Investigation finds that Assistant City Manager violated city policies
on March 13, 2013
The results of an investigation into allegations against Richmond’s Assistant City Manager Leslie Knight showed that she had violated several city staff policies, according to a statement released on Friday by the office of the city manager.
The summarized findings from the investigation conducted by the Van Dermyden Allison Law Corporation concluded that Knight had used a city vehicle while taking in a monthly car allowance that was supposed to pay for her to use her own car while conducting city business. The investigation also concluded that she had used city staff and equipment for purposes other than city duties, and that she had used city employees, equipment, storage, and the city hall address to “create free gift items—morale boosters—for City employees.” The two-page report said the items came from Knight’s “jewelry and gift business” and that Knight did not receive “any financial gain from this practice.”
The investigation also concluded that she had directed a city employee to access the email account of the employee who brought the complaint against her.
But according to the city’s summary, the investigation did not support previous claims that Knight had used surveillance cameras to spy on that employee, nor that she had violated the city’s harassment policies nor encouraged a subordinate to retaliate against her accuser.
“There was enough information provided as a result of this very thorough investigation that I believe it to be appropriate to take administrative action to correct the situation,” City Manager Bill Lindsay wrote in the release. “However, the problems did not merit termination of any employee.”
The investigation stemmed from a 59-page complaint last August by Stacie Plummer, the city’s finance manager for the library and cultural services department. In Plummer’s complaint, she stated that Knight had been receiving a monthly allowance of $450 to “drive her car for city business” while also using a car from the city. Plummer alleged that this had gone on for more than seven years.
Plummer also alleged that Knight had used the work of five human resource employees, during city hours, to benefit her own business, and that Knight had retaliated against Plummer by changing her position, transferring her to a different department and denying promotion requests by Plummer’s superiors after she “refused to do work, creating marketing materials for Ms. Knight’s jewelry business.”
In response, the city announced in December that it was hiring the Van Dermyden law firm, based in Sacramento, to look into the matter. The group’s shareholder, Sue Ann Van Dermyden, completed the investigation, which cost the city $30,000.
Knight’s attorney, Thomas F. Bertrand of the Bertrand, Fox and Elliot law firm, released a statement in response to the findings. “We are pleased that the City’s independent investigation has now been completed and that the bulk of the numerous allegations made against Ms. Knight have not been sustained,” Bertrand wrote. “To the extent that any such allegation was sustained against Ms. Knight, she acknowledges that she did make certain mistakes, she has apologized for them and she will take corrective action. The City and Ms. Knight look forward to continuing to do what she does best—serving the residents of the City of Richmond.”
Knight declined to comment further, citing her attorney’s statement.
In the city’s Friday release, Lindsay cited “employee privacy restrictions,” which do not allow the city to release the report from the investigation or to acknowledge if any disciplinary action has been taken as a result of it. When contacted by phone on Tuesday, he said, “I can’t go much further than I did in the press release.”
When asked when the investigation was completed, Lindsay said that the results were submitted to the city attorney’s office “several weeks ago.” But before the results were released, Lindsay said, Sue Ann Van Dermyden met with city attorney’s office staff.
Plummer called the limited amount of information released in the city’s summary of the investigation “frustrating.”
“All I really have is in the press release,” she said when asked to comment on the results of the investigation. “It is ambiguous on some things, but doesn’t provide information on other things.” For example, Plummer said that the release stated that Knight “did not abuse her power or apply rules unequally,” when in fact she felt the results of the investigation showed otherwise.
“I think that people will feel the outrage that I have always felt, because that is taxpayer money,” said Plummer, who said she is hoping the county’s District Attorney’s Office and the FBI will look further into the matter, now that the city’s investigation is complete. “The city policy is one thing, but state law violations are something else.”
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What’s really relevant here is that she is a human resources director. It is her job to police this kind of activity in employees, and she’s a role model for every single city employee. A mild slap on the wrist, let us all go about our happy ways serving the people, isn’t nearly enough given her position of leadership in human resources. She abused this leadership which brings into question her entire ability to fill this position. It would anywhere, in any city or private company. Not a Richmond employee. So no sour grapes.
