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Whistleblower fired after city discrimination complaint

Daytona Times

 

 

City worker fired after discrimination claims

Filed under DAYTONA BEACH, LEAD STORIES, NEWS

Terminated Public Works manager says panel that interviewed Huger was ‘tainted’

BY PENNY DICKERSON
DAYTONA TIMES

In a sign of continuing turmoil inside Daytona Beach City Hall, one high-level administrator quit and another was fired in the wake of recent Daytona Times reports detailing complaints of lack of employment diversity in the city’s top management.

151119_dt_front01Deputy Public Works Director Steven Richart unexpectedly resigned last week, a day after the Daytona Times publicly revealed the existence of a memorandum in which Richart recommended that longtime city employee Thomas Huger be promoted. City Manager James Chisholm rejected Richart’s recommendation and Huger subsequently filed a formal Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claim alleging racial and age discrimination.

Within 24 hours of Richart’s resignation Chisholm fired Public Works administrative coordinator Sandra Wiles. Wiles was on the committee that evaluated candidates for the deputy public works director position for which Huger applied. Last week, Wiles sent an emailed copy of Richart’s memo supporting Huger’s promotion to other city employees.

Cynthia Slater, president of the local NAACP, addressed the Daytona Beach commission again Wednesday night about the city’s hiring and promotional practices.(DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

Employee advocate
In an exclusive interview with the Daytona Times, Wiles expressed this week why she believes she was terminated on Nov. 14 from the City of Daytona Beach, where she had been employed for nearly 24 years. Wiles was hired in 1992 and held several positions, including special projects coordinator from 2009 to 2014. Since March 2014, she has served as the Public Works administrative coordinator, a senior management level position. She supervised a staff of five, including senior account clerks and office specialists.

Wiles said she was terminated after her attorney, Kelly Chanfrau, filed discrimination and retaliation complaints with the federal EEOC on her behalf on Nov. 5. The termination also occurred after Wiles testified in Thomas Huger’s age and race discrimination case and while Wiles was on a doctor-approved leave under the family and medical leave act (FMLA). Wiles also claims her First Amendment right to freedom of speech has been violated.

“When employees are not promoted from within, the city interviews outside candidates. … “They are hired at high salaries and receive pay increases for additional duties while other employees are told their job description includes additional duties with no increase in pay. Most of them have previously vested with other agencies and receive multiple retirements and now a check from Daytona Beach. The morale for promotional opportunities within seems to be at an all-time low in my opinion,” Wiles added.

Chosen for hiring panel
During her tenure, Wiles was selected to serve on the hiring panel, which ultimately selected the deputy Public Works director. The panel consisted of Steven Richart; Gary Shimun, deputy city manager; Frank Van Pelt, technical services director, and Mike Garrett, director of permits and licenses.

“I was heavily relied upon for administrative decisions that were made in Public Works and had a good overall knowledge of the department, and the city,” Wiles told the Daytona Times.

“The new director had only been in his position since March. In hindsight, I think Mr. Richart thought I was going to go along with the rest of the panel and the request that Gary Shimun issued to us all that the city manager did not want Mr. Huger selected as the deputy Public Works director. In good faith, I could not do that; I wanted to be fair to all candidates,” Wiles explained.

Voted for Huger
Wiles said she has worked “extremely hard’’ over the years in many different city capacities and has taken on various different assignments and made them successful. She too feels discriminated against as a female and further questioned the integrity of the hiring panel she was selected to serve on. Specifically, Wiles felt the process was biased.

“I was disheartened when the panel was told that by Mr. Shimun because having an interview panel seemed to be a chance for an unbiased selection. Once that statement was made, while having both of my supervisors present and other division heads, I wondered how I or anyone else could vote their own free will,” said Wiles.

“After the interviews, both Richart and Shimun selected David Waller and the  panel voted the same. For approximately three hours, I represented Mr. Huger’s accomplishments, credentials, and education to the panel. I stressed to the panel that as a candidate, he by far exceeded the resume of David Waller and that Mr. Huger should be given employee preference and also hiring preference for living in the City of Daytona Beach.  Mr. Huger served in the Marine Corps as did his father (James Huger), and that his family is of great cultural importance to the area, and first and foremost, he is the most qualified for the job,’’ Wiles added.

Waller was previously the Public Works operations manager for the City of Oviedo.

Huger was tied
The Daytona Times previous reported that Assistant City Manager Betty Goodman and Human Resources Director James Sexton conducted thorough internal reviews of Huger’s claim regarding the hiring panel and outcome for the position of deputy Public Works director.

“Nothing in our investigation even remotely suggests that the panel considered race and/or age during the hiring process. Four members of the hiring panel had Mr. Waller as their number one pick and had you (Huger) as their number two pick.” stated Goodman.

“One member stated that you and Mr. Waller were tied for their number one pick and further did not object to the panel’s consensus to offer the position to Mr. Waller. This hiring panel operated identically to the hiring panels that you sat on when filing other key positions within the department,” added Goodman.

Wiles reports a different scenario that could have affected the outcome.

“I told the panel to just take me out of the equation and cancel my vote out. They insisted that I vote, so to try to keep a balance with my supervisors and keep my job, but yet try to do the right thing,” said Wiles, who further stated that both candidates were tied and instructed the panel to cancel her vote.

Wiles said she later told Goodman and Sexton that “the panel was given the directive’’ during Huger’s race and age discrimination investigation.

