• November 26, 2014

Gonzales case tests Killeen’s policies

Officials suggest changes to employee grievance procedures

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Posted: Sunday, May 5, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 11:25 am, Thu May 8, 2014.

An appeal from Barbara Gonzales — the Killeen finance director who was fired in December — has tested city policies set up to protect employees.

Two days after the four-member Killeen Civilian Personnel Hearing Board unanimously ruled in favor of Gonzales’ reinstatement last week, Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrison rejected the board’s recommendation.

Gonzales filed a lawsuit in March against the city under the Texas Whistleblower Act, alleging that she was fired for reporting that Morrison had broken state and local finance laws.

The rejection of the board’s findings has caused an outcry among some local officials, who have begun to question how the city policies should be changed to ensure a similar situation does not occur in the future.

‘Lunacy’ of proceeding

Before day’s end on April 24, Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin, who attended the hearing, posted his opinions about the proceedings on his Facebook page, Dan Corbin for Mayor.

Corbin called the board “biased”

and pointed out what he called the “lunacy of the proceeding” in which the board’s recommendation would be subjected to the approval of the city manager.

Although Corbin received a lot of criticism for his own bias in the case — he also is named in Gonzales’ whistleblower lawsuit — the feeling that the hearing was a waste of time was felt across political lines.

Board chairman Fredrick Bee said that in the five years he has served on the board, the only time a city manager has agreed with a board recommendation is when the board voted to uphold the original decision.

Morrison had an opportunity to change the board member appointments in January, but chose the current five members. The item was approved by the Killeen City Council on Jan. 8 without discussion.

Four-year board member Bee, four-year board member Brockley Moore and three-year board member Rosa Hereford were reappointed with Morrison’s recommendation. Valerie Jordan and Dirk Davis were appointed to fill two vacant seats on the board.

Davis did not attend the April 24 hearing and has not been involved in Gonzales’ case.

Diverse opinions

Two options have been proposed in the past week to change the city’s employee grievance policies.

One option, proposed by Corbin, would be to get rid of the hearing board. It would require action from the city manager, who currently has control over the internal city policy.

Another, proposed by Hereford, would grant the employee hearing board the power to make the final, binding decision on all personnel hearings.

Corbin said he thought the decision should remain up to the city manager because of his position as chief executive of the city.

“If I was the city manager, I would not want to rely on an external board to determine whether I was justified in firing one of my department heads,” Corbin said.

Hereford said the board’s decision should be the final say in the matter. “I have a problem with the board if our recommendation does not count,” she said.

“I think we all are intelligent people who can decide from what we read and what we heard, what should be done.”

Moore said the case would have been less contentious if Morrison had not participated in the hearing.

“I think that we wouldn’t have had as many problems if the city manager would have excused himself from the situation,” Moore said. “You’ve got to have checks and balances to maintain the moral and ethical standards of the city.”

Jordan said that because the city manager was directly involved in the case, the council should have had the final say.

“The hearing board heard the facts of the appeal, and I think Mrs. Gonzales proved her case,” Jordan said.

Hereford said she plans to sit down with the city manager to talk about the purpose of the board for future cases.

Law and policy

City staff estimates that the Killeen Civilian Personnel Hearing Board was established around 1980 in the city’s personnel policy handbook. The Killeen Employee Policies and Rules, or KEEPER policy, which establishes and governs the hearing board, is not a law.

The city manager’s power “to appoint and, when necessary for the good of the service, remove all officers and employees of the city,” is granted in the city charter, which is considered local constitutional law.

City spokeswoman Hilary Shine said the policy likely has been amended since 1980 but the city’s records only go back 13 years.

Voters would have to adopt a city charter amendment to give the board the authority to make the final binding decision on all personnel matters, as the city of Austin did in November.

Other cities

Municipal governments across Texas range widely on the policies that govern employee appeals and grievances.

In small to mid-size cities — Killeen is considered a mid-size city — employee policies allow the city manager to have the final decision in most personnel matters.

In both College Station (population 95,142) and Waco (population 126,697) the city finance director is hired and fired by the city manager.

In Temple (population 67,188), the Temple City Council would have the final vote on whether the finance director would be reinstated. In Temple, five city employees — the city secretary, the finance director, the city attorney, the city manager and the municipal judge — are all appointed by the council. Those employees also can only be fired by the council.

The Killeen administration allows only the municipal judge and the city manager to be appointed by council members.

For most other non-civil service employees in the city of Temple, the city manager is the final arbiter.

