County employee threatens retaliation
June 10, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
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.