If nothing else, bad BAD public relations have been exhibited by IDOT Director Nancy Richardson in the way she has responded to the outrageous traffic stop/RV search perpetrated on us by one of her law enforcement officers. Read below and you will see that by adding insult to injury she is doing the already tarnished image of her agency no favors. Queen of IDOT she seems to be, Damage Control Expert she most certainly is not.
We sent our first e-mail to Ms. Richardson on Tuesday April 14 at 1:11 P.M. In this e-mail we described the horrendous events of the traffic stop/RV search and listed our concerns about the officer in question Darrell Wiegand. In our e-mail we also questioned specific policies of IDOT which– due to our own observations plus discussions with other citizens and two representatives from IDOT —had begun to raise serious red flags for us.
Ms. Richardson responded quite tersely to our e-mail and not until nearly forty eight hours later, specifically at 9:09 AM on April 16. She did not employ the courtesy of a salutation, nor did she place her name at the end as author of the e-mail:
“This is to acknowledge receipt of your E-mail. I have asked staff for some information to answer the questions you pose. As soon as I have that, I will be in contact again.Thanks for your patience.”
To us this hardly seemed like an auspicious or gracious response to our e-mail which involved some very disturbing allegations against her employee and her agency. Nor did the nearly two day interval between our e-mail and hers indicate Ms. Richardson was particularly respectful of us or particularly cognizant of the seriousness of the matters at hand.
We also thought it odd that in responding to our request for answers to specific questions, Ms. Richardson did not seem to have the answers handy but had to have her staff look them up. In all fairness, when we did receive the answers they were quite exhaustive and appeared to have been copied painstakingly off a website–hardly work for a woman of Ms. Richardson’s position and stature, and no doubt transcribed with some kind of legal concern in mind.
Our next communication from Ms. Richardson was in response to our request to meet with her. Again given her high profile and stature as an IDOT official, Ms. Richardson just naturally assumed that when we asked to visit with her we intended to drive close to two hundred miles one way to the Des Moines area. It did not seem to occur to her to give us the same courtesy as had her employee Major Ned Lewis, whose first inclination on hearing our concerns had been to drive down to visit us. (BTW, not only do we believe the burden of travel should be on Ms. Richardson, but we also no longer feel safe and secure on the roads of Iowa, knowing that apparently we can be pulled over by IDOT officers at any time for any reason they choose to invent, or in fact no reason at all. Nor do we have any guarantees that another traffic stop might not escalate into exactly what happened to us with Officer Wiegand.)
Unlike Major Lewis, Ms. Richardon’s attitude seemed to be based on the assumption she was granting us an audience. When she offered us the choice of going to Ankeny or Ames, we responded by saying she was invited to our home, but in her next e-mail she simply ignored our offer. When we asked the question point blank, as in “……we mentioned in our previous e-mail we were hoping you would be able to come to our home in Fort Madison. Is it possible for you to meet with us here?” she responded with the following e-mail, which for us says it all:
“Mr. And Mrs. Schneider,
A trip to Ft. Madison doesn’t work in my schedule. If you decide you don’t want to come to see me, we can do a phone conference. I am currently out of state with limited E-mail access, but if one of the times I provided works for you to come to meet with us or for a phone conference, please respond as soon as possible so my secretary can get the time secured. Thanks. “
Again, as you will notice, no gracious salutation, no polite sign off, simply a perfunctory and dismissive message which reveals a could- care -less and imperious attitude.
This is part of the general culture of IDOT which has become all too familiar to us in the last few weeks. IDOT is a government agency which not only interprets the law in arbitrary ways but also seems to feel itself above the law. IDOT doesn’t seem to think it has any accountability to the taxpayers who fund it and in fact will use taxpayers money to fight taxpayers should they happen to challenge it as well they SHOULD.
Ms. Richardson’s patronizing, unprofessional, and rude attitude is very much the same–minus the element of terror– as what we experienced from the law enforcement officer for whose behavior she is responsible.
Given its director’s nature and actions we are not surprised that the culture of IDOT is what it is. As they say, the fish rots from the head down. IDOT, get rid of Director Richardson and replace her with somebody who cares and who will lift your agency out of its current state of irresponsibility and corruption, or somebody who at the very least is capable of doing halfway decent PR work.
Meanwhile, if I get pulled over again by an IDOT officer, the first thing I will do is call 911. Until I know that the corruption and abuse of power at IDOT have been remedied, I consider that being pulled over by IDOT is a threat to my life and well being.
(for those of you who are not yet completely sick and tired of the subject)
The following is a letter we wrote to Nancy Richardson, the Director of Iowa DOT:
Dear Ms. Richardson,
We have some very serious concerns relating to the traffic stop conducted by IDOT Officer Wiegand on the evening of Friday March 27, 2009.
We believe Officer Wiegand used profiling –that we were “carnies”–to pull us over and we know that using profiling is illegal.
We believe that Officer Wiegand denied us our expectation of peaceful travel, the precedent for which has been set by rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court.
We believe that the search of our RV was based on insufficient facts and that by depriving Carl of the opportunity to identify himself, Wiegand denied him the ability to legitimize himself as a U.S. citizen and a member in good standing of this community where his family has lived for four generations.
We believe if the search of our RV by Officer Wiegand cannot be proved to be illegal, it was without question an unreasonable search because Officer Wiegand did not avail himself of information which would have been readily available by asking for driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance, etc.
We know that as U.S. citizens we are protected against unreasonable search by the Fourth Amendment.
We believe that Officer Wiegand’s ignorance of gun laws, especially the Iowa CCW laws, and his resulting threatenng statements regarding having Carl’s CCW permit revoked, infringed on Carl’s Second Amendment rights.
