County employee threatens retaliation

June 10, 2009


Under fire regarding alleged workplace transgressions, a San Luis Obispo County department manager has threatened to go after employees who divulged he is on paid administrative leave.

“You can’t write this, it’s not public information,” said Road Maintenance and Operations Manager Randy Ghezzi. “If I find out who told you, I’m going after them. We signed papers we can’t talk at all.”

Ghezzi added that he was not permitted to say whether or not he was on paid administrative leave.

Tuesday, sources told CalCoastNews that Ghezzi and his coworker, Max Keller, were ordered to temporarily vacate their offices. As with the Gail Wilcox and David Edge issue, county officials ordered staff not to discuss their colleagues’ absences.

CalCoastNews contacted more than a half dozen county employees. All refused to say whether or not the pair was on leave. Most employees asked the reporter to refer inquiries to higher ranking county officials who never returned requests for information.

In addition, employees refused to say who issued the gag order.

Laws promoting public access to information provide citizens the right to know a government employees work status. Even in regards to law enforcement personnel, who are afforded a higher standard of privacy, government bodies may not prohibit the media from getting the names of individuals placed on paid administrative leave, according to New York Times Co. v. Superior Court, 52 Cal.App.4th 97 (1997).

“Employees are told not to talk to other people being interviewed,” County Counsel Warren Jensen said. “I think that is legitimate.”

Jensen added that he plans to clarify disclosure policies with the personnel director.

CalCoastNews is providing the county workers who confirmed the tip confidentiality for their own financial and personal protection. Sources claim they are unaware of the reason for the pair’s forced paid absence and that the human resources department is conducting an investigation into the case.

Last month, County Administrator David Edge and his second in command Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox were placed on paid administrative leave. It appears the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors’ failure to disclose their closed door decision to the public is a violation of government code.

“Action taken to appoint, employ, dismiss, accept the resignation of, or otherwise affect the employment status of a public employee in closed session pursuant to Section 54957 shall be reported at the public meeting during which the closed session is held,” according to the First Amendment Coalition.

Jensen added that he was not aware the lack of disclosure was a violation of government code and refused to say whether or not he would look into the issue.


One Comment

  1. ccn_debate says:

    Member Opinions:
    By: onceburned on 6/21/09
    All I would like to say is…what comes around goes around, it’s about time they have to pay for their actions!

    By: paperboy on 6/16/09
    Didn’t thousands of dollars worth of tires go missing a while back from county maintenance? Hmmmmm…
    I agree a mid-level maintenance supervisor isn’t a public figure, until he or she sues, then they’re fair game.
    Also, there is no law that says ANY county employee (or any person for that matter) has to submit to being interviewed by a reporter. There’s freedom of the press and freedom of speech but also the right to keep your mouth shut.
    ”No comment” is a legit response to any reporter. Public disclosure laws are enforced through the Calif. public records act and federal FOIA. Get it in writing instead of relying on undisclosed, secret sources.
    And remember folks, the county has about 2,500 employees. I’d bet there are at least 50 on paid leave, worker’s comp, sick leave, maternity leave, stress disability, etc… at any given time.
    More interesting would be a story on how many, what type and the cost of ALL employee claims, lawsuits, etc…
    I’d bet its in the millions every year.

    By: BeenThereDoneThat on 6/13/09
    Now there’s a guy easily amused.

    By: rogerfreberg on 6/13/09
    threats are amusing…

    By: sj660 on 6/12/09

    I have nothing to do with the County government, but I hate to break it to you: paid administrative leave is an adverse employment action, just like termination. In 99 cases out of 100, they are going to be given the same analysis. Each of the things you claim those cases are “about” misses the legal proposition that they stand for in this context.

    Until you know all the facts here, you can’t say what’s going on any more than I can. All I can say is that I don’t know, and based on what I do know, we can’t establish a prima facie violation.

    Take off your tinfoil hat.

    P.S. How do you *know* they haven’t been dismissed? Do you? Are you the leaker?

    By: Newsome on 6/11/09
    Yelapop, That’s because usually we say it under our breath ;-)

    By: Truthbeknown on 6/11/09
    I agree that the disturbing thing here is the threat of retaliation. I think that is a big no-no.

    While we’re on the subject of paid administrative leave, are there any updates to the Wilcox situation?

    By: yelapop on 6/11/09
    Fair enough, Newsome. But good men aren’t often heard saying: I’m going after them.

    By: Newsome on 6/11/09
    I second Estrada’s opinion. I have had a couple of dealings with Ghezzi, and he is a straight shooter. (It took forever to get my little pieces of work done, but I think that is symptomatic of a larger county issue.)

    With that in mind, if there is anything newsworthy here at all, it has has to do with the employee’s superiors not following sunshine laws quite closely enough.

    My guess: Velie hates secrets. She hates public information being concealed from the public. She is using this situation as a means of reminding The County that they are answerable to the public. Viewed in this light, Ghezzi is a bystander caught in the crossfire of Velie and whomever she is fighting with.

    BTW, I say “more power to her,” for making the government honest; however, I feel sorry for the good man being mudded in order for her to make a point.

    By: MartyTracey on 6/11/09
    You all may be interested in this case:

    By: InTheKnow on 6/11/09

    To SJ660,

    I hope you are not a county counselattorney or a city leader because if you are we are all in trouble.

