City Manager considers change to grievance policy

Former HR Director's complaint in April has not been acted upon

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The City of Fort Stockton does not have a policy to handle a grievance or complaint from an employee unless it is tied to a disciplinary action.

The situation came to light through open records requests The Pioneer has filed as part of its ongoing reporting on the terminations of Human Resources Director Gail Lampier in April and Police Chief Ryan Skelton in June.

According to Lampier's attorney, Zollie Stakley, Lampier e-mailed a grievance letter to to the members of the city council, then-Assistant City Manager Shera Davis, and Mayor Chris Alexander, regarding an alleged incident the previous week with City Manager Frank Rodriguez.

In his response to The Pioneer's request for Lampier's letter, then-City Attorney Jesse Gonzales confirmed the existence of the letter and its e-mail recipients.

Gonzales, who is now the assistant city manager, also stated that the grievance has not been acted upon by the council, that Rodriguez has not read the grievance, and that it has not been placed in Rodriguez' file.

While the city has a detailed written policy for the handling of employee grievances that are received in response to a disciplinary action or termination, it does not have such guidelines for a grievance unrelated to disciplinary action.

“The City of Fort Stockton does not currently have a policy that pertains to a complaint or grievance filed by an employee against a superior that is not in response to a disciplinary action or termination,” City Secretary Delma Gonzalez stated in an Aug. 27 e-mail to The Pioneer. “The City is currently updating/revising its Personnel Policy Manual to implement measures related to newfound areas of concern that will be beneficial to the City and its personnel.”

Gonzalez followed up by stating that Rodriguez had a meeting with the city's human resources staff to discuss possible revisions on Friday, Aug. 23.

The Pioneer's records request sought Lampier's letter. The city has appealed the release of the letter to the state Attorney General's Office, which is common procedure for government entities that are asked for personnel documents. The Pioneer has a purported copy of Lampier's letter but has not been able to independently verify its authenticity. As such, it will not report the allegations it contains.

Lampier's letter was dated April 19. The Pioneer has been unable to confirm when the letter was received by city officials. It may have been April 19 – the Friday before Easter – or the morning of April 22 – the Monday after Easter. In either case, Lampier's attorney said that it was sent and received before she was terminated on April 22.

Lampier terminated

Lampier was terminated by Rodriguez during a regularly schedule weekly meeting. Rodriguez meets individually with each department head each Monday morning, and Lampier’s was the last of these meetings, according to a source who works for the city. The source, who was granted anonymity for this story, did not know what was discussed at the meeting, nor what prompted the termination. The source said city officials were aware of Lampier’s e-mail early on the morning of April 22

Sara Mata, who replaced Lampier in human resources, confirmed that April 22 was Lampier's final day as a city employee.

In his July 29 response to the open records request, Gonzales wrote:

“The information is not in City Manager Frank Rodriguez's personnel file and, as stated above, the City Council has not formally addressed and Mr. Rodriguez has not been afforded an opportunity to review and reply to the City Council, should they proceed with the grievance process.”

Gonzales has not responded to phone messages and e-mails seeking clarification on what is the “grievance process” he referenced.

In early August, Delma Gonzalez responded to an e-mail query regarding the city's policy for non-disciplinary related grievances with a single sentence: “According to H.R., the City is abiding by the current personnel policy.”

In a face-to-face meeting on Aug. 12, both Gonzalez and Rodriguez said the city lacked a policy to handle a grievance sent apart from a disciplinary action.

Rodriguez also reaffirmed that he was aware of the grievance but was unaware of its contents.

Ripple effect?

According to two sources – one who works in the city government and another with extensive knowledge of city operations – in the wake of Lampier's termination and the absence of action on her grievance, Skelton was reluctant to air a complaint related to leadership issues within the police department and the city's elected and appointed leadership.

Lampier had conducted a survey of police department staff. Her March 28 report listed Skelton as one of two “most liked” supervisors in the department. The survey also identified three supervisors as having been identified by all but two employees as being “hard to work around” due to their actions.

The survey was obtained from the city through an open records request by The Pioneer. Six police staff are named in the report, but the city redacted all of the names except for Skelton. The Pioneer has filed an appeal with the Attorney General's office for the names.

The sources, who were granted anonymity for this story, said Skelton was told by one council member to drop the matter. Skelton eventually sent a letter documenting his concern to Mata the first week of June. He was terminated by Rodriguez on June 19.

Officials respond

Davis, who resigned from the city June 4 a couple of weeks after being reassigned from assistant city manager to another role, declined to comment for this story.

Lampier declined comment on advice of her attorney. Skelton could not be reached.

The Pioneer contacted those who Gonzales indicated received Lampier's e-mail – Mayor Chris Alexander, and council members Pam Palileo, Mike Ureta, James Warnock, Ruben Falcon, and former council member Dino Ramirez Jr. – via e-mail on Aug. 16 with questions relating both specifically to Lampier's grievances and, in general, regarding the city's grievance policy. The Pioneer also contacted Paul Casias, who replaced Ramirez in May, Assistant City Manager Jesse Gonzales (who was then city attorney), and City Water Attorney Mark Harrall. Delma Gonzalez and Rodriguez were interviewed in person.

Palileo and Falcon declined comment citing it being a personnel matter. Alexander declined comment citing possible future litigation as reported by The Pioneer. Harrall said that he had no information concerning the questions. Casias responded that he was not on council at the time but did not respond to a followup e-mail asking if the current council was aware of the grievance or had discussed it.

Ureta, Warnock, and Gonzales did not respond to the e-mail.

Ramirez said that he received Lampier's e-mail, which arrived the day before what proved to be his final council meeting on April 23.

“I assumed that Chris (Alexander) would put it on the next meeting agenda,” Ramirez said, noting that would've been the May 14 meeting as the letter arrived too late to be added to the April 23 agenda.

Ramirez lost his council seat in the May 7 election. Ramirez also responded that he: read the grievance; did not discuss it with other members of the council, nor with the city attorney or water attorney; did not share the letter in any way with Rodriguez; did not seek an opinion from the Texas Municipal League; did not discuss it with Rodriguez; is not aware of the council considering any action regarding the matter.

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