I agree that this person, in her current position, is a role model for professional and ethical behavior. However we can’t assume any disciplinary action was a “slap on the wrist.” I work for a public agency, supervising other empolyees, and there are good reasons for keeping disciplinary action confidential. Just because we don’t know what the punishment was doesn’t mean it wasn’t just.
Collecting an allowance for her car while using a city vehicle is theft…Thiefs are fired and prosecuted…or is that only if they are not working for the City??!!
Dear Mr. Lindsay,
As a Richmond activist I’ve watched you transform Richmond from a corrupt, dangerous, and nearly bankrupt City to one that residents can take pride in. In my opinion, your eight years as City Manager have been nothing short of spectacular. You have changed the City staff, brought in an excellent Police Chief and maintained a responsible City budget. Today, however, I’m very concerned about your decision to retain the Manager of Human Resources, Ms. Leslie Knight, on the City payroll despite the fact that she has misappropriated City funds. Condoning such behavior is a return to the way things were done in Richmond before you took the helm. Ms. Knight is an at-will employee and she needs to resign or be fired. Although loyalty to one’s subordinates is laudable, it should never be extended to a subordinate who has violated your trust, the trust of her subordinates, and, most importantly, the trust of the residents who are paying her salary.
Aside from her theft of public funds, Ms. Knight is also an abusive and vindictive manager. On April 27, 1995 a Richmond Housing Authority employee walked into his supervisor’s office and shot and killed the supervisor and her secretary. Based on statements of the murdered supervisor’s subordinates she had a history of being abusive and out of control. Had there been some oversight of this supervisor’s behavior two people might be alive today. What have we learned from this shocking episode if we have the Human Resources Manager behaving in a similar manner yet maintaining her position?
The first mistake made in this debacle was to allow Ms. Knight to continue working after the charges had been filed. Standard procedure is to place individuals facing serious allegations on paid administrative leave. This is to prevent the individual from tampering with records, or other types of evidence, as well as intimidating witnesses and/or prepping individuals who might be interviewed. This is particularly important when the accused has a history of abusing subordinates.
A second mistake would be to allow Ms. Knight to keep her job after being found guilty of misappropriation of City funds. Such an offense should be grounds for termination for any employee, without exception. City staff, Union members and the community at large are all watching this case very closely. How could creating a double standard be in anyone’s best interest?
We have banks that are too big to fail, bankers that are too big to jail. Is Ms. Knight too big to fire or be forced to retire?
Charles T. Smith
561 Dimm St.
Friends of Richmond & Justice,
On Tuesday night there will be a press conference & demonstration starting at 5pm before the Richmond City Council meeting. We demand Ms. Knight be fired. For many of us who have fought for a change in Richmond politics this should be a major event. We cannot allow the City Council and City Staff to backslide into the corruption we all fought so hard to rid Richmond of. It is unthinkable that a manager who deliberately schemed to misappropriate City funds and used and abused her subordinates should be allowed to keep her job. We fought to tax Chevron and demand a healthy environment, we stopped a casino and we fought against corruption in City Hall. Now we must defend our victories. PLEASE come to the Tuesday night Council Meeting and speak to this issue during Public Forum. We must not allow a blatant crime to be whitewashed. If this crime is allowed to go unpunished it will once again be open house to more chicanery at City Hall.
Please forward this on to all concerned residents, friends, Union members, activist and believers in justice.
Thnks very much, Charles, for your detailed comments and the information about about the Tuesday night Council Meeting. I very, very much agree that this is a slippery slope kind of situation and that the City Manager has a signficant moral obligaton to take full punitivie action in this case. Modeling the behavior the citizens of Richmond expect and deserve is of the utmost importance.
I have a question… Whether, Ms Knight is retained or not, shouldn’t she be required to repay the months that she collected the auto allowance? And, what about the $30,000 charge for the investigation? If sure there is a City Paid Pension also involved… If it is thief, then repayments are in order… Greg A…
Good questions. The City Manager, Bill Lindsay, claims she will pay back the misappropriated funds. As for investigation fees, who knows? As for the retirement benefit, there was a new law that went into affect on Jan. 1. As it reads it looks like her pension will basically be in tact. Here is the new law: Constitutional Amendment authorizes the legislature to provide for the forfeiture of all or part of the benefits from a public retirement system, plan, or fund in this state by any public servant who is convicted of a felony associated with and committed during his public service or employment. Further provides that the legislature may provide for the application of all or part of any forfeited retirement benefits to the unfunded accrued liability of the system, plan or fund.
