Cleveland councilman raps Health Department shakeup, saying people should have been fired

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland Councilman Basheer Jones on Monday criticized Mayor Frank Jackson’s shakeup of the Department of Public Health leadership for not going far enough, saying that people should have been fired.

Jones, speaking during a meeting of council’s Health and Human Services, accused the administration of failing to address the feelings of workers considering an investigation found “employees of all races and ethnicities were treated unfairly” because of unskillful supervision.

“The people who have possibly committed these atrocious acts are still working for the city. It’s not like they’ve been fired,” Jones said. “We just shuffled the Health Department. … You didn’t remove anybody. You just put them in different positions. That’s ridiculous.”

Jones, who in his first term has emerged as one of a handful of council members willing to criticize the administration, said the shakeup doesn’t show support for employees who were treated unfairly.

“It just feels like we don’t care,” Jones said. “What impact does that have on disgruntled employees who don’t feel protected? What impact does that have on city services?

“Do you think people are going to mow lawns and pick up trash with fervor and love for the city? Absolutely not,” Jones said. “We have to stand with our employees and when they feel discrimination, we have to stand by their side.”

Jackson announced last week that amid the worst health crisis in a century, he was acting to correct personnel problems in the Health Department that were identified in an investigation he ordered in July.

That investigation focused on:

  • Employee morale and culture.
  • Vacancies, hiring and attrition.
  • The loss $1.5 million in state funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, education and testing that failed to meet state requirements.
  • An EEO complaint filed by a Colombian-born employee.

The “top-down” restructuring included the reassignment of health Director Merle Gordon to a position outside the department and ordered pre-disciplinary hearings – part of an investigative process — for two top managers. Depending on the outcome of those investigations, those employees could face discipline, said Nycole West, Cleveland’s director of human resources.

Investigators also recommended professional development for employees, including sensitivity training for all employees and management training for supervisors.

The investigation did not find evidence that employees were mistreated in a discriminatory fashion based on race, ethnicity or gender. West told council members Monday that the investigation found no pattern of discrimination against any protected class. Rather employees of all races and ethnicities and age groups were treated unfairly.

The council committee hearing was set up after Jackson’s announcement. Members of the council were seeking assurances that the department’s services – including restaurant and food safety inspections, AIDS testing, tuberculosis testing, lead screening, immunizations and efforts to reduce infant mortality — would not suffer as a result of the shakeup.

“I don’t think that we can overstate the significance of this department. This is one of the bread-and-butter functions of municipal government,” Council President Kevin Kelley said. “This touches every Clevelander in some way, whether you eat in a restaurant, whether you know somebody who’s been affected by infant mortality, all of the AIDS services — there’s just no way to state how significant this is.”

And while council members seemed satisfied that services will continue, Councilman Blaine Griffin pledged that more hearings will be held to keep an eye on the department.

“I just want the employees to know that we support this realignment, we support these changes, and we support the work that you do every day,” Griffin said. “We’re going to have regular meetings on this. We’re going to do either monthly or bi-monthly or quarterly … I haven’t decided yet. … But we’re going to have regular meetings just to discuss the department’s operations.”

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