality show. I thought you already made your central points pretty clearly and repeatedly in various written replies, but video does make for a compelling apology.

    David

    • Kevin Levin Oct 22, 2009

      Point well taken. Don't worry as you will not be subjected to a regular stream of videos. I've been wanting to give video blogging a shot and this seemed like the right moment. Glad to know that the clarification wasn't necessary for some.

    • margaretdblough Oct 25, 2009

      Hi David-

      Fancy meeting you here. I’ll get back to our home forum as soon as I can. It’s been hectic.

      Margaret

  • Larry Cebula Oct 22, 2009

    Kevin I think that post was set up to go off the rails from the start. Maybe “John Latschar Wins Award, Likes Porn” was not the best framing you could have used?

  • Charles Oct 22, 2009

    Kevin, Your a very honorable person.

    Charles

  • Harry Oct 23, 2009

    I can't say that I agree that dishonest, illegal behavior is necessary as a check on government's exercise of power. What I find really disturbing here is that the result of the DoI investigation was that no disciplanry action was called for, and that Latschar was reassigned as a result not of his behavior, but simply because information that should have remained private was made public through the leak. I'll repeat Wilfred Brimley in Abscence of Malice: “We can't have people going around leaking stuff for their own reasons.It ain't legal. And worse than that, by God, it ain't right.”

  • Brooks D. Simpson Oct 26, 2009

    “Eric and I may not agree on much of anything, but the one thing we do agree on is that, if it comes to it, our Phillies are going to kick the crap out of Brooks Simpson’s Yankees.”

    Needless to say, in this case you're both wrong. Yankees in six. Seven if you're really not nice (more painful). In that case we'll have to find a sports bar in Louisville. Somehow I don't think that will be too hard. :)

  • Brooks D. Simpson Nov 5, 2009

    “Eric and I may not agree on much of anything, but the one thing we do agree on is that, if it comes to it, our Phillies are going to kick the crap out of Brooks Simpson’s Yankees.”

    Wrong. :)

    • Kevin Levin Nov 5, 2009

      You had to stick it to us, didn't you Simpson? :) See you in Louisville.

  • C Cafe Nov 16, 2009

    Wow, Kevin .. John Latschar was controversial before he used his “work computer and work time” to do Porn!! This was not just a little surfing, but continual misuse of government equipment and time.

    This activity is completely against work policy and he has fired others for “more minor personal computer use” regarding their work computer and work time.

    Then if we go into his work history —
    1) He made the battlefield roads a mess of one way roads with parking scattered here and there where people would normally be 'driving.' Visit and drive these one way roads and you will understand what I am saying. He had the State put a traffic light up on a main road that caused one accident after another, and which should have been evident this would occur by the knob or hill at this location. To counter this, the tour was rerouted in exactly the pattern I said should have happened from day one which would have made NO light necessary. To this day it is still there causing havoc in heavy traffice times.

    If JOHN LATSCHAR had any COMMONSENSE, we would not have had all the trees destroyed ( and not put to any useful purpose ), our battlefield property unkempt and making unaware visitors subject to getting lyme disease, large herds of deer destroyed till you can see none anymore when touring the battlefield ( used to be a favorite pasttime for many ), a fantastic private tower imploded, other battlefield towers cut down to nothing, and private artifacts that were donated hidden away in the monstrosity of a new Visitor's Center that cost way more than it should have ( at the public's expense ) . Friends seem to always be involved in all
    these happenings, and then he is offered a high paying position with this same organization.

    Hmm… no conflict, huh? And this same organization controlling or profitting at the Visitor's Center?? And if I were a Friends contributor, I would definitely be looking into where their money is “really” going.

    And then we find the only punishment for his misdeeds, also coming out of the pockets of the public, is that he will keep his salary and be moved to another job made just for him. No wonder the public is outraged, as well they should be.

    Personally, I think the investigator needs to be 'demoted” also, as well as a new investigation conducted into Latschar's activties with Friends. Any time something like this is discovered on a work computer – or any computer — it usually becomes a police matter. That they “dumped” this porn ( and I am assuming that meant 'got rid of ” ) was an action totally unethical all by itself; and if not dumped, then it can still be handed over for a more thorough investigation into that finding.

    The fact that Latschar thought he could get away with this type of behavior – or that it was Not monitored by the network administrators – is something that should be remedied immediately. The facts speak for themselves — not only did he do this act, which shows total lack of control and stupidity that he thought he could get away with it, but proves he was not working while being paid by the government. This is a big deal and this happening was totally mishandled. This is just another example of government incompetence at all levels and government wasting our money.

    To conclude – someone higher should definitely be looking into how this whole mess was handled and make some changes based on those findings.

  • C Cafe Nov 16, 2009

    Wow, Kevin .. John Latschar was controversial before he used his “work computer and work time” to do Porn!! This was not just a little surfing, but continual misuse of government equipment and time.

    This activity is completely against work policy and he has fired others for “more minor personal computer use” regarding their work computer and work time.

    Then if we go into his work history —
    1) He made the battlefield roads a mess of one way roads with parking scattered here and there where people would normally be 'driving.' Visit and drive these one way roads and you will understand what I am saying. He had the State put a traffic light up on a main road that caused one accident after another, and which should have been evident this would occur by the knob or hill at this location. To counter this, the tour was rerouted in exactly the pattern I said should have happened from day one which would have made NO light necessary. To this day it is still there causing havoc in heavy traffice times.

    If JOHN LATSCHAR had any COMMONSENSE, we would not have had all the trees destroyed ( and not put to any useful purpose ), our battlefield property unkempt and making unaware visitors subject to getting lyme disease, large herds of deer destroyed till you can see none anymore when touring the battlefield ( used to be a favorite pasttime for many ), a fantastic private tower imploded, other battlefield towers cut down to nothing, and private artifacts that were donated hidden away in the monstrosity of a new Visitor's Center that cost way more than it should have ( at the public's expense ) . Friends seem to always be involved in all
    these happenings, and then he is offered a high paying position with this same organization.

    Hmm… no conflict, huh? And this same organization controlling or profitting at the Visitor's Center?? And if I were a Friends contributor, I would definitely be looking into where their money is “really” going.

    And then we find the only punishment for his misdeeds, also coming out of the pockets of the public, is that he will keep his salary and be moved to another job made just for him. No wonder the public is outraged, as well they should be.

    Personally, I think the investigator needs to be 'demoted” also, as well as a new investigation conducted into Latschar's activties with Friends. Any time something like this is discovered on a work computer – or any computer — it usually becomes a police matter. That they “dumped” this porn ( and I am assuming that meant 'got rid of ” ) was an action totally unethical all by itself; and if not dumped, then it can still be handed over for a more thorough investigation into that finding.

    The fact that Latschar thought he could get away with this type of behavior – or that it was Not monitored by the network administrators – is something that should be remedied immediately. The facts speak for themselves — not only did he do this act, which shows total lack of control and stupidity that he thought he could get away with it, but proves he was not working while being paid by the government. This is a big deal and this happening was totally mishandled. This is just another example of government incompetence at all levels and government wasting our money.

    To conclude – someone higher should definitely be looking into how this whole mess was handled and make some changes based on those findings.

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