City Ink: Rec probe gone wrong

The name of this article is “Rec, Lies and Investigating Flakes.”

To start with, what a fiasco City Administrator Fred Russell’s government reorganization has turned out to be! Commissioners Alvin Mason and Bill Lockett were right after all.

And what a travesty Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan’s and human resources’ recreation department investigation has been!

Director Tom Beck was fired for doing something that’s been standard practice in the department for 35 years – giving exempt (salaried) employees comp time for extra hours worked at night and on weekends. After being approved, those hours were logged and kept at the department with the payroll clerk.

Exempt recreation employees have earned and received comp time documented that way, per the instructions of human resources, since way back when.

But after what happened to Beck and now-demoted Operations Manager Melinda Pearson, it might take thumb screws to get anyone to admit it.

 

IT’S IN WRITING: The department’s comp-time policy states: “The Recreation, Parks and Facilities Department permits eligible employees to earn and use compensatory time.” (Up to 240 hours.)

“This policy applies to both exempt and non-exempt (hourly) employees.”

Dennis Stroud, the deputy director who Beck fired Jan. 2, updated a draft of that policy and e-mailed it to deputy directors Chris Scheuer and Joanie Smith for editing last October.

So Stroud, who denied in writing ever approving “comp time for exempt employees,” actually revised the policy authorizing it and approved Pearson’s comp-time requests.

Commissioners fired Beck on Russell’s recommendation, based on lies and politics, turning a deaf ear to Beck’s explanation of why he approved Pearson’s four comp-time days.

THE WITCH HUNT: After they got Beck, they went after Pearson, accusing her of stealing time and demoting her to maintenance worker.

Shanahan and the crack human resources team concluded in their investigative summary that Pearson, who was out on catastrophic leave from Sept. 19 until Dec. 2, had received donated leave from other employees.

And that, they said is a no-no unless an employee has used all vacation, sick and comp time.

 

SHE TRIED TO USE IT, BUT COULDN’T: When Pearson was hospitalized in July, she had to initiate the process of FMLA which should have been done by human resources, notorious for its incompetence.

In August, when she’d used all sick and vacation time, she asked to use her comp time – 47 hours – most of them signed-off on by Stroud. The approved forms were sent downtown to payroll but were rejected because the time wasn’t officially on the books but kept separately at recreation.

Office Manager Marilyn Newton told her she couldn’t use the time until she returned to work from medical leave. Beck sent Payroll Clerk Lisa Hall to retrieve the forms.

“Three weeks after I returned from catastrophic leave, I requested to use this comp time through Mr. Stroud, and he approved (it),” Pearson states in a letter submitted to each city commissioner last week, along with stacks of documentation.

“The accusation made against me alleging that I didn’t try to use all of my time while on catastrophic leave is false, yet the city chose to publicize this incorrect information through the media, further defaming and slandering my name and character.”

Stroud denies approving the four days.

“I find it appalling and despicable that nobody from the city has taken me up on my offer to clearly show that Mr. Stroud is lying about this matter. Instead the city has chosen to act upon the word of Mr. Stroud,” Pearson stated in her letter.

Initially, Shanahan came to the department, reviewed her records and told her in front of Beck and Scheuer that she kept excellent ones and that everything was fine. Employment Relations Manager Ron Clark even told her that all of her co-workers he’d interviewed said she was the hardest working employee in the department and that the hours she’d worked above and beyond her 37.5 hours were not even in question.

Shortly thereafter, Employment Manager Onajuanita Foster accused her of theft and she was demoted to lay bricks, install tile and roof buildings.

Do you think they’re trying to make her quit?

 

OIL AND WATER: Last year, the recreation department merged with other city departments to become Recreation, Parks and Facilities, and the manpower assigned to the operations division more than doubled.

Pearson took on extra responsibility with no pay increase. Stroud became her direct supervisor and ordered her to have no contact with Beck. He said he “ran this train, not Beck.”

In a Dec. 18 memo to Beck, she said she was contemplating filing a grievance against Stroud for making threatening remarks to her in front of a subordinate. Pearson said she believed Stroud was setting her up to be fired, but he got the ax first.

Employees who were merged with recreation apparently had little supervision before the merger, and after Beck fired Stroud, they started calling commissioners to complain that Pearson was creating a hostile work environment.

Can you imagine that? She actually tried to get them to work. And she had GPS devices put on their vehicles. So they got even.

 

UNACCEPTABLE QUESTIONING: So Russell sent Shanahan and Clark out to investigate, but the probe went so far beyond the initial purpose, Beck e-mailed Shanahan on March 23, to complain of inappropriate questioning of employees by Clark and Foster.

“Employees were also questioned about being on probationary status and whether they feared for their jobs. How is any of that part of an inquiry about time cards? I have a big problem with this – especially since I have not seen any unresolved complaint against any employee of this dept, or me for that matter. … All of this is UNACCEPTABLE, and I am officially putting an end to any further discussions with my staff regarding this topic or regarding time cards.”

 

WORSE THAN SHAMEFUL: But after Beck was fired, it got worse. Shanahan called a department meeting with all employees except Pearson to gather evidence. Several employees later said it was shameful.

“They said Shanahan, Clark and Scheuer created a lynch mob type of environment and that they were worried about me and said that they were told not to tell me anything, threatening them with loss of their job if they told me anything. During this meeting, Mr. Shanahan incited employees to make vicious personal attacks about me and even my husband.”

Those same employees expressed concern for their safety because of the hostility Shanahan stirred up.

“I would like to know why Mr. Shanahan felt so compelled to hold such a meeting that allows for a lynch mob environment and promote hostility,” Pearson said.

We’d like to know too, especially since it didn’t do anything but send employees tattling to commissioners, prompting Russell to go out there last week and tell them to cut it out.

Like that’s going to happen.

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