The Truth behind the Admin Layoffs

As we have written and said before, this is neither personal nor political. It is simple truth that will not be revealed unless those who witnessed it stand up for what is right and tell it.

Section 2.72 of the Municipal Code requires Council adoption of personnel rules, and states in part, “High morale shall be maintained by fair administration of this chapter and by every consideration of the rights and interests of employees consistent with the best interests of the public and the city.”

Those personnel rules are codified in Chapter 2R.72 of the Municipal Code, and include the Council-adopted process for reduction in workforce, based on seniority and displacement rights.

One can only hope that it was Council’s ignorance of, rather than its complicity in, the flagrant disregard for those personnel rules that allowed Nakamura and his Executive Team to put personalities before positions during the July layoffs.

While there were examples of favoritism across City Hall, the most blatant and harmful to morale occurred in the reduction of the citywide administrative staff. The key to what happened lies in understanding the Administrative Analyst I and II positions.

The Administrative Services Director’s HR and Finance Analysts and the City Clerk’s Analyst were among some of the most junior in the citywide admin pool. Had the personnel reduction policies set forth in the Municipal Code been properly followed, all four of them would have been bumped. There were senior Analysts qualified to work in all of those positions. They simply weren’t the favored employees.

When layoffs first began to be discussed internally, Mr. Constantin stated openly in a staff meeting that he would be reclassifying his HR and Finance admin staff to protect them from bumping. Word spread quickly, since removing them from the bumping order would impact every single move within the admin layoffs.

On May 9, a memorandum went out from an HR Administrative Analyst II to the Confidentials unit proposing the “additional job descriptions” of Finance Analyst, Human Resources Assistant, Human Resources Analyst, and Sr. Human Resources Analyst and “separating [them] from the more general job titles of Administrative Assistant and Administrative Analyst.” Her title on the memorandum was HR/RM Analyst, not Administrative Analyst, which bears out the assertion that she was being protected. The attached job descriptions had minor changes specific to their work, but nothing of any substance. (2013-05-09_HR_Finance_Reclass)

When Mary spoke to her department head, Community Development Director Mark Wolfe, he was incensed. He stalked away saying, “They can’t do that. I’m going to go and talk to Chris.” Well, needless to say, someone shut him down and Mr. Constantin moved forward despite the personnel rules, with the City Clerk following closely behind.

On May 16, the law firm representing CEA, the employee group to which most of the administrative staff belong, wrote a letter to the City, which stated in part:

“I have received notice that the City Finance Director proposes to re-classify four Admin Analysts in a manner that would separate them from the Citywide pool of Admin Analysts, thereby removing them from being bumped by Admin Analysts in our unit…. If you take unilateral action to change the classification plan… you in essence change the already negotiated layoff procedure.”  (2013-05-16_CEA Letter to City)

That letter resulted in a meet and confer session with representatives of CEA, Mr. Orme, Mr. Constantin, and City Attorney Lori Barker. Staff’s concerns were discussed, without resolution, and CEA’s request for a seniority list was met with a claim that it had not yet been prepared, since the City was still trying to interpret the rules regarding bumping.

On May 29, during a follow-up CEA meeting, Mr. Constantin took the CEA representative aside and said that the reclassifications would be changed to “internal recruitments,” a move clearly intended to reduce pressure, but which only further inflamed an already angry staff. Everyone knew what the result of those “recruitments” would be.

The next day, staff received an email from Mr. Orme. He made several points, one of which was that “some in the organization… feel it necessary to create an environment less than pleasant” and asking that “anyone who is endeavoring to create rumors to stir the pot…to please stop. False information and speculation does nothing but create an environment of fear and frustration (and at worst, a hostile environment)…” Really? What did he expect, when the endgame was already being revealed bit by bit?