“The city has been trying to hire David Waller for some time now and Steven Richart accomplished that in lieu of already having a far more qualified candidate and employee on staff,” Wiles said, referring to Huger.

‘Culture of cronyism’
Prior employers who have filed EEOC complaints against the city have stated that fear of retaliation was a factor in their decision to come forward.

“I would like to help other employees at the city who are too afraid to speak up and to expose a culture of cronyism, racial and gender discrimination, and retaliation.  I would like to help in creating an atmosphere of transparency within the city government,’’ said Wiles about her decision to speak out.

“I don’t feel there is a procedure in place for employees who have complaints for fear of retaliation.

My case and Thomas Huger’s cases are the classic examples.  Our concerns were taken in and then minimized or persuasively worded to be petty or false, and certain pieces of information and facts ignored,” Wiles added.

Black leaders gone
Diversity within the employment ranks of the City of Daytona Beach has remained an ongoing yet unaddressed issue. The Daytona Times first reported the allegations of  internal racial disparity on Sept. 24 and has continued to illuminate the city’s alleged racial disparity through a succession of reports.

Two African-American employees filed official EEOC complaints against the city, which stimulated an outcry among local residents. In response, the local Volusia County-Daytona NAACP chapter called for the city to launch a full review of minority employees, including hiring practices.

Currently, Whites fill almost 80 percent of the available jobs at the fire department. There are 14 African-Americans employed, three Hispanic/Latinos, and a single American Indian/Native Alaskan works as a driver engineer.

A litany of African-Americans in Daytona Beach administrative leadership have also resigned, retired or been fired since the appointment of Chisholm, including Ricardo Kisner, finance director; Cheryl Harrison-Lee, Development Services director; Dwayne Murray, the city’s first Black fire chief; James Benderson, planner; and Etienne Seales, records manager.

Stoney’s EEOC complaint
Lt. Larry Stoney’s EEOC complaint against the fire department stated the city was not adhering to its own policy with regard to posting positions, promotions and hiring.

An African-American, Stoney believes he was denied a promotion to fire chief based on his race and internal discord.

Huger heats it up
In a complaint dated Oct. 7, Thomas Huger – the 63-year old son of Daytona Beach’s first Black city commissioner, James Huger, charged the city with race and age discrimination after being passed over for a job as the deputy public works director.

“I am a 63-year-old Black individual. I have been employed with the City of Daytona Beach since 2006 and most recently held the title of Facilities Construction & Maintenance Manager. During my tenure, I have never had any performance problems and received favorable evaluations,” said Huger in his written complaint.

“In July 2015, I applied for the position of Deputy Public Works Director. I was the most qualified and received an interview. However, I was not selected for the position. On July 29, 2015, I was advised that a younger less qualified white individual (David Waller/White) was selected,” added Huger.

NAACP response
Cynthia Slater, president of the local NAACP remains a vocal presence at city commission meetings.

Slater has offered public comments at both the Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 gatherings and each time, informed the commission of the following:

“Our organization has been bombarded with complaints from employees from the City of Daytona Beach throughout the years and our legal redress committee has held meetings with the city manager and his administrators with very unsettling outcomes,” said Slater.

“Therefore, it is with this great sense of responsibility that the organization speak out to what we believe are unfair practices in hiring and promotions within the city,” added Slater, who further called for a full review of minority employees including hiring practices, terminations, promotions and the like be investigated by the commission.

Reed presses commission
The Daytona Times reached out via email to Mayor Derrick Henry and each commissioner to garner a response to Slater’s request. Commissioner Reed was the only one who has responded.

“Our staff needs to resemble the city that we serve and these comments imply that there is an underserved representative of race and gender,” Reed has stated.

“As a manager, the commission oversees the management of maximum efficiencies for operations.

It is our responsibility to not take these concerns lightly,” she added.

At a recent meeting, the Zone 6 commissioner suggested that the city contract an outside evaluator to conduct an external equity analysis to assess internal complaints, hiring practices and procedures of current employees and applicants over the past 24 months to ensure that no bias in the process has taken place.

“This would include demographics of all employees including salaries, statistics, and data regarding our applicant pool including who all applied, internal applicants and external applicants, current Human Resource expense data related to hiring,” said Reed who further believes the city needs to establish a policy dialogue with employees.

Turn of events
Consistent with her leadership style, Slater again addressed the commission at the Nov. 18 meeting where she thanked Reed and Mayor Henry for bringing the NAACP’s concerns to the forefront.

“Our goal is to make sure that the City of Daytona Beach is transparent in their employment practices and that the ‘good old boy” system is over,’ ” said Slater.

“The commissioners don’t work or answer to the city manager; the city manager answers to the commissioners, who in turn answers to their constituents. This, he needs to realize.’’

Slater cited a turn of events since the commission’s last meeting, including the resignation of  Reinhardt. She additionally cited the termination of Wiles by Chisholm.

“Ms. Wiles is a White female who I believe was terminated as a means for retaliation. It goes without saying that if you are not a “good old boy” at City Hall, the city manager is doomed to demote or terminate you,” said Slater.

“This is the exact reason why employees are afraid to speak out and why we believe that they are working in a hostile environment. It is my belief that the NAACP and employees of the city who are not afraid to speak out have pulled the scab off of an old wound that has been festering for a long time,” Slater added.

Daytona Times Senior Editor Jenise Griffin Morgan contributed to this report.

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