Personal, political interests should have no bearing on personnel issues
February 9, 2003
The manner in which Mayor Judy Anderson directs her administration to handle hiring, firing and personnel issues for the City of Terre Haute is a curious study in hypocrisy.
Take these two high-profile cases for example:
When Matt Anderson, an employee of the Terre Haute Sanitary District, was discovered doing private contracting work for the city on his own time, he was given a reprimand. Conflict of interest laws forbid such activities unless a proper disclosure process is followed. In fact, such actions could possibly result in a criminal charge of conflict of interest, a class-D felony under state law.
The matter, per the mayor's instructions, was handled in-house without discussion by the Sanitary District board of commissioners.
Anderson explained herself this way: "First of all, regardless of who the person is, you try to take care of things in-house, whether it's clean laundry or dirt laundry."
Because of the potential ramifications of the situation and seriousness of the issues involved, City Attorney Lynn Francis and City Engineer Pat Goodwin had urged the mayor to allow them to conduct a more formal review.
The mayor disagreed and ordered no formal meeting of commissioners be conducted. She explained it is the policy of her administration to follow the process of progressive discipline when dealing with personnel issues. She saw no need for a formal discussion between commissioners and supervisors, because firing the employee was not a viable option under the circumstances.
In stark contrast, when veteran firefighter George Monninger ran afoul of department policies, he encountered much different and harsher treatment from his supervisors.
Monninger's infraction? He signed another firefighter's name to a routine fire report so that the other firefighter could leave the station early to pick up his children. When questioned by his supervisors, he acknowledged what he did and why he did it.
Despite the fact Monninger had a sterling work record, the department's brass began formal disciplinary proceedings against him in which they proposed that he be fired. They brought the case to the Board of Public Works and Safety for hearings.
Because of the aggressive manner in which the department was pursuing him, Monninger was forced to hire an attorney to represent his interests during the public hearings. His fellow firefighters were so concerned about the way he was being treated that they voted through their union to help him pay his attorney fees.
Although the city initially sought to fire Monninger, public outcry probably saved his job. The Board of Works voted to demote Monninger from his captain's position, a move that cost him in salary but sustained his employment.
Why was Matt Anderson's case, which constituted a possible violation of state law, handled quietly with a slap on the wrist while Monninger, whose offense was a harmless violation of department policy, was threatened with firing and eventually demoted?
Why was Matt Anderson handled under the approach of "progressive discipline" while Monninger, who had an outstanding 30-year work record, was not?
Matt Anderson is the son of Mayor Judy Anderson. His hiring in 2001 constituted preferential treatment. Eighteen others applied for the job he received.
Monninger, on the other hand, publicly supported Mayor Anderson's opponent in the last city primary election.
Does the handling of these two cases signal inconsistencies in the treatment of employees? We think so.
Does it suggest that this administration is driven more by political and personal considerations than by principle or pursuing a positive vision for the city's future? The question is certainly a legitimate one.
The people of Terre Haute have a right to expect the city's elected officeholders to operate an administration on the fundamental practices of good government, which relies on officials who first and foremost serve the people's interests, not personal or political interests.
The mayor sees nothing wrong with her approach to running city government. She says that's just the way politics works in this city.
We reject that attitude. The people of Terre Haute can, and should, demand more from their mayor and their city government.