David Uberuaga was the big cheese at Mount Rainier National Park for a long time, right up until he left earlier this year to take the Superintendent's job at the Grand Canyon, the plum of Park Service jobs. And got a $7000/year pay raise to boot. It seems like just yesterday I was reading in the Tacoma News Tribune, the local fish wrap, about what a dedicated public servant he was during his tenure at Rainier.
And now, after he's gone, after there's no chance of his directly facing any local feedback, the paper comes out today with a front page screed about a possible conflict of interest involving his sale of a house to RMI owner Peter Whittaker back in 2002. It seems he sold his house for triple the assessed value, financed the loan himself, and gave misleading information - and withheld information - all the while presiding over the concessions contracts that RMI had with the park.
I don't want to get into the tangled web that is the history (and the present), of alpine guiding on Rainier. It is hardly a secret and it's something that the article does a fairly decent job of addressing. I just have two comments: 1) If all this happened back in 2002, and details were exposed on several different occasions in 2006, 2008 and 2010, why does the local paper do nothing but sugar-coat the man, presenting him as a paragon of virtuous park management, right up until such time as he is gone? Is a newspaper nothing more than an advertising venue, mindlessly embellishing whatever press release comes across its transom? This is why newspapers are dying; it's hard to even read them with a straight face anymore.
2) I don't know what the rest of the National Parks are like, but Rainier has been a case-study in cozy cronyism when it comes to high-altitude guiding contracts (and who knows what else?) If they renamed the place "Monopoly Mountain," they probably wouldn't be that far off. After more than two decades of being the only authorized guide service on the mountain, the park reluctantly opened contracts up to a handful of other companies, but RMI still got the lion's share of the user-days. Stories like this one tend to throw a different light on that reality.
I have a house I'd like to sell. Seriously. If anyone from the park is interested in paying me triple the going rate, I'd love to talk to him. I'm not that hard to find.