Black is white and white is black in SLO, city employees say
September 26, 2012
By KAREN VELIE
San Luis Obispo city workers, angry about the way the city handles personnel matters, are calling policies that promote employees who break the rules, “black is white and white is black.”
Employees began to vent about the city’s promotion practices following the publication of a CalCoastNews article about city managers promoting and giving awards to employees who are under criminal investigation or who have been written up for anger management and discrimination issues.
On Friday, Assistant City Manager Michael Codron explained the city’s promotion and reward practices in an email to department heads entitled “CalCoastNews article, importance high.”
The email criticized CalCoastNews for publishing the “disparaging article” and explains that employees learn from their mistakes.
“Fundamentally, we know that when mistakes are made, they become valuable learning opportunities for the employee and the organization. Mistakes are not an excuse to punish, demean or reinforce prejudice. I think this is why the article is so upsetting – it is based on the premise that no public employee should ever, ever make any kind of mistake. That is not a characteristic of a high-functioning organization and why we must let our employees know that, true to our organizational values, we don’t operate that way.”
Codron’s response followed a string of employee emails complaining about Christine Wallace’s promotion to the city’s new Neighborhood Outreach Manager position. Over the past few years, Wallace had been ordered to take anger management classes and been chastised for religious discrimination. Even so, she was selected for the management position, beating out other city employees with clean employment records, master’s degrees and longer tenure with the city.
Codron explained to the city’s department heads that promotion, hiring and awards were the result of careful work and review.
“Our personnel processes, including hiring and employee recognition, are conducted with consistency and close oversight to preclude unwarranted bias or influence, and to prevent us from jumping to inaccurate conclusions,” Codron said in the email. “They are aimed at ensuring the highest quality employees are recognized.”
City employees responded by forwarding Codron’s email with the comment “black is white and white is black.”
On Thursday, Derek Johnson, SLO’s community development director, sent an email out to employees saying that City Manager Katie Lichtig sees employee morale as an important issue. To improve morale, Lichtig and department heads are looking for funding resources to add more employees and lessen workloads.
“Two new planning techs will be starting in the next few weeks to provide counter relief,” Johnson said in the email. “These planners are being funded with outside revenues from current development applications.”
Even so, in the past 19 months, 34 full-time city employees ended their employment with the city, according to Human Resources Director Monica Irons.