The Constitutional Amendment provides that the forfeiture of public retirement benefits shall apply only to persons employed, re-employed, or elected on or after January 1, 2013 and only to retirement benefits earned on or after January 1, 2013.
Charles Smith has sent out a number of emails delineating his own thoughts on this matter including one to City Manager Bill Lindsay.
As the City Manager, he may not feel it appropriate to comment here and I may be stepping out on a limb but I’d like to reprint his response to Charles. I have to assume that when a response is sent out via email and no effort is made to request confidentiality, that there’s an assumption that it will be shared. I hope I have not overstepped my bounds here.
I’m not voicing my own opinions here but I believe it’s important for the people to hear both sides on issues.
Thank you for your e-mail. I appreciate your taking the time to thoughtfully address this issue.
As I have publically reported, the independent investigator retained by the City found that Ms. Knight violated City policies, including using a City vehicle during a period of time when she was also receiving an auto allowance. As I have also stated, I do not condone such behavior, and the violation warrants disciplinary action. The specific nature of this disciplinary action is a personnel matter that I cannot disclose based on the law. I understand that, from what I have reported and potentially from other sources, you believe that Ms. Knight should be terminated from employment. I have reviewed the complete investigation into the matter, including facts that cannot be disclosed under the law, and I will form my decisions based on this complete set of facts.
Your second paragraph is both troubling and unrelated to the investigation that was recently completed. You write that, “Ms. Knight is also an abusive and vindictive manager” as if it is a statement of fact. As the Human Resources Director, Ms. Knight needs to fairly administer an esoteric personnel system that often leaves employees and supervisors frustrated and puzzled. This is neither abusive nor vindictive. In fact, rigorous administration of this personnel system, while frustrating at times, has contributed to maintaining a responsible budget, an activity that is praised in your email.
You state that “standard procedure is to place individuals facing serious allegations on paid administrative leave.” This is simply not the case in my experience. I have once before placed a supervisory employee on administrative leave during an investigation regarding misconduct and, because of the nature of the charges, I felt, at the time, that it was warranted. (It turned out that the employee was completely exonerated.) However, placing an employee on administrative leave during an investigation is not the typical practice. We would do this in the case where there is, perhaps, an escalating disagreement between a supervisor and an employee, or where there might be a threat of workplace violence, or where the mere presence in the workplace of an employee being investigated is disruptive or contrary to good public service. It is done often (but not always) in cases involving police officer misconduct where public safety might be called into question.
In this case, the investigation proceeded for several months. During that time, there was no evidence that Ms. Knight was unable to perform her duties as the Human Resources Director as the investigation was proceeding. There was also no evidence that her presence in the work place in any way impeded the investigation nor has it, to my knowledge, even provided the perception that the investigation was impeded. In short, there was no reason to place her on administrative leave, other than perhaps a presumption of guilt that should not have been prejudged. The fact that it is a “high profile” case is not, in my mind, a valid reason.
I understand that City staff, union members and the community at large are all watching this case very closely. All I can say is that, from the point of view of fairness, each case must be evaluated on its own set of facts.
Thank you again for your e-mail, and for your ongoing interest in the Richmond community.
Aside from Lislie’s silly gifts, my initial impression of all this is a political witch hunt led by union hacks. To me, Bill demonstrated fairness and courage by following the recommendations of the report. I never talked to Bill, but I hope he stands against this vindictive lynching.
Perhaps Ms. Knight can have a charity auction and give the proceeds to Men and Women of Valor or Booze’s election campaign. By the way, where can I see one of these trinkets. Maybe part of the settlement would be a free trinket and ride in a city car driven by Booze to the South Side to inspect pot holes.
[…] a public statement Lindsay released in March, he listed the policies Knight had violated, according to the […]