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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Personnel board hears complaint from Lt. Eckleson, recommends review by new city manager, previous decision upheld

Two new members of the Crossville personnel board took their seats at a meeting called to handle the appeal of a grievance filed by Crossville Police Lt. Brian Eckleson.

The two new members, former city councilman Pete Souza and former city employee Larry Dyer were both elected by city employees. In addition to the two members elected by the employees, the personnel board includes two members are appointed by city council and one by the city manager. Other members of the personnel board at the April meeting included Beth Davis, chair and Tom Isham. Member Lou Morrison was absent.

The board voted to recommend that the new city manager Greg Wood review the investigation. Wood released a memo on his review that upheld the decisions of interim city manager Lee Lawson putting the ball back in Eckleson's hands for a possible return to the personnel board to appeal Wood's action.
City manager Greg Wood's memo

Lieutenant Brian Eckleson 

Members of the personnel board and attendees
at the meeting

Mr. Souza had a statement to make at the start of the meeting saying that he had been told that the personnel board was only advisory in nature. Souza added, “That verbiage diminishes our standing. Were here to bring the conscience to the city, of what is right and what is not right. After that it is up to the city manager or the court system to take whatever action seems necessary.” Souza concluded, “We can recommend, but it's up to them to execute the corrective action necessary.”

The meeting got underway with Lt. Eckleson describing the incident that led to the grievance and action taken by interim city manager Lee Lawson in response to Eckleson's grievance. The appeal to the Personnel Board is over the action of Mr. Lawson.

According to Eclkeson's statement, the harassment was related to his race, national origin and association with the Jewish religion and the investigation of that complaint by Mr. Lawson. Eckleson said he felt he couldn't address the issue of the investigation without describing the original incident.

The original incident took place in a professional promotion interview with then newly rehired police chief David Beaty. “It was one of the most unprofessional interviews I've had while sitting on a promotion interview,” stated Eckleson. According to Eckleson, chief Beaty said his birthday was on April 20 and asked if Lt. Ecklson knew the significance of that date? Eckleson continued, “He smiled and said he shared his birthday with Adolph Hitler. He continued to tell me that he should shave off part of his mustache to look more like (Hitler.)”

Ecklseson related that he did not remember much f the interview after that. He added that according to human resources director Leah Crockett he was the only one such a statement was made to and he said he was the only member of the department with a Jewish background.

After the harassment complaint was filed, Lt. Eckleson was interviewed by both HR director Crockett and interim manager Lawson. According to Eckleson, at that time Lawson stated to him he was “shocked and appalled those comments were made.” Eckleson said he asked about Beaty's supervision during his probationary period but said he got no answer as to whether Beaty was under the city's mandatory 6 to 12 month probationary period.

Lawson's response to the complaint stated that he was no longer shocked and appalled, but felt the comment might be intimidating or even benign. The letter continued that no derogatory remarks were made about Lt. Eckleson or any ethnic or religious group.

In addition, Eckleson said that the HR director no longer remembered what Beaty said exactly. Lawson offered to take back the letter and let the new city manager Greg Wood take over the investigation. After the new city manager started work he declined to reopen the already concluded investigation.

Additional actions taken by Beaty toward Eckleson include lack of inclusion in staff meetings, no interaction with the chief without going through chain of command though others do not have the same requirement. Eckleson also said Beaty had institued a non-paid hour lunch break though offices are required to remain on-call. Eckleson said that action appeared to be in violation of the state's labor law. Eckleson concluded that some of those actions could be considered retaliation.

Mr Lawson's response in the hearing said that he began an immediate investigation into the matter and spoke to all three who were present and the descriptions given where different or not completely recalled. Said Lawson, “Based on the information and evidence available to me at the time, it was my opinion that no version of the statement targeted Lt. Eckleson.” Lawson added that he reviewed chief Beaty's personnel file and found no evidence of similar conduct.

Chief Beaty said that the matter came up during one of the questions they used in the interviews and stemmed from an earlier conversation about a training Lt. Eckleson showed Beaty on his computer. In reference to a school shooting Beaty referenced Columbine, national pot day on April 20. The date was also Hitler's and Beaty's birthdays and Beaty said he commented that he was not going to shave his mustache like that. “That was the gist of the conversation,” Beaty explained.

Questions from Mr. Souza sought clarification from Beaty who said he didn't believe Eckleson was lying but that Beaty disagreed with his account of the interview.

Souza said he had not spoken to anyone involved in the complaint before the meeting but did say he had calls from three officers that he did not solicit and only listened to the comments that expressed concern over possible anger and retribution. “That's not an accusation,” added Souza.

Souza asked Ms. Crockett about the number of people on the panel and she said when the city was interviewing new police hires there were 6 on the panel. Souza expressed concern about the small number involved in the promotion interviews. Crockett admitted that there were no scores on the ranking list of candidates and that there should have been as part of the personnel procedure.

After some discussion on possible action, Mr Souza commented before offering a motion. “Lt. Eckleson's complaint has merit,” said Souza, “because part of this conversation never should have occurred. I've not found any evidence of malice but it can be construed as malice because of sensitivity.” Souza also said that he did not blame Lee Lawson for any gaps in his investigation as he had his hands full with running the city.

Souza moved saying, “There is sufficient merit in Lt. Eckleson's complaint to warrant the current city manager to re-investigate the situation.” Souza also sought to have the city manager look into the pay question on unpaid but on call lunch and procedures for filling vacant positions. No member supported Souza's motion and the motion of member Tom Isham to have the new city manager review the matter received a second from Larry Dyer. Souza said that Isham's motion was good enough and the matter was approved by voice vote of the 4 members of the board who were present.  

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