Florida

Feds ousted top Keys Sanctuary officials in 2016. Reasons are blacked out in new report.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration removed its two top officials in 2016 after an investigation into a ‘hostile work environment.’ The agency released the report into the investigation Wednesday, June 19, 2018, but almost the entire 300-plus-page document was redacted.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration removed its two top officials in 2016 after an investigation into a ‘hostile work environment.’ The agency released the report into the investigation Wednesday, June 19, 2018, but almost the entire 300-plus-page document was redacted.

In 2016, two top federal officials overseeing the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary were removed from their posts and reassigned following allegations of supervising a “hostile work environment.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent federal agency of the sanctuary, never released details of its investigation and reasons for reassigning Sean Morton, then superintendent, and Mary Tagliareni, then deputy superintendent of operations, citing “internal personnel issues.”

An internal NOAA memo obtained by FLKeysNews.com in 2016 stated the initial complaint officials received alleged “a hostile workforce environment and waste, fraud and abuse.”

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Sean Morton

On Wednesday, NOAA released its Office of Inspector General’s final report on the allegations, which was completed in August 2016. The document is so redacted, it not only sheds no new light on what led to the transfer of two longtime and decorated officials, one reading the report with no background knowledge of the allegations would have no idea what it was about.

NOAA released the report in response to a Freedom of Information Act request it received in February 2018 from a Key West “online publication,” Gena Parsons, spokeswoman for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, said.

Parsons said the reason NOAA blacked out almost all of the nearly 400-page document was, again, because of “personnel reasons.”

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Mary Tagliareni

“NOAA responded in accordance with applicable law by releasing redacted versions of responsive records to the requestor,” reads the statement released with the report. “No additional information is available at this time.”

Morton, who became the Keys sanctuary superintendent in 2007, was reassigned to the National Center for Coastal and Ocean Science in Charleston, South Carolina.

Tagliareni, a former state marine enforcement officer with more than 25 years of service in the sanctuary, was reassigned to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Michigan as a volunteer coordinator.

They could not be reached for comment.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has an annual budget of about $5 million. It has a staff of about 40 workers who oversee 2,900 square miles of federally protected waters surrounding the Keys.

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