By Rob Cote | Former Rhode Island Wing Ops Director
[Editor’s Note: We received this letter from Maj Rob Cote of Rhode Island Wing. He resigned his CAP membership because of the abuse of power he experienced from Rhode Island Wing’s leadership. Col Rick Hill was appointed Rhode Wing Commander by Maj Gen Joseph Vasquez. No disciplinary action was ever taken against Col Hill.]
24 March 2014
Capt. Mary A. Brennan
102nd Composite Squadron, RI Wing
Civil Air Patrol
CAP NHQ IG
This is a detailed explanation of the complaint filed in accordance with CAPR 123-2.
To whom it may concern,
As a group, many of us in the RI wing who have worked hard to improve our organization, are struggling under the current leadership. Rather than uphold the four official Core Values: “Integrity, Volunteerism, Excellence, and Respect,” the current commander, Rick Hill has created an atmosphere of dismissiveness, inappropriate communication, abusive tactics and intimidation.
Over the past several months, Commander Hill has been demeaning, demanding, and abusive to several CAP members including myself, and particularly to the previous Director of Operations, Lt. Rob Cote, in public, without the presence of Lt. Cote to defend himself regarding several separate issues. This is an abuse of authority, in direct violation of CAPR 1-1 (2) “…to treat others fairly”, and CAPR 1-1 (3)c “Individuals will not take unfair advantage of anyone through manipulation, intimidation, concealment, abuse of privileged information, misrepresentation of material facts, or any other unfair practice.”
When Rick Hill was first appointed as the commander, I requested an informal meeting with him to get to know him better and to evaluate the role(s) I could participate in at the Wing level, if any. In our conversation, I was informed that he was not concerned about or had need of my services at Wing because, his exact words, “I always have a plan B. I can always put someone else in your spot.” Although my team and I had worked hard to bring our financial ratings from “high risk” to “successful”, our accomplishments apparently meant very little, since he perceived himself to have multiple resources of high quality personnel at his fingertips. Unfortunately, this was not the case. His plan B was to put low quality personnel in key positions. (An exception is the Director of Finance, Bob Schierschmidt, whom I had personally recommended.)
In our finance meeting on January 28th, I chaired the meeting as usual, but was quickly overtaken by Col. Hill who proceeded to engage in conversation that was not at all relevant to finance.
There were three issues that were very problematic:
1) The scheduled finance meeting became a staff meeting with discussion of members who were not present to defend themselves, their position, or to voice their opinions regarding Col. Hill’s proposed operations initiatives. This is an abuse of power. The commander himself is solely responsible for informing members of his goals, initiatives or agenda throughout the wing using appropriate administrative communication methods with correspondence via memos, emails or meetings with the members who need the information. To expect antagonistic information to be solely disseminated by staff is a gross mismanagement of the command position.
2) He openly voiced his hostility towards the current O-flight program, and towards the then-DO, Lt. Rob Cote and gave no cause. This was not only disrespectful to Lt. Cote, but it was also disrespectful to all of us. I gently tried to steer him off that mindset and reiterated several times about the value of the excellent flying program for RI Wing from the previous year because of Lt. Cote’s outstanding efforts. [The flying generates a lot of excitement throughout the wing and especially to the cadets. At the squadron level, cadets had begun to recruit again because they were enthusiastic.]
As many times as I said it, I don’t think he heard me. Attendees present at the meeting were – Bob Schierschmidt, William Stranahan, Donna Finch, and Warren Chin. Col. Hill’s comments and demeanor were intimidating and were in direct violation of the CAP Ethics Policy CAP1-1 particularly section 3c and e. For the commander to impugn the success of the O-flight program is disrespectful of not only Lt. Cote, but to all of us last year who were directly involved in championing the program within our organization and to the general public.
