After more than an hour of reviewing accusations involving feral cats, used cigarettes and inappropriate language and actions, the Union County Emergency Management commission approved in a 5-2 vote Wednesday to retain new employee Bonnie Castillo.
The meeting was moderated by Paul Greufe, who is the the county’s human resource director. Castillo was hired this summer to be trained and eventually replace EMA Director Jo Duckworth in July 2024. Castillo started work in July.
Greufe said on Aug. 28 he was contacted by Duckworth about concerns with Castillo and her performance. Greufe then had a Sept. 5 telephone meeting with Duckworth and commissioner board chairman Dennis Brown who is also a Union County Supervisor. Greufe said he was informed Castillo was not honest with Duckworth and with other people. Duckworth said she felt “bullied” since Castillo does “not take no for an answer.” Greufe said there are incidents of possible insubordination with attending a Creston Farmers M
arket, feeding a feral cat at the emergency management office on Taylor Street and Castillo’s tendency to create drama in the workplace and community.
“Are they substantiated or are they not,” Greufe told the board. He said the only purpose of the meeting was to review and determine if the accusations are valid and should be acted on. Castillo has since been placed on administrative leave.
Greufe said he spoke with Castillo about the farmers market incident. Castillo was interested in having a promotional event for the entity for children at a farmers market. Castillo spoke to Duckworth about the idea. Greufe said Duckworth claimed she told Castillo the idea was not budgeted and told her to do it when she was named director. Greufe said Castillo said Duckworth told her she couldn’t do it and the commission board was in favor of the idea.
Greufe could not find any formal action taken by the board. Greufe claimed Castillo continued to ask Duckworth for permission for the event which led to an insubordination accusation.
“Jo did say no, her budget did not have the funds,” Castillo said. “It was glue.”
Castillo said she has commission literature stating there would be an event at a farmers market. “Jo did give me handouts and talking points. She spent about an hour looking for coloring books for me to take. She did not find those.” Castillo said she was under the impression she had permission and did meet with people at the market.
“It was on the handout and the board and Jo did not object to it prior to me doing it,” Castillo said.
Castillo said she assumed by not being told no when presented, the event was approved.
Duckworth said she did look for coloring books but told her no to the event. “I did not feel it was good use of her time in her training,” she added. Castillo did include the event in the commission’s social media pages.
Greufe said Duckworth told Castillo to not feed feral cats near the building to prevent creating additional issues. Greufe said other people in the building were also informed to not feed the cats.
“That is well known,” Greufe said.
He added another person in the building said during a discussion with Castillo and Duckworth was about not to feed the cats.
“I did take a picture of the kittens and did feed them,” Castillo said, but not during work time. Castillo planned to trap the cats.
Castillo said Duckworth never told her not to feed the cats. Castillo claimed she fed the cats nine days. She also did not remember conversations with Duckworth about feeding cats.
Castillo’s employment record was noted for feeding the cats.
Greufe said Castillo was included in a conversation with another person in the building that included inappropriate language directed at Castillo. The person, who was unnamed, admitted to using the language, but not at Castillo. Greufe said witnesses to the incident claimed the language was not directed at Castillo.
She asked Greufe to meet with those witnesses about the incident. “They did not support your recollection of the events,” Greufe said. “That would be opposite of what Bonnie was saying.”
Castillo did not respond to that part of the discussion.
Castillo started work July 10 and would join others during cigarette breaks multiple times a day. Greufe said Castillo does not smoke. Greufe said Duckworth told Castillo if she wanted to “fit in” she needed to have an empty pack of cigarettes during the breaks.
“That’s ridiculous, I never said anything like that,” Greufe said about Duckworth’s response.
The emergency management building is under the state’s no-smoking law requiring certain places to allow smoking. Greufe said Castillo created an email with a picture of cigarettes in a trash can. Greufe said Castillo told him others were smoking with the door open and she was not in support.
“They are getting me back for complaining and throwing cigarette butts in my own garbage can,” Greufe said about Castillo’s comment.
Greufe said the smokers in the building he spoke with were not aware of the concern and were conscientious about where they smoke. One of the smokers told Greufe the cigarettes in the trash can were his brand, but he has not had them in weeks, denying they were his.
“I don’t know how they got there. It was not me who dropped those in her garbage can. It’s my belief Bonnie went out and found those cigarette butts and threw them in her own garbage can to support her allegation,” Greufe said.
Castillo said she did not complain about office smoking, at first. Castillo said she did bring a empty cigarette pack for one day “as a joke.” She eventually stopped joining the cigarette breaks but did smell smoke from others.
Castillo said she did start secretly recording conversations and played one including Duckworth about smoking. Castillo claimed Duckworth would have taken Castillo’s complaints about smoking more serious knowing it was causing her problems.
Greufe said he was told by a Union County Board of Supervisor, who was not Brown, he was told by a person Castillo was recording conversations at the office and wanted the recording to be published in Creston’s newspaper. Greufe met with Castillo about the incident.
“She wants the story to go viral that she was fired for feeding a cat,” Greufe said about Castillo.
Castillo admitted to that comment. “If I get fired, I hope the Creston paper says ‘Castillo fired for feeding orphan kittens,’” she said to the person, a former Creston News Advertiser employee. “I think it would boost my popularity.”
Comments were also made about Castillo’s interaction and conversations with board members and relationship with Duckworth implying unprofessional manners. Castillo claimed if Duckworth didn’t agree with someone “she removes them.”
Greufe said Castillo took a risk knowing she’s a new employee with the intent of running the department.
“Being a new employee, one you wanted to take the reins of, that kind of behavior is unacceptable in any organization, especially in a government organization,” Greufe said.
Greufe said a 20 minute discussion with Castillo was about what she could do different to promote a better relationship in the office.
“There is not a single thing you can’t think to do differently. You said you just want to ‘get along.’ That would not be behavior indicative of a Union County department head.” A copy of a letter from a West Des Moines attorney representing Castillo was presented. It stated how Castillo should not be dismissed for bringing awareness to a smoking violation. Greufe questioned the intent of the letter.
“We wouldn’t fire anyone for bringing this forward,” Greufe said. He added the goal is to follow Iowa Code.
In previous conversations, Greufe also recommended to Greufe to not contact anyone over the accusations. “Don’t sway anybody’s opinion,” he said. “I want to present the facts with you in the room so this commission can hear what is going on and then they can judge what is real and what isn’t real, what’s true and what’s not true and then they can make a determination.”
She then asked if it was illegal to contact others. Greufe said no.
“As a future department head of this county I would hope you take this in the vain it was offered to be respectful. Within an hour there is a Facebook post from Bonnie. ‘I’ve been put on admin leave for feeding an orphan kitten in the parking lot,” he said.
Greufe then said the incident is not about a kitten, “It’s about insubordination.” Greufe said Castillo claimed Dennis Brown was attempting to get her fired.
“I would never recommend that a department head say ‘let’s fire up the community’ and call the people who are not ever related to this board at all,” Greufe said.
Greufe said Brown has never told him the goal was to dismiss Castillo. He only asked Greufe to moderate a meeting.
“As the HR guy, if he wanted to get her fired, I’d assume he would tell me. Never happened,” he said.
A copy of a social media post from Greufe explaining the Sept. 27 meeting was also presented emphasizing the smoking violation and having a picture of a cat.
“No one in this building has told me you should be fired,” Greufe said. He added he believed Castillo bullies, is not completely honest with others, did not follow instruction to not feed cats and caused drama in the community.
“The bigger picture is, is it possible you are not suited to be a department head in this county given your behavior you’ve exhibited in the short time you’ve been here. Can you continue to work in this office,” he asked.
Castillo did not respond to that comment.
The EMA board is represented by each municipality in the county and Union County. Member Chris Knouse made the motion to end Castillo’s employment. Terry Gilbert from Shannon City second. Steve Wintermute, from the city of Creston, and Dennis Brown were the only votes in favor.
“This kind of reminds me of high school,” Wintermute said. He did ask Castillo and Duckworth if it can be rectified.
Duckworth said no.
“I cannot work with someone I cannot trust,” she said.
Castillo said she will change when told what needs to be changed.
“My goal is to be the best EMA I can be,” she said.
Castillo was born and raised in the Creston area and has 18 years of experience in state government. Her experience includes positions of Disaster Recovery Program Manager, Statewide Disaster Operations Manager and Executive Officer 3 for the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT). Castillo was awarded the United States Army Medal for Humanitarian Service by a Civilian for her response and recovery work during the 2008 Iowa floods.