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Emails Show Covington Code Officers Quit Over Hostile Workplace

"I resign my position with the City of Covington, effective 5/23/2017," wrote code enforcement manager Thomas McDaniel in an email to city engineer and development manager Mike Yeager, copying interim city manager Loren Wolff. "Any documents sent out with my name after this date would be without my knowledge or permission."

McDaniel's email was sent to Yeager and Wolff at 6:40 a.m. on Tuesday, twelve minutes after a resignation email from code enforcement officer Rick Fox, at 6:28 a.m. He addressed his email to McDaniel and copied the Yeager and Wolff.

"After our conversation last week about my taking time off to travel and complaints of other code enforcement officers alleging that I'm increasing their work load, I've decided that my resignation is in the best interest of all involved."

SEE PREVIOUSLY: As 3 code enforcement officers quit, Covington seeks staffing analysis

Fox continued, "There has been somewhat of a hostile work environment in Code Enforcement for some time or at a minimum double standards of accountability. Some of us are held accountable for our actions, while others are not."

Fox apologized for the short notice of his resignation, which, like McDaniel's, was effective immediately, and said, "I do not want to be part of this caustic environment."

At 6:56 a.m., Yeager and Wolff were copied on another resignation email, this one addressed to McDaniel, from a code enforcement officer.

"I feel I can no longer be effective due to the hostile work environment that prevails in our Department," wrote Mike Stem, who also resigned effective immediately. "With your assistance, i (sic) have asked management for relief on several occasions. I have received none."

Over the span of twenty-eight minutes, Covington's code enforcement department lost three employees, including its manager. 

McDaniel's resignation email was two sentences long while Stem's was three sentences. Fox wrote a longer email. Details on what the employees found as hostile are unknown at this time.

On Wednesday, Yeager said that he was caught off guard by the resignations.

"I met with Loren (Wolff on Tuesday) and I think we have a really good plan to handle everything. We will follow up with the commission to get them on board," Yeager said. The recommendation is for the interior code officers, who report to the fire department, to assist with exterior inspections, "because that is more visible and tangible things for the public to see," he said.

The emails, obtained by The River City News through an open records request, included emails from Yeager and Wolff, but details on the plan to deal with code enforcement in the wake of these sudden departures was redacted by the city solicitor's office. "The redacted portions consist of preliminary recommendations in which opinions are expressed and policies formulated. These recommendations have not been adopted as the basis for final agency action, and are therefore exempt from public disclosure," wrote assistant city solicitor Matthew Stewart, citing state law.

In an email to Wolff at 1:26 p.m., Yeager referred to the resignation as "an unexpected turn of events" "I was aware of some issues with Mike Stem and these were times that (McDaniel) and I were trying to work through with him," Yeager wrote. "The other 2 took me completely by surprise. I have reached out to all 3 via email and have requested that we at least have a follow up discussion so that we can get a better handle on why this decision was made."

Wolff informed Mayor Joe Meyer and the city commission and Fire Chief Dan Mathew, whose department oversees interior code inspections, at 1:51 p.m.

"As with other vacancies that have occurred since I've been here, the remaining staff have stepped up to the plate with positive attitudes and a willingness to get the work done. (Yeager) and his team are no exception," Wolff wrote. 

The resignations occurred on the morning of a day in which the city commission would later approve a $45,000 no-bid contract to Phoenix, Ariz.-based Municipal Solutions to analyze the organizational structure at Covington City Hall, which has seen a number of departures since late last year and this year. The city is currently without a permanent city manager, finance director, and economic development manager.

“We want to assess what’s currently working and learn more about ways in which we can improve," Mayor Meyer said in a press release announcing the contract. "This is an opportunity for the City to restructure its resources and establish strategic goals and objectives.”

Municipal Solutions will manage a comprehensive examination of the City’s personnel, policies, practices, processes and procedures during the organizational analysis.

“The purpose of the study is to create a culture of efficiency and effectiveness by first, working with staff and commission to identify opportunities for greater efficiency, then lay the groundwork for implementing much needed systems, tools and processes,” said Municipal Solutions CEO & managing principal David Evertsen, in a news release. 

Municipal Solutions is also tasked with helping Covington find its next city manager, a contract that it was awarded earlier this year following the resignation of Larry Klein, who departed under pressure from Mayor Meyer.

The analysis aims to evaluate and determine if the City is acquiring, protecting and using its resources as economically and efficiently as possible and to identify the cause of inefficiencies.

“We’re a fresh set of eyes. We’ll work with staff to assess best practices and how they can be transferred across various departments," said Municipal Solutions senior associate Bob Adams. “There are many things that are unique to Covington and essential in preserving. We want to build on the City’s successes, identify efficiencies and provide opportunities that will empower staff to implement and sustain improvements.”

The analysis is expected to be completed within 120 days.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher