HB2115 Passes the Government and Higher Education Committee

"Everything at the City of Phoenix is geared toward the employees," DiCiccio said.  "The taxpayers come last, always."  See Undisciplined Bureaucracy: Civil Service Job Protections Make Disciplining a Problem Government Employee Complicated, Costly and Time Consuming    

An extremely good bill, HB2115 passed its first Committee hearing on 1/28/2015: 6 in favor, 2 against, 1 absent.  It would have passed 7-2, because Rep. Justin Olson (LD25), who was absent, was one of the bill's Primary Sponsors.  But it has a long way to go to become law.

Please recall from my original articleRep. Warren Petersen (LD12) crafted this legislation as a deterrent, making public officials think twice before illegally spending thousands of taxpayer dollars, thinking they can walk away with lucrative taxpayer-paid benefits or severance pay.  After watching the committee hearing, including Phoenix Council member Sal DiCiccio's comments, it's clear that government employees enjoy far more "job protections and tolerance for bad behavior" than private sector employees.  

In the case of Stephen Banta, CEO of Valley Metro, following an investigation by The Republic, they reported that Banta was reimbursed with taxpayer funds for flying first-class, buying alcohol, staying in $600/night hotels, and eating in some of the most expensive restaurants in Portland, charging all of it to the taxpayers, while running Valley Metro. This included 44 round-trip airfares between Phoenix and Portland from February 2010 to July 2012 for Banta and his wife. The Republic also found that Banta was reimbursed for dinners that included guests who said they didn't attend those dinners.   

In spite of all this, Banta was awarded $265k in an annuity upon termination of employment.  

Democrat Lela Alston (LD24), who voted against the bill, commented:  "Maybe his contract should have read: 'You can't take your wife on vacations using public funds.'" Democrat Jonathan Larkin (LD30) agreed.

In another recent case, Arizona Attorney General's office spokeswoman Mia Garcia advised that  Michael Veit, a former high-ranking employee of Arizona’s Health Care Cost Containment System -- the state's Medicaid agency-- had been arrested on suspicion of defrauding the agency of at least $1.5 million.  He was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy, fraud, taking the identity of another, money laundering and trafficking in stolen property. He was recently fired, according to a statement from Gov. Doug Ducey's office.

Will Mr. Veit also receive lucrative taxpayer-paid termination benefits?

Another case.  "Proof of stolen cash from town coffers has led to an uprising of people calling for the resignation of  Superior Mayor Jayme Valenzuela, who is also a commander with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office."  Town clerk Rachel Sanchez had discovered that a town debit card was used to make 4 cash withdrawals totaling $1300 for personal use, including at Wild Horse Pass Casino in Chandler.  Then, when the Town ordered a third-party audit by a private firm, it was discovered that Mayor Valenzuela used the town’s card eight times since 2012 to withdraw $2,300 for personal use. 

In the event that Mayor Valenzuela is forced to resign, will he, too, receive lucrative taxpayer-paid termination benefits?  

Democrat Lela Alston (LD24) balked at taking someone's pension away after a number of years of service, especially if their misappropriation was for a small infraction.  What if the employee's immediate supervisor simply didn't like the employee? Democrat Jonathan Larkin (LD30) agreed.  

Rep. Petersen responded, stating that the decision to hold back funds would be deliberated by a body, not by a single supervisor.  The bill is a deterrent, and the new law would be written into the employee's contract.  

Patrice Kraus, League of Arizona Cities and Towns expressed concerns about the public employee's "due process" rights.

Arizona's government workers enjoy unprecedented job protections.

Unlike the private sector, where most workers can be dismissed for almost any reason, government workers in Arizona are protected by state laws, personnel rules, appeals procedures, court precedents, and sometimes union contracts.  This costly and time-consuming process is all paid for by the taxpayer.  