    First here is 54957.1(a)(5)
    (5) Action taken to appoint, employ, dismiss, accept theresignation of, or otherwise affect the employment status of a public employee in closed session pursuant to Section 54957 shall be reported at the public meeting during which the closed session is held. Any report required by this paragraph shall identify the title
    of the position. The general requirement of this paragraph notwithstanding, the report of a dismissal or of the nonrenewal of an
    employment contract shall be deferred until the first public meeting following the exhaustion of administrative remedies, if any.

    This does not mention paid administrative leave.

    Next your tale about Klietman v Superiour Court is about discussing ongoing property issues and more specific remembering every detail of a discussion.

    Your biggest twisting of the truth is your claim about Payton v City of Santa Clara. The employee sued for damages as he claimed he wasn’t afforded a hearing prior to termination. He lost the case.

    Again, I hope you are not part of County Counsel, but it would explain problems with county government following the law.

    By: sj660 on 6/11/09
    @InTheKnow: I’m not sure I said there was a Government Code section preventing that disclosure. I think I said that, in general, personnel matters are private first.

    First off, Govt. Code section 54957.1(a)(5) delays the disclosure until administrative remedies have been exhausted. Have these employees had their “due process” hearings yet? I’m not familiar with their particular contract, but has that been followed first? Various attorney general opinions seem to indicate that only final actions are required to be disclosed. Was it final? Even the board members can’t disclose closed session results until the appropriate time. (Kleitman v. Superior Court (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 324.)

    Secondly, for similar reasons, just because the board possibly should have disclosed it out of closed session doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for others to discuss. Nothing in the law prevents the County from only authorizing certain people to discuss employment matters. An employee facing an adverse employment action can sue for violation of privacy by alleging that a former employer posted on a bulletin board the reasons for the employee’s adverse employment action. (Payton v. City of Santa Clara (1982) 132 Cal.App.3d 152, 155.)

    Why risk it with our tax money, especially if the arbitral procedure isn’t don yet?

    It may turn out that this is part of some larger thing, and, so I’m glad we have freedom of the press and this can be printed. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a sign of a conspiracy just because they are being tight-lipped about employee matters.

    By: JorgeEstrada on 6/11/09
    I have not a clue as to what’s up in this administative leave and getting a tired of bad news blogs. If my chip of clay were read it would say; Randy Ghezzi was straight with me during my one dealing with him and that honest answer goes a long way with me. I read him to be a do’er not a BS’er. This is my one vote.

    By: yelapop on 6/11/09
    I think the bigger issue here is the pattern that’s emerging. We are paying for three people – and those are only the individuals we know about – to sit home on our dime. Perhaps SLO County government culture is to blame? From the number of posters on the Edge-Wilcox story, I’d venture to guess a nerve has been hit.

    By: InTheKnow on 6/11/09
    Personnel issues only have to do with information such as religion, sexual preference and family issues. We have a right to know when those living off the public dollar are staying home because they are being investigated because of their misdeeds.

    To sj660,
    There is no government code that says a government employee put on paid administrative leave is non-disclosable. If you can find one please post it.

    By: Afriendindeed on 6/10/09
    Since when is any public employee entitled to a “right to privacy”? These were managers and they’re getting in trouble when they work for us. As a taxpayer, I want to know what is going on. No, obviously, this doesn’t compare to Wilcox and Edge, but I’m glad someone is keeping an eye on county government.

    By: BeenThereDoneThat on 6/10/09
    660. I love your last two paragraphs. Hence why I am sitting on the fence for more info. myself.

    By: sj660 on 6/10/09
    You’re both wrong.

    You can print it, but the County can’t disclose it.

    The Government Code, as well as the state Constitution, have explicit rights of privacy for public employees. Ghezzi and Keller have a wrongful disclosure action against the blabber, and possibly against the County. The balancing test isn’t met here unless you can show, as @svowell alluded to, a more compelling public interest.

    But his claim you can’t “write this” is silly.

    Similarly, I believe you are correct about the reporting out of closed session requirements. But… so what? Where’s the harm? It’s a de minimis violation. Unless there’s some larger scandal than a run of the mill hostile work environment claim and some office politics, I don’t think there’s much more to it.

    Just because we all don’t understand employee privacy law doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy.

    By: svowell on 6/10/09
    I reviewed both the statute cited from the California Govt Code and the court case cited. The personnel office is justified in withholding the information you are requesting for two reasons: 1) it is a personnel issue and 2) there is no significant “public interest” in knowing whether a roads maintenance supervisor is on administrative leave. The court case in question is on disclosing the names of deputy sheriffs who shot and killed a man. Comparing that to this is completely disingenuous.

    By: BeenThereDoneThat on 6/10/09
    P.S. I mean information on the story and not from bloggers.

    By: BeenThereDoneThat on 6/10/09
    No. I have read this earlier today. Waiting for more information, to respond to.

    By: svowell on 6/10/09
    I’m sorry Karen, but you’ve really crossed the line. I think you were justified in reporting on Edge and Wilcox, because they are public figures running the county. But road maintenance supervisors? The guys who supervise the installation of a stop sign? I think the middle managers and below in the public employ are entitled to some level of privacy. And beyond that — who cares? Is this really earth shattering news that a middle management county employee is on administrative leave? I suppose you should gloat that you broke this story and not the Trib.

    By: Black_Copter_Pilot on 6/10/09
    looks like the 19 of 20 people who blog here are speechless!

    By: InTheKnow on 6/10/09
    County Counsel was obviously stalling for time so he could look up the disclosure policy and when he said he plans to clarify policies he was being vague until he could read the government code section. This reporter has sent him back to do some homework and report back to the teacher later. She does her homework. Isn’t that what we pay HIM to do?

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