Saturday, July 13, 2013

Arab Spring in Dona Ana County ?

    The Granados verdict and the County Commissioners' sensible decision to initiate an outside investigation have had quite an affect on morale over at that big building on Motel Boulevard.

    Wednesday, one hears, "you could hear a pin drop" around some of the county's top administrators, but other county employees and former employees were trembling with hope that they would finally be able to speak to someone of things they'd seen or experienced or been made to do that seemed very wrong to them.

    Later another employee said the place was "imploding."   I was told that people who want very much to be interviewed by the investigator were not "on the list."  They knew or believed that John Caldwell put together "the list" and were described as "irate.  Employees are flooding the Commissioners.  Time for change."

    Another former employee wrote of two former employees I've talked with, "They both have so much information, and so much hurt.  I know so many people who have truly suffered from the management style of the County. . . . I was one of the lucky ones.  The damage was only to my ego, . . . but I never thought of myself as 'lucky' while it was going on.
    "What is needed is far more than another audit or investigation.  What is really needed is something like the Truth and Reconciliation hearings following Apartheid.  I know, a tad dramatic, but truth telling and consequences would be a grand thing."

    Two citizens with extensive experience of the county government and governments elsewhere wrote, respectively, "I find myself overwhelmed by outrage" and "I'm going to forward them your column with a note that says "What the fuck?"

    The last call of the evening is a young woman who, after asking if I'm Peter Goodman, says, "My name is ____ and I work for the County, and I just wanted to thank you . . ." before breaking down in tears.  After a wait, we talk a bit.  Working for the county has been "hell" though she works hard at her job.  She is angry that she isn't on "the list" to be interviewed by the investigator -- and the people who are on the list either are managers or have nothing to do with the problems being investigated.  I tell her that that may not be entirely John Caldwell's fault, because the Commissioners apparently said they wanted to start out by interviewing managers and directors.  She apologizes for bothering me, and I tell her it ain't a bother -- that although I'm doing what I'm doing because I want to, after working on this stuff and having my wife put up with me spending so much time on it, hearing from folks like her is wonderful.  She says to thank my wife.
    As I hang up I realize I shoulda said, "It ain't me, babe."  I should have said to thank Jorge Granados, not me.  Thank his lawyers, for persevering in his case, despite all the hassles and uncertainties and unpleasantness of litigation.  Jorge'll get well paid, and so will they, so I'm not nominating them for sainthood; but they stuck it out and prevailed against vigorous opposition, and made a significant change in the mood of the county's work-force.  And helped the commissioners recognize that certain alleged problems were real and serious.  They deserve credit.

    By Thursday or Friday some of the people who weren't on the list were calling the investigator, Glenn Thomas, President and Owner of Universal Investigations.  He was talking to them, and reaching out to at least some of the ex-employees they recommended he talk to.  While some expressed concern that the investigation might report whistle-blowers to John Caldwell or be a whitewash, others either had faith or just didn't care anymore.
    One asked me whether I thought she should talk to him.  I couldn't say.  I guess I'd advise former employees to talk with him about what they know personally, but be very cautious about identifying current employees with pertinent information.  Current employees? Follow your conscience.  I mean none of this as a negative about Mr. Thomas,.  I haven't spoken with him.  He's an experienced investigator who was a cop for nearly a quarter-century.  If he's serious about his reassurances that he'll report only to the Commission, I'm glad he's talking to some of the folks he should talk to.
    He has a chance to do some real good.

    Someone needs to gather the facts and someone needs to judge what to do about them.
    And we need to recognize how astonishing it is that so many people are talking.
    A County Commissioner and an employee testified in Granados or have said separately that they were retaliated against for testifying in the Ramirez case.  Other employees testified in Granados to a fear of retaliation if they testified in a way the management didn't like.  According to many, a woman in HSS was fired on a pretext after she complained about a male employee's sexual harassment of a female employee -- and then the male employee was fired some time afterward when there was a second such incident.  Milton Duran, the auditor, testified that they retaliated against three young ladies who cooperated with him, telling him the truth in an audit that made serious findings against the HSS Director.   There are accounts of people being intimidated not to testify in termination hearings or discouraged from testifying the way they want to.  People who know some of the witnesses in Granados who testified more favorably toward the County express sadness and disappointment, saying that some of those witnesses had recalled things somewhat differently before the trial.  (There are other points I won't get into because they point too clearly to specific people still working for the County.)
    I'm not the judge.  I don't know the truth.  I'm not a witness with first-hand knowledge.   I do know that I've never worked anywhere where so many people said such serious, specific, and negative things about their bosses.  When that suddenly happened in a particular department in the law firm, the supervisor got away with things for months or a year, but was eventually canned.  (I did see such universal and serious criticism of the president of a one company we litigated against in a few cases, and having interviewed ex-employees who'd suffered under him made working on those cases against him even more pleasurable for me.  Juries didn't like him much, either -- a lesson decision-makers might consider with regard to the next several cases coming up against the county.)

    Anyway, at times this week the mood people were describing or exemplifying did remind me of the Arab Spring.  A flood of sudden spirit, overcoming old and well-grounded fears, and somehow forcing change.  Some leaders were sent packing.   Some positive changes occurred.  On the other hand, it didn't work out so well for everybody.

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