Lastly we believe that while trampling over our rights as outlined above, Officer Wiegand also conducted the traffic stop in a manner that was threatening, provocative, abusive, and malicious. His actions have caused us extreme fear and distress.
We would like to make an appointment to visit with you and talk about our concerns. Although they are polite and professional, we do not feel we have received much satisfaction from Major Lewis and Colonel Lorenzen. There were too many discrepancies between what they told us and what we have heard from other people who have had serious issues with Officer Wiegand. For example, in some instances, people have told us they have registered complaints against Officer Wiegand but your officials are telling us they have no records of these complaints.
In fact, we have discovered there is a bigger picture here: specifically, Officer Wiegand does not appear to be the only IDOT officer who behaves unprofessionally and discourteously in the line of duty. We are getting phone calls from people all over Iowa with complaints. As one 45 year veteran of the trucking business told us, IDOT has a job to do but there is no reason they cannot do their job in a civilized way.
It is of great concern to us that Iowa taxpayers are funding a state agency that is creating so much controversy when dealing with Iowa taxpayers whom they encounter every day on the road in the line of duty. We have written up a number of stories and would like to sit down and share them with you. In some cases the people who called us wish to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal from your agency but in many cases people have revealed their names or have told us they will happily come forward and testify should that become an option and necessity.
Since the story of our traffic stop became popular in a few Iowa papers, we have received dozens of calls. It is particularly distressing that some people feel the need for anonymity in their calls, even calls to us, because they are so afraid what IDOT will do if it finds out they have said a word. IDOT is viewed by many as a public tyrant not a public servant, and from what we have heard (not to mention our own experience) this is not a far-fetched perception on the part of many drivers, both commercial and non commercial. It is WRONG that any government agency would instill such disgust and trepidation in many of Iowa’s citizens. If we were involved in any government agency to whom the taxpayers were afraid to speak up, we would be ashamed. IDOT is funded by taxpayers and should not be terrorizing taxpayers.
From what we have heard, IDOT has gotten away with this behavior for as long as it has because commercial drivers who are given unreasonable citations don’t dare speak up because they feel they are then targeted for an increased number of traffic stops by IDOT. We have heard stories where drivers were pulled over for a minor violation and lost hundreds of dollars because they could not reach their destination in time. We have heard of drivers pulled over for hours on log book discrepancies which later were proven not to be violations –but still the drivers lost time and money that they cannot recover. We have also heard that even when drivers don’t register a complaint or even when the citation is reasonable, that IDOT will still pull them over with increasing frequency simply it seems because they have received a recent citation. This is a fact on which every driver we spoke to agreed. Is there an assumption that once they have broken the law they are more inclined to break it again? Therefore pull them over more frequently and interfere with their schedules, even though often they are not found to be in violation again and are not issued another citation?
The bottom line is that truckers cannot stay in business if they are spending a lot of hours sitting by the side of the road being written up on fair, let alone unfair, citations or having their logbooks checked because IDOT is punishing them for registering a complaint or having a recent violation.
( And by the way, a current popular reason IDOT is using these days to pull people over is for not wearing a seatbelt. We have heard of two instances over the weekend when this occurred. The drivers were wearing seatbelts but IDOT stopped them anyway claiming they thought they were not —and meanwhile taking up their valuable transport time. We suspect if an IDOT officer pulls a driver over for an alleged seatbelt violation that it would be easy, even if the driver is not in violation, for the officer to use the traffic stop as an opportunity to come up with other possible accusations of violations as happened in our case.)
In addition, truckers also cannot stay in business if they take time off work and drive sometimes hundreds of miles to court to contest citations they believe are incorrect/unfair. They simply can’t afford to stick up for themselves —or once again they lose money because they are off the road. And so they let it go and say nothing. And IDOT seems to –literally–bank on the fact that truckers won’t stick up for themselves.
We are not condoning anybody’s breaking the law. We realize IDOT’s job is to enforce laws and that there are a lot of them to enforce. As one driver mentioned, there are plenty of truckers out there who do not respect the laws and they themselves have been known to be at times FAR FROM polite. But the bottom line, we are told, is that just because there are some bad apples, not all commercial drivers should be treated like “trash.” One thing we know for sure is that if IDOT treated the general public the way we hear it treats truckers, people would be up in arms. There would be an uproar, which is actually what is occurring over the way we were treated.
There are a few facts we would like to know about IDOT:
Does IDOT have a “mission” statement?
Can IDOT legally pull over both commercial and non commercial vehicles?
Can IDOT legally pull over passenger cars?
What is the job description for an IDOT officer?
What are the IDOT rules for procedure in a traffic stop?
Does IDOT establish quotas for its officers? Such as number of dollars per day, number of inspections per day, etc.
Does IDOT receive funds–operating costs etc.– from the federal government?
From what we have experienced, learned and heard, we believe IDOT needs to be investigated from top to bottom for the behavior of its officers, its record keeping , and quite possibly for the supervisors’ acceptance and condoning of malicious behavior on the part of their officers.
We are concerned there is a culture at IDOT that is detrimental to the welfare of the general public. IDOT is an agency which no doubt was established to keep citizens safe but we fear it has degenerated into one which harasses and disrespects the very people (ie the taxpayers) who fund it. In addition we feel that IDOT’s interpretation of the laws concerning commercial truckers are often capricious and unreasonable and ultimately have a severely negative impact on their ability to make a living. This needs to stop.
If an investigation of IDOT is conducted, we believe it cannot be accomplished from inside the agency; we seem to have already encountered verbal cover-ups and records discrepancies in the short time we have been observers. We would recommend that an effective investigation can only be achieved by an outside agency, perhaps somebody from the federal government.
Again, we would appreciate sitting down with you to discuss our concerns and ideas,
Jane and Carl Schneider