Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 9:00 amThis past week, La Center City Planner Dale Miller took a bold stand against the directors he claims have created a hostile workplace in the City of La Center. Miller isn’t the first current or former La Center employee to do so.
“I’m now the fourth person who is willing to fall under a bus in order to force changes,’’ Miller told me in a phone conversation. Miller was referring to a pair of current employees (Alice Peters and Dave Pettit) and one former employee (Cathy Winston) who were all mentioned in the now-famous report completed by former Interim Police Chief Erin Nolan about complaints against La Center Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis and Finance Director Suzanne Levis.
First, kudos again to Erin Nolan, who did yeoman's work in preparing this report and making sure the word got out.Miller’s count actually was a little short. There are now many more than four current and former employees making the claim that Sarvis and Levis have created a hostile workplace in La Center. Miller’s role as city planner, however, makes him the highest profile employee to do so.
Miller has refused to show up for work since Dec. 10. He said the reason is five years of bullying by Sarvis. What has happened to Miller since he first requested a Leave of Absence is just as appalling as what has happened to Peters, Pettit and every other employee who has made a claim.
Miller made an emotional plea to Mayor Jim Irish and members of the La Center City Council at a Dec. 11 meeting, asking them to intervene by suspending Sarvis and Levis pending the investigation that is currently underway into the allegations against the two directors. I find what has happened since Miller made that plea to be unbelievable.
And, while you follow along with the series of events, please remember that Nolan’s report contained some salacious claims of sexual harassment as well as bullying and other forms of intimidation, poor treatment of employees and improper hiring and firing practices.
Miller had to make his initial request for a Leave of Absence to Sarvis, the very person he claims has bullied him for the past five years. Miller claims Sarvis denied the request. So, Miller asked for his union to represent him because he knew he had no hope dealing with Sarvis and had no faith in Irish.
So, the union helped Miller make another formal request, three days later. The same day, Sarvis again denies the request for a Leave of Absence and informs Miller he better be at work at 9 a.m. on Monday morning. Is it me, or is it ludicrous that Miller is continually being forced to lodge his complaint with the person who his complaint is against?
Every time a La Center council member tries to intervene, they are reminded that they have no say in personnel matters in the city. The Association of Washington Cities (AWC) handbook is filled with numerous citations that speak to the mayor being the principle authority to handle all personnel decisions. But, in this case, for seven months now, the mayor won’t do anything to protect employees in his city.
The mayor hasn’t stepped into the Miller situation. La Center City Attorney Daniel Kearns told me last week that if the mayor tried to intervene, that he would advise Irish not to do so. This is between the employee and his supervisor and the city was treating it as an employee refusing to show up to work.
This amazes me. It also amazes me that Nolan completed the first draft of her report on May 10. Her final report was dated May 24 and was addressed directly to Kearns. Irish has stated publicly, both verbally and in a written statement, that he never saw the report until July 24. Kearns said that the mayor’s memory is a little fuzzy.
“I think he misstated (that),’’ said Kearns, when I asked him about Irish’s claim that he didn’t see the report until July 24. “I sat down with him and gave him a copy (of the report) shortly after I received it.’’
It’s not only amazing to me that the mayor can’t remember when he first received a copy of the report. It still amazes me that on multiple occasions he stated that he refused to investigate the claims in the report or take any personnel action as a result. It wasn’t until the water started coming over the bow of this sinking ship did he allow AWC Risk Manager Derek Bryan to step in and handpick the investigator (Jim Webber). I presume Kearns was also providing constant encouragement for Irish to flip flop on his refusal to look into all the allegations surrounding the city’s operations.
So, for now, the employees in La Center continue to have nowhere else to turn in their claims of a hostile workplace. They can only hope that Webber’s investigation confirms the validity of their claims and that then someone will actually step up and do something to help them.
Second, kudos to Ken Vance, who I do not always agree with, on his efforts to pit-bull this issue until changes are made.
Third, isn't it about time Irish be recalled? How much corruption do they need?