3) He also spoke in detail that he did not want any of the pilots involved in the O flight program to wear flight suits at an upcoming event, The Providence Boat Show, which was only 2 days away. None of the pilots were present to comment or offer rebuttal, and Col. Hill did not send out any directive to any of the pilots or senior members that attended the show, including myself. He put us all in a difficult position by vigorously opposing the pilots. To my knowledge, the pilots were not given the courtesy of any correspondence or verbal directives regarding this matter.
In a separate incident, as you may or may not know, I was planning to accept the position of Wing Administrator. Since I had an active role with that position since 2011, it would’ve been a smooth transition for the RI wing if I sat in that seat. Due to the fact that I would essentially be working for Col. Hill, I contacted him. I asked him what was his vision for the wing and what were his goals? The first thing out of his mouth was barely repeatable. He said, “The first thing I’m going to do is get rid of that !?$&!? (vulgarity) Director of Operations!!!”; I was dismayed by the lack of integrity and professionalism displayed by his inappropriate remark. His tone was angry and disgusting. This was not a goal, let alone a worthy goal. This was not the kind of man I could work for as he again exhibited behavior, language, and conduct that was in direct violation of CAPR 123-2, section 4 b.2 “conduct unbecoming of a CAP member”, particularly with use of foul language.
When I tried to talk to him about the importance of maintaining the good flying program in which Lt. Cote had been an important part, he abruptly ended the conversation, again, in a manner indicative of a complete lack of courtesy and professionalism. These actions have created a hostile environment in which it is extremely difficult to participate in CAP activities at the Wing level.
I’ve kept a low profile ever since. Many members are struggling to stay in the program. Many cadets have recently left the program, including my son. In less than 3 months, the integrity of our organization is threatened as he continues to tear apart key members at the wing level. In addition, Col. Hill has placed many individuals in leadership positions who have been absent, unprofessional in their demeanor, or have little to no experience or qualifications for the roles he’s given them, and can only serve to further the demise of the wing. Unfortunately, I cannot respect those decisions.
Col. Hill has publicly disrespected the pilots in their absence. In addition, although he obtained mission observer status, he has not attended an air crew meeting in 2 years, yet now demands that we attend his weekly meetings having never produced any correspondence from his new position, the chosen members of his command staff or an agenda for our future or even for a singular meeting. This posture is completely hypocritical and only serves to push members further away.
We’ve attempted to improve our qualifications and maximize our efforts by increasing aircraft use and training, and by creating missions scenarios to become better prepared for future emergency services. In too many instances to count, we’ve been refused, denied or blockaded for no reason at all.
Recently, all the locks on the equipment lockers were changed without notice to any of the flight crew or other key personnel. Valuable equipment that is used on a regular basis is now unavailable. This type of behavior sends the wrong message to the members and the members are becoming disenfranchised.
A man who uses his position to bring down another man is abusing his power.
The members of the RI wing can see this happening daily. This kind of behavior is unacceptable and unworthy of a program that upholds core values of Ethics and Integrity, and is directly contrary to CAP regulations and policies.
Minor infractions of rules by those of us outside the commander’s favor are blown out of proportion with exceptionally severe punishment, particularly towards Lt. Cote. This is clearly an act of tyranny.
These events initially went unreported in the hopes that he would realize that to attempt to destroy the O-flight program and the integrity of the pilots could potentially destroy our entire organization. I fully expected him to have enough intellectual reasoning skills to recognize the need to change his mind. Subsequent behavior and events proved contrary and hence, the need to file multiple complaints.
Senior members play an important role in CAP. We cannot continue to be treated in a manner that is directly contrary to CAP regulations. We have already seen some seniors refuse to participate and many seniors are planning to lie dormant until the current climate changes to one of mutual respect instead of a dictatorship. Col. Hill needs to be reminded that we are volunteers.
Our primary agenda has been, and must continue to be, the success of our cadets. These actions on the part of the commander have nothing to do with the cadets. He appears to have little or no concern for the elements of the program that keep us all invigorated and enthusiastically striving to uplift our young people to become outstanding leaders for tomorrow.
Mary A. Brennan, Capt. CAP