His email also stated “employees that may be impacted… will be informed by their department Director by the end of the work day tomorrow.” (2013-05-30_Orme)

The next day, a memo similar to the May 9 memo went out to all employee groups, still showing the title of HR/RM Analyst for the Admin Analyst II, further revising the job descriptions and adding new positions of Deputy City Clerk and Executive Assistant, both of which had starting salaries in excess of the Administrative Analyst II classification. This memo confirmed Mr. Constantin’s statement that “recruitments” would be held to fill the positions and noted that “While the employee groups have a right to comment on the proposed changes…. the city manager has the sole authority to modify the classification plan.” (2013-05-31_Proposed New Positions)

It was a flagrant end run around the Code, and employees citywide were disgusted to see it happening just days before layoff notices were scheduled to go out. Again, we all knew what the results of the recruitments would be, and it was shameful.

The official seniority list was provided to CEA on June 3 (2013 Seniority List_ORIGINAL), and then amended on June 4 (2013 ADMIN Seniority List_REVISED) to reflect a new development that would further alter the admin layoff order. Everyone was scrambling to understand what would happen, but as it turns out, the Executive Team wasn’t finished manipulating the system yet.

On June 5, the city manager sent a letter to CEA that included a list of employees being laid off, and these words: “Due to actions being taken in regard to both the restructuring of departments and the budget reductions, the number of positions within some job classifications are being reduced, a few positions are being reclassified, and the number of positions in a couple of classifications is being increased.” (2013-06-05_Nakamura letter to CEA)  Hmmm… there’s that reclassification word again.

On June 7, CEA wrote to Nakamura in response to his letter. It says, in part,

“Creating new job classifications during the current layoff process that are custom-tailored for existing junior staff members appears to circumvent the layoff and displacement rules under 2R.72.140 of the Chico Municipal Code, and may be in violation of Section 2R.72.070.A.

“Creating these new positions will result in the elimination of existing administrative positions that would otherwise be subject to displacement by employees… with seniority in the respective job classifications…

“There are members of the City Staff that have occupied the “new positions” being created… If they possess the skill set for which the ‘new classification’ is being created, and have more seniority than a member that is being moved to that position, then it seems only logical that they have a right to that position…”

The letter continues, “Layoff notices have been sent out, so the seniority and bumping rules are currently in play. With the new classifications having such narrowly tailored job descriptions… so as to heavily favor the incumbents in these positions, the net result will be… more senior employees in the administrative career ladder will end up being laid off… This situation makes a mockery of the concept of seniority and bumping rights as established in 2R72.140.F, is inconsistent with portions of the declared … personnel policy as codified in 2.72.020, and violates the basic concepts of fairness…

“We are very concerned… that the actions by the City in accomplishing this reclassification does not disenfranchise any of our members, who would then have grounds to file an Unfair Labor Charge against the City based on precipitous and aggressive actions… [that] seem absolutely timed to protect certain employees and discriminate against senior employees.” (2013-06-07_CEA_Letter to City Manager)

On the same day as the CEA letter, a memo from the HR Administrative Analyst (whose title had now been changed back from HR/RM Analyst) announced “In-House Recruitment Opportunities” for Deputy City Clerk and Finance Analyst. (2013-06-07_In-House Recruitments)

A separate memo from Mr. Orme announced similar recruitments for one HR Analyst and two Senior HR Analysts. (2013-06-07_Recruitment for HR Positions) That was a Friday evening, and on Monday, Mr. Orme emailed staff to revise the recruitment to eliminate the one Human Resources Analyst. (2013-06-10_ORME_Revised HR Recruitment) We have been told this was because of a City Attorney opinion that this one would not pass the smell test.

On the very same day, a new clerical chart was revealed that changed the number of Admin Assistant and Office Assistant positions. (2013-06-07_Original Clerical Chart)

Once Mr. Orme had rescinded the recruitment for HR Analyst, however, the chart would have resulted in Mr. Constantin’s Admin Assistant being bumped all the way out the door. But don’t worry, they figured out how to protect her later on…

So, the “internal recruitments” went forward, and although more senior staff who were qualified to hold the new positions applied, the incumbents all remained in their positions. Imagine that. None of the senior Admin Analysts retained their classification; they wound up demoted, with a pay cut.

