There is nothing to see here
By Allan Classen
How did a long-overdue investigation of the city’s most dysfunctional bureau become a “management tool” controlled by same the same people who ran the agency into the ground? City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly turned what was envisioned as an investigation into mismanagement and abuse of employees at the Office of Community and Civic Life, which she controls, into what looks like a management-friendly whitewash.
Complaints filed over the past two years by an estimated one-third of OCCL employees rattled around the city bureaus of human resources, city attorney, the ombudsman and the Office of Management and Finance before reaching agreement last month that an investigation of OCCL was warranted. Could we possibly get more middlemen in this game of hide the ball?
Just before that investigation was announced, human resources and the city attorney recommended instead that Eudaly select an outside consultant to conduct a “holistic assessment of Office of Community and Civic Life staff.” [Italics added.]
The auditor’s office called this turnabout “unfortunate,” but the other three parties were on board. Not that they were proud to stand behind their machinations. Eudaly’s chief of staff said the city attorney made the decision, the city attorney said Eudaly made that call and human resources pointed to the city attorney, saying that office would be hiring the consultant.
So we have a scene in which everyone in the room is pointing to someone else as the responsible party. Beyond that, the city attorney pointed to someone not in the room, claiming City Ombudsman Margie Sollinger favored the plan even after Sollinger had publicly denounced that course. Beware of plans that have no author.
It was not easy wrestling facts from this alliance for deflection, but we finally learned that the contract is for $127,000, and it was awarded to an enigmatic consulting firm known as ASCETA (see story on Page 7) without competitive bidding.
A final report is due in February, long after it might enlighten voters considering whether to return Eudaly to office. Even then, the report will be treated as confidential, and the information obtained remains the exclusive property of the consultant.
Eudaly and Suk Rhee, whom Eudaly appointed to head OCCL, have asked employees of the bureau to cooperate fully. “Your honest input is vital,” read their letter to staff, promising that their identities “will not be published in the final report.”
That is not the same as saying their bosses will be unable to learn who they are.
Half a dozen former OCCL employees have told me management has been ruthless toward dissenters, firing, demoting or driving them out through other means. In the words of the most senior of former managers, independent minds within the agency “needed to be destroyed.”
Yet these workers are to trust an assessment ordered and defined by the same authority figures who created their toxic work environment? The workers called for outside agencies to rescue them, but the responders work for their overlords.
We have all seen such scenes in the movies. How much imagination do we need to see how this turns out?
Fortunately, this happens to be one of those movies in which the audience can change the ending by choosing among various options. It’s called the vote.
Here’s my recommendation to audience participants: Save the workers, save the agency and put the culprits out on the street. Make sure Chloe Eudaly has had her last starring role.