“It causes the big three (the city manager, city attorney and finance director) to have to work together closely and openly,” said Randy Stoneroad, Temple’s director of Human Resources.

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5 comments:

  • Max67 posted at 10:36 am on Mon, May 6, 2013.

    Max67 Posts: 63

    @Viktor, I completely agree. The enablers who continue to support him as he violates laws and robs the taxpayers should go, too. They aren't doing their jobs and are as guilty as he is. Given the allegations (which are supported with documentation), he should've been investigated (in accordance w/ the council's duty) and fired a long time ago. It would've saved so many people some grief (and the taxpayers a lot of money).

     
  • Viktor posted at 10:52 pm on Sun, May 5, 2013.

    Viktor Posts: 317

    @Max67: Glenn may not've been prudent with taxpayer funds but the board of directors behind the scenes seems to be okay with his final say. Recall those that benefit from the good old network.

     
  • Eliza posted at 9:14 pm on Sun, May 5, 2013.

    Eliza Posts: 867

    “If I was the city manager, I would not want to rely on an external board to determine whether I was justified in firing one of my department heads,” Corbin said.---


    But the main point in this case is there was no written documentation that the accused, had not been an employee of value for evidently 14 yrs.

    Ms. Herford is correct I believe with her statement, that the board of 4, should have been accepted as intelligent enough, to be able to make a final decision on the case they were ask to review.

     
  • Max67 posted at 9:09 pm on Sun, May 5, 2013.

    Max67 Posts: 63

    The Civilian Personnel Hearing Board serves a very important purpose for the citizens of Killeen. Not only do they provide for input on behalf of the citizens they represent, but they also allow light to be shed on issues that might otherwise remain in the dark.

    Ms. Gonzales requested a public hearing because she wanted the citizens to be informed of the issues and to be provided all of the information. Given no choice but to allow for the hearing to be public, the city scheduled the meeting for 8:30 A.M. on a Wednesday, making it more difficult for the public to attend the hearing. To the public's even greater surprise and disappointment, the city announced right before the hearing began that video recording of the hearing would not be allowed. It has been stated by experts in this field that the city's decision was unprecedented.

    Given all the power the existing city manager has (to override the finance director when she objects to him breaking the law, to stop audits that would bring to light information that would be unfavorable to him, to prevent internal and external audit findings from being disclosed to the public, to launch investigations for personal motives and make decisions on those investigations even though it's admitted that there were no reliable results upon which decisions could be made, etc.) do we really want to give him complete and total free reign - without any checks and balances?

    In the private sector, Glenn would still be held accountable (and probably more accountable) for his actions. He would have a board of directors and there would be a clear trail of his financial losses, for which he would face the consequences.

    Just because it's the taxpayers' money he's wasting (buying the silence of the former city manager at $750,000 and his former girlfriend at $30,000, paying for extravagant bar/dinner tabs at $17,000, giving illegal $10,000 raises, etc.), he shouldn't be given a pass to do whatever he wants with that money.

     
  • Max67 posted at 9:09 pm on Sun, May 5, 2013.

    Max67 Posts: 63

    Whether it be the board or the city council (or both in conjunction with each other), a "checks and balances" system is needed. In this case, since the city manager has been alleged to have broken laws and fired the person who repeatedly objected to him doing so and forced him to override her recommendations. To allow him to fire her quietly without allowing anyone to review his actions would be wrong, not only for the employee, but also for the citizens (especially given that the employee he fired was trying protect the interest of the taxpayers).

    If the city manager doesn't want any of his actions to be reviewed, he should:

    a) do a better job of managing (i.e., not fire someone without being able to even state the reason he fired the employee until forced to do so at the employee's requested termination appeal hearing - and then use a reason for which he doesn't have even a shred of supporting documentation) and

    b) get out of city government, as he represents the citizens of Killeen and has a duty to be held accountable to them for the decisions he makes

    It makes no sense to allow the city manager total control over this process and decide if "he" took the right actions. I'm glad this case has brought to light this deficiency.

    This is not the first time city management wanted to prevent/limit the board's involvement in it's efforts to avoid negative information from being disclosed to the public. Care to guess who would have been the most harmed by this information becoming public? Read the related KDH article from 2009, by copying and pasting the following link.

    http://m.kdhnews.com/news/politics/termination-of-killeen-employee-raises-questions/article_cdd07ee6-ddfd-5791-8bab-983913869e87.html