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Call Me, We’ll Do Lunch

City Manager Jeff Parker

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Normally, this is my day to let you in on the intricacies of Tuesday’s City Council meeting. But, as with last week’s meeting of the Planning Commission, there is not much on the agenda worth talking about. In fact, there is only one item and it is a biggie, in my opinion.

Item 9 is innocuously titled, “Amending the City’s classification and Compensation Plans and Establishing a Targeted Recruitment and Selection Process.” Surprisingly, it is exactly what it seems. Unsurprisingly, it is actually an attack on the transparency that, two weeks ago, this city council and staff supposedly embraced as desirable for its future relationship with Tustin residents.

Essentially, Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker is asking the city council to approve a resolution that would, in effect, do away with the hiring and firing rules whenever he deems it necessary or appropriate because they are just too darn cumbersome for him. If you think this is not the case, then remember that Parker recently hired his crony and former subordinate, Charles Robinson, as Deputy City Manager. At the time, we patted Parker on the back for his cost saving measures as they were couched in overall savings to the city. As it turned out, that recruitment, if you could call it that, was a sham.

With tonight’s action, Parker seeks to solidify his hold on the city by abrogating the city’s hire and fire rules with a major change in policy. The staff report on Item 9 states the city manager has, in effect, the right to hire and fire “all department heads and employees of the city”. We wouldn’t argue with that. However, what is arguable, is how candidates for employment are brought to the attention of Parker or anyone involved in the selection process.

Currently, as with most cities in Orange County, a job opening is advertised and applications are received. The human resources staff go through the applications discarding those that do not qualify for the position. Interviews and selection boards may ensue and, in the end, a short list of the most qualified individuals is produced for the department head to make a final selection. It is a good and proven process that canvasses the widest number of qualified applicants and limits cronyism and nepotism in public affairs (think Boss Tweed). It also keeps the process transparent and open for public scrutiny.

Parker seeks to change that with his, so-called, 21st Century Hiring Process. From the staff report:

The distinction between the 21st Century hiring process and a typical public sector recruitment is in the initial recruitment phase of the process. Rather than posting a job announcement on the City’s website and publishing an advertisement on a variety of websites and/or publications, a method that typically results in hundreds of applications from individuals of widely varying qualifications, the 21st Century hiring process involves direct solicitation to specific individuals and/or professional organizations to seek out prospective candidates who are believed to be highly qualified for a particular position. This type of process is commonly employed in the private sector.

Let’s take that last statement first. Although direct solicitation is common in private sector, this is public sector where the citizens served have an expectation of transparency and deserve the best candidate for any position the city has open. By his own words, Parker seeks to limit the employment pool for any job he deems necessary. He will not be required to publish job openings and will not be required to follow previously established rules for selection and hiring of anyone for any position he sees fit. That is absurd on its face and the city council should see it for the sham it is.

It is, in fact, the selection process that seems to be a problem for our good city manager. Although the report says the “21st Century hiring process” is not designed to replace the traditional recruitment process as the City’s standard operating procedure, there is nothing that will require the city manager to consult with human resources before he hires anyone, whether it is a crony or former employee. And, according to Parker, the new employee must meet all of the requirements expected of any city employee hired through a traditional recruitment process. If that’s so, then why change the rules? Surely, the process of culling hundreds of applications for the most qualified can’t be that strenuous, especially considering neither Parker nor any other department head has to do the culling.

And, that is also the point of having a human resources department, a recruiting process and a final selection process. It is the job of human resources to advertise and make initial selections of applicants for any job in the city. It gives the city the widest possible avenue of selecting the best individual for a particular job and frees managers from the mundane portions of the selection process.

It also prevents a high ranking official from feathering the city nest with his cronies and yes-men regardless of whether they are qualified or not. So, the real reason for the change?

Baby steps. It is obvious that our good city manager seeks to consolidate his power in the city through corrupt practices such as this. It remains to be seen whether the city council will see this for the obvious scam it is (and, hopefully put the CM in his place) or whether this is part of a larger plot by all concerned to remove the citizens of Tustin from the equation altogether.

In any case, this is certainly not a move toward transparency.