Sal DiCiccio spoke in favor of HB2115, stating that all the money that is currently spent on protecting and accommodating government employees could instead be spent on services to the community.  He cited a 2010 Goldwater study. This study, Undisciplined Bureaucracy: Civil Service Job Protections Make Disciplining a Problem Government Employee Complicated, Costly and Time Consuming, covered a period of approximately 15 months and referenced hundreds of public records.  

Here are some excerpts.  As you read through these cases, it's important to remember that the taxpayers are not the only people who are hurt by these bad employees. The greed, arrogance, and power flouted by these individuals also hurts many good, hard-working, honest police officers, fire fighters, CPS workers, and teachers who do an excellent job day in and day out.  

A typical "chain of progression" in the City of Phoenix is:  1) written reprimand; 2) one-day suspension; 3) 3-day suspension; 4) 5-day suspension; 5) consideration of dismissal.  Even then, the city might offer a "last chance agreement."

To truly appreciate the absurdity of the barriers to firing a government worker in Arizona, regardless of how compelling the evidence or clear the cause, consider serial-killer Dale Hausner.   

This City of Phoenix employee continued to take advantage of an active appeal to the Phoenix Civil Service Board for three years, even after he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.  He was  "gunning down innocent victims" on valley streets while receiving mediocre performance reviews. 

As for the city’s effort to fire Dale Hausner, the case remained on the Civil Service Board’s agenda for so long because the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union refused to allow Hausner's appeal to be dismissed.  

Here are some more common examples cited in the Goldwater study:  

A Phoenix water quality inspector was given 4 years to correct behavioral problems, including incompetence, insubordination, damaging city property, falsifying city records, sleeping on the job, inappropriate conduct, poor attendance, and reporting to work under the influence of alcohol, amphetamines, and marijuana.   

AZ Dept of Environmental Quality tried for 6 years to dismiss an employee.  The Arizona Court of Appeals ordered him reinstated with full back pay and benefits.

A Dept of Corrections employee was reinstated, even after she pleaded guilty to a felony domestic violence charge for firing a gun at her husband.  After a lengthy appeals process, she was finally dismissed two years later.

Tucson Unified School District

The Tucson School District, Arizona’s second largest and the only district studied by the Goldwater Institute, did not fire anyone during the 15 months studied.  More than half of the cases resulted in written reprimands, even for teachers who showed a pattern of problem behavior. As a result, kids are often stuck in classrooms with teachers who are bullying, rude, or ineffective.  According to Shannon Roberts, director of employee relations at the Tucson school district, discipline is often slow in coming because of the contract with the teacher’s union, which spells out the appeals procedure that can drag out a case for months.

One middle school teacher had a history of ridiculing children in his class, both verbally and physically. He received a written reprimand in October 2009 for inappropriate racial comments to black and Hispanic students. He denied making some of the statements and said the others were taken out of context.  A month after receiving the written reprimand, the teacher received a two-day suspension for repeatedly teasing a girl in his class about her petite size, which is the result of a medical condition. The school principal called his behavior toward students “unprofessional, hurtful and/or inappropriate.” In March 2010, the same teacher was drawing new complaints that he ridiculed and embarrassed students in his class, and threatened them with a bad grade unless they allowed him to take their photographs. He projected the photos in front of the class and zoomed in on imperfections, such as scars, birthmarks, and acne. The teacher told one student she had cancer because she has freckles. A handwritten note from the girl said she was particularly frightened by the remark because her mother has cancer, and she fears it is hereditary

“The complaint also alleges that you took videos of ‘private parts’ of the students because ‘you could,’” the school principal wrote in the letter to the teacher. The teacher finally resigned in a separation agreement in April 2010.

Several teachers received written reprimands after complaints they allowed their classrooms to run wild. One of them, a middle school teacher, was disciplined after a student showed the principal a cell phone video which “revealed a classroom that was chaotic, disorganized and unsafe.” One student was openly vandalizing equipment. Another was hopping from table to table as other students were laughing, yelling, and roaming around the classroom. The teacher signed a separation agreement a month later.