On June 26, CEA was provided a revised clerical chart, increasing the number of Admin Assistant positions by exactly the number needed to protect Mr. Constantin’s employee. (2013-06-26_New Clerical Chart) Had they created one additional position, not a soul would have been bumped out the door. What a coincidence.

But perhaps the most galling incident of all occurred shortly after the layoffs took place. Mr. Constantin promoted his Admin Assistant to HR Analyst, with an accompanying pay raise, so that the least senior member of the entire citywide admin pool is now in a higher classification than one of the most senior Analysts, who had been bumped down two full classifications and took a 25% pay cut. Mr. Constantin surely has mastered the art of creating a hostile work environment.

While it is clear that none of this will undo the wrongs that have been done, perhaps bringing it into the light will prevent similar bad acts from occurring during the impending layoffs. And we certainly hope we do not see elimination of the additional Admin Assistant positions created to protect the new HR Analyst. That would be the Executive Team’s ultimate backhand to the rules set forth in the Municipal Code. As Councilmember Stone would say, “Disgusting.”

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Posted on October 1, 2013, in Miscellany, Truth vs Lies, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This is well written. I can not say I believe all is correct, however, laying off or bumping the lowest paid employees in the city is not taking care of the larger Financial Problem!

  2. This is great! You have laid it out exactly as it happened and made your point that it was handled in a very unfair and underhanded manner.

  3. Makes my blood boil to read all this. I’m too angry to even type coherently right now.

  4. This is just unbelievable. I understand the need for the city to reduce staff, but it looks like it was accomplished through very underhanded means and legalese to protect certain people at the expense of others. While rewriting job descriptions to favor less experienced but more favored employees is galling enough, the fact that they covered their own a$$es with an “internal recruitment” resulting in those favored employees retaining their positions and then getting promoted shortly thereafter is the height of “creating a hostile work environment”. I cannot see how this could do anything but further cripple the morale of city admin staff and foster distrust for the men and women whom the admin staff is charged with helping conduct city business.

    It seems the CM and his affiliates are creating a “you’re either bl##ing us or you’re on the chopping block” type of environment that is neither conducive to morale and efficiency nor moral or legal in any way. And if those favored employees knew how this all went down (and I’m pretty sure they do), then they have to know that it could be them one day. Even the “favored” employees must be aware that once they, too, fall from grace in the eyes of the CM, new rules and descriptions will be written and another sham “internal recruitment” will take place and they will be axed in favor of some 22-year-old intern fresh out of college (but not Chico State apparently) with little to no experience and motivated by a survival instinct to please upper management rather than a moral obligation to serve the citizens of Chico.

    I am so angry right now that it’s tough not to switch into “barracks English”, so forgive me if this reply seems long-winded. I have some choice words for the people responsible for this and for the cowards on the council that knowingly allowed it to take place. I rarely agree with unions, but in this case I wholeheartedly agree that this “violates the basic concepts of fairness”. Had I been the union guy writing that letter, I’m not sure I could have put to words this kind of abuse of power so delicately…

    My heart goes out to all staff — laid off and existing — for taking this kind of crap so gracefully. I know the remaining staff, already in fear of losing their livelihood, is under a lot of pressure right now. I don’t envy their survivor’s guilt. And to the families of those that didn’t meet the personality requirements of the new CM and his cronies, I share your disbelief, your grief, and your anger. I hope God or karma or whatever will take care of you for your sacrifice, and we all thank you for your loyal years of service to the community.

    Get the word out about what these former employees here at truthmatterschico.com are doing. This article exemplifies the dispassionate, thoughtful, logical, and evidence-based journalism those hacks at the ER can’t stop vomiting Kool-Aid long enough to write.

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