Rumors are Just Rumors Until They Become Fact

A hat tip to Dan Chmielewski of The Liberal OC for bringing a story that has been on our minds for some time. As you know by now, former Orange County employee Carlos Bustamante, has been charged with multiple sex crimes that he allegedly committed while a high level manager of the Orange County Public Works Department. Subsequently, it came to light that Assembly Candidate, Tom Daly, has also been the subject of multiple claims of sexual misconduct while holding the office of Orange County Clerk-Recorder. The allegations against both of these men allegedly came to light through a series of anonymous letters. As Dan said, “Government by anonymous letter is the trend one can take away from the Summer of 2012.”

Some time ago, both The Liberal OC and Our Town Tustin became aware of anonymous letters and emails alleging misconduct of sorts of Tustin Chief of Police, Scott Jordan. The letters made unsubstantiated allegations against Jordan saying, among other things, that he had slept with a police department employee and had been applying for “lots of jobs” and complaining that Jordan received a raise while other employees with the city were required to give up benefits in their latest contract. It was signed by “The Women of TPD”. It also listed his home telephone number which was verified by Chmielewski.

The second letter followed on the heels of the first. It outlined the saga of Jordan marrying a woman in Garden Grove Police Department that was “below” him, came to Tustin and promoted a woman based on her looks over other, more qualified applicants and then got her pregnant.

The two letters outline quite a saga in the history of our police chief that you can read in the post on The Liberal OC so we won’t republish them in full here.

Chmielewski did quite a bit of research, inquiring of the city about the allegations of the letters. From the Lib:

We’ll note the Chief did marry a former employee of the department after she left the City’s employ.  There was no pregnancy and no call to HR as alleged in the letter.
The chief did travel with a woman named in the letter but several other members of the city’s elected officials and staff made the same trip.  Hence, the holes in the story.

The city responded almost a week after we delivered the letters.  We deleted names and titles in the city’s response to protect the privacy of those employees mentioned in the letter.  The email from Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker goes like this (excerpted – for the entire letter, see The Liberal OC story):

First, the City takes very seriously an allegation of workplace harassment. I’ve attached a copy of the City’s Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation policy which can be found in the City’s Personnel Rules.

The training focuses on our policy, the law, and how employees can address concerns they have regarding conduct in the workplace.

Please note that neither of the letters you provided to me were given to our HR department nor have complaints in any other form been received relating to this matter.

The city manager goes on to say that anything that happened in Garden Grove is unknown to him and he cannot make an investigation into those allegations. As to the first letter, Jeff Parker says he looked into it and found it had been adequately investigated two years ago by the then city manager. Hmm, two years ago the city manager would have been Bill Huston who left with serious issues of cronyism and alleged coverups of his own. You’ll forgive us if we believe that any “investigation” conducted by Huston was anything more than cursory in aspect. Perhaps Parker should have re-opened the investigation in light of the allegations. Or should he?

Parker also addresses the issue of the promotion-by-looks of one police department applicant (we understand this is a non-sworn employee, by the way) over other more qualified applicants. He assures Dan this is not true and the applicant was one of six who qualified and that she exceeded the minimum qualifications for the position. He blows off the allegation that the chief is currently having another affair with a deapartment employee, saying there is no credible evidence.

But, Parker brings up an interesting point when he says, “…I find it interesting that these letters were provided to you after the City entered into a contract with Chief Jordan rather than when the issues were actually occurring.” We do too. More than that, the employees were locked in tough negotiations where the city was demanding certain concessions from the employee unions. So, was this just to throw gas on the embers in hopes someone would shout, “Fire”?

We agree with The Liberal OC that government by anonymous letter is unsavory, to say the least. Unsubstantiated claims, where those making the allegations believe a reporter will be able to “dig up the dirt”, more often than not, result in inaction. That is partly because of laws that, rightly, protect individual privacy even of city employees, where the trend has been to open the doors on everything from compensation to every report or complaint -substantiated or not- brought by a member of the public or even another employee.

