The state park service’s superintendent and two local park managers are no longer employed by the state amid ongoing scrutiny of the agency’s culture and the criminal indictment of the Gunpowder Falls State Park manager.
Gregg Bortz, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources that includes the park service, said Monday that superintendent Nita Settina, regional manager Steve McCoy and Gunpowder Falls assistant manager Dean Hughes were no longer with the agency.
Settina became superintendent of the state parks system in 2008 after 15 years with the Department of Natural Resources and experience lobbying for the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Bortz said an acting superintendent would be named “soon.”
The state park manager facing criminal charges, Michael Browning, has been suspended without pay, with his police powers suspended, Bortz said.
The state park he managed spans more than 18,000 acres in Baltimore and Harford counties and is one of the state’s largest. Gunpowder Falls includes multi-use trails and opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, swimming and fishing.
Police accuse Browning, who has worked for the park service for 45 years, of sexually assaulting a former park employee and a second woman. Browning’s attorney, Gary Bernstein, has denied the allegations. A trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court is scheduled for March 28.
Bortz, the agency spokesman, said Monday that the Department of Natural Resources’ Human Resources Services was investigating “serious and disturbing allegations that have been brought to light” and urged anyone with more information to contact investigators.
“The department takes very seriously any such allegations brought to our attention and is taking swift and appropriate action following state law, guidance of the Attorney General’s Office, and with deference to ongoing legal proceedings, investigations and the rights of all involved,” Bortz said.
The Morning Sun
News of Browning’s arrest in September and subsequent reporting about prior park service employee complaints of alleged misconduct led two state lawmakers to call in October for an independent review of how complaints were handled.
State Sen. Sarah Elfreth and Del. Eric Luedtke argued there was an “inexcusable” lack of accountability and “systemic abuse of employees” at Gunpowder Falls State Park that went “unchecked.”
The two lawmakers, both Democrats, also called for those who had a role or allowed it to continue to be terminated and referred to law enforcement.
The secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources earlier this month acknowledged “very serious and troubling allegations” at Gunpowder Falls. Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio wrote that she couldn’t speak to how things were handled in the past but said “any form” of bullying, harassment or abuse of power wouldn’t be tolerated.
She wrote that she was unable to discuss allegations or any ongoing investigations into personnel matters.
Maryland officials are investing millions of dollars into the state parks, as maintenance needs grow and the system breaks visitor records; last year, the more than 70 state parks had 20.6 million visitors, according to a 2021 annual report. Five state parks, including Gunpowder Falls, saw more than 1 million visitors each.
The personnel changes were first reported by The Baltimore Banner.