 Of the eight suspensions, two teachers were sent home without pay for more than two weeks. One was suspended for 15 days because he showed up at a football game after spending the afternoon drinking beer. The other was suspended for almost three weeks for repeated instances of putting children in his elementary class on his lap, despite having been warned and reprimanded in the past for the same behavior

Another teacher with a history of insubordination, inappropriate remarks, and “extreme unprofessional conduct” filed separate grievances over two written reprimands she received. In the first action, the elementary school teacher was found to have botched a grading matrix, was unable to explain her teaching methods, drew numerous complaints from parents for rudeness and got into an aggressive argument with her supervisor.  The reprimand also indicated most of the kids in her class were failing to meet standards in math. “When over three-quarters of the class is receiving below ‘meeting the standard’ then it is a teacher problem, and not a student problem,” the disciplinary letter states. A second written reprimand was issued two months later because the teacher ridiculed a student and disclosed confidential information. The teacher again filed a grievance. District records did not say how either grievance was resolved.

"Zero" Tolerance? 

“Zero tolerance” policies against things like drug use, workplace violence, and sexual or racial harassment do not mean people who break those rules will lose their jobs

Here are a few cases

 Two Phoenix police officers initially dismissed for testing positive for steroid levels beyond what is allowed by the department under its “zero tolerance” policy for illegal drug use. One of the officers had a steroid level 90 times higher than what is permissible under agency standards.  The city’s Civil Service Board recently reinstated both after long suspensions without pay.

An equipment service worker at Sky Harbor Airport was finally terminated after threatening to beat up his supervisor. The worker made the threats two days before he was scheduled to appear in front of the Civil Service Board to appeal a five-day suspension for language and conduct deemed threatening and abusive to co-workers. By the time the man was dismissed, he had a long history of disciplinary problems that included insubordination, falsifying documents, and using threatening or abusive language against fellow employees.   He had also been sent four times for training on civil treatment guidelines for city employees.

A fire captain received a written reprimand in 2009 for punching a coworker in the face at a fire scene, a violation of the “zero tolerance” policy against workplace violence. 

A firefighter was suspended for only four days in December 2009 after he was found to be under the influence of illegal drugs, became involved in a standoff with police at his girlfriend’s home, and was found to have weapons in his locker, all violations of city policies that carry “zero tolerance” designations.

A police sergeant was finally terminated after subordinates complained about his use of language derogatory to Asians, Hispanics, blacks, and people with disabilities…. Before he was dismissed, the sergeant spent more than 1,500 hours on paid administrative leave while city officials investigated allegations of a hostile work environment reported by frontline officers. His conduct also resulted in a legal claim being filed against the city by an Asian police officer, which was settled for $86,000.

The city’s top public information officer was “demoted and suspended for 80 hours” after some of his subordinates complained that he routinely made offensive remarks to female subordinates about sexual self-gratification, as well as inappropriate statements about Jews, Mormons, and homosexuals. An investigative report by the city’s equal opportunity office concluded that prior supervisors had failed to document or deal with his inappropriate remarks in the past

A CPS worker was put on a “90-day notice that she would be fired if her performance did not improve.”  By then, the agency had documented instances where she had failed to have face-to-face meetings with children, parents, and caregivers, as required by policy. She also had been accused of unprofessional conduct by a family on her caseload, and had verbally confronted a supervisor in front of a child in the agency’s care. Most disturbing, she failed to respond to a report of sexual abuse of a child within 72 hours, as required by DES policyThe report was not investigated for almost four weeks, and then only after the worker was ordered to respond by a supervisor. The worker was terminated about two months after being put on notice because she still was not doing her job, according to agency records.   The board ended up ordering the woman reinstated because she was not given the full 90 days to improve. 

See Also:

Hausner gets 6 death sentences 

Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You

Support HB2115: No Payouts/Benefits for Public Officials Who Misappropriate Taxpayer Dollars!