Scott Jordan is a well respected member of the law enforcement community. He is also well-respected in our community where crime has dropped and the professionalism of the police department is second to none in the county. And, although OTT has been critical of the recent raise he was given in light of the takeways experienced  by other employees of his department and the rest of the city, we think he deserves the benefit of the doubt unless those who wrote the letters come forward with allegations they can substantiate and not just grouse about. In fact, Dan has given a set of guidelines to use for would-be whistleblowers who believe they would be retaliated against if they were to go through official channels:

But for those government employees who feel that they have no choice but to go to the local media with their story, some advice:

1.  Ask a reporter or editor for confidentiality and make sure you get agreement before you say anything.

2. Summarize your complaint; Who, what, where, when, why (in your opinion) and how.  Bring copies of documentation, emails, photographs, videos, audio files….be prepared to prove your claims. He said, she said isn’t going to help you.  Copies of letters, emails, photos, and other evidence surely will.

3.  Bring copies of department/city/county policy and show why your documentation proves your complaint.

4. It’s not what you think; it’s not what you heard.  It’s what you can prove.

5. An employee who meets with a superior behind closed doors for an hour or two does not mean the two are having an affair; hasn’t anyone else had two hour business meetings with the boss or a conference call that required a closed door?  Think of your own interactions; we all have relationships with our business associates that range from professional loathing to genuine affection and friendship.

6.  Journalists can protect the identity of confidential sources provided you deliver on documenting your claims with evidence.  It also helps if you have two or more colleagues who will back your story with details of their own. And yes, we’ll protect your identity if you have a tip for us.  But we are going to check it out.

We subscribe to the same advice.

Along with The Liberal OC, we would also like to thank the Tustin City Manager, Jeff Parker, and the Human Resources staff who responded to his inquiries. In my conversations with Dan, he offered that Parker was very frank in answering questions, declining to answer only when required by law. That says volumes for our new city manager and his willingness to work toward a more transparent city. Thanks, Jeff.

Since Our Town Tustin began as a watchdog for the Tustin political community, we have had our share of anonymous letters about various city officials and electeds. I am sure that many of the writers have wondered why nothing was ever published. Now you know. This blog, and no respectable news source, will ever publish anything that cannot be independently verified and substantiated. When something is published here, you may not agree with it (and I hope you don’t agree with everything we write) but you will know it is truthful. And, you can rest assured that, unless your comment violates our simple rules, it will never be deleted or modified.

On the City Council Agenda, September 18, 2012

Not much going on this week at the Tustin City Council meeting unless you are Chuck Puckett or the City Council crowing about the award from the Government Finance Officers Association. the award is the “Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting” award. Let’s put this in perspective. The total number of “winners” in the municipality section for the state of California were 243. There is no apparent ranking and the award appears to be based on the submitted report. There are over three thousand “winners” across the U.S. so, this is not really all that special unless you are trying hard to make the good citizens of your city believe the city council is fiscally responsible. I think the better number to digest is $4 million which is the number of dollars I hear the city is short this year.

Closed Session

Conference with legal council re: Two cases each of initiation and exposure to litigation.

Conference with legal council re: Three cases of existing litigation. Two of these have been initiated by the city. The third is SEMA Construction v. Tustin for a breach of contract. This is a long term contract dispute that has been going on for over three years. The case has not been sitting idle as both sides seem to be actively pursuing their claims. The other two appear to be headed toward conclusion with stipulations and orders filed for both. I am too cheap to pay for information so we’ll have to wait for the city lawyer to let us know what is happening.

There remains several cases between the city and the school district. The main suit is now scheduled for trial in January of next year. Hopefully, the discussions the city is having will result in some kind of reasonable settlement offer that would bring this saga to a close before the city goes bankrupt.

Consent Calendar

Item 3, Finding and Determining the Industrial Disability Retirement of Susan Nunley- Police Officer Disability finding.

Regular Business

Item 6, Adopt Resolution to accept improvements for the Tustin Ranch Road Phase 1 Grading and Storm Drain Project.

Item 7, Second Reading and Addition of Ordinance Amending the Tustin City Code to Make the Position of City Clerk an Appointed Position. This ordinance actually designates the City Manager as the appointing authority for the City Clerk. The actual damage was done when the residents were duped into changing the City Clerk from an elected office to an appointed office.

That’s it. As we say, keep your motor running as the longest part of this meeting, I suspect, will be the presentations. the city council love to hear themselves crow about their achievements.