Scottsdale firing standards under fire - East Valley Tribune: News

Scottsdale firing standards under fire

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Posted: Saturday, December 8, 2007 1:35 am | Updated: 7:16 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A Scottsdale parks and recreation director was caught trying to steer a city contract to her sister. Judy Weiss retired. A code-enforcement manager was seen gambling at a local casino during work hours. Robert Cohen resigned.

A planning and development services director was alleged to have misused the city’s computer system by sending private e-mails from his work computer. Jeff Fisher — who is alleging the city believed he was a leak and whistle-blower — was swiftly fired.

Each high-ranking employee was accused of violating a city policy, yet two were able to leave on their own and one was not.

The city says it can’t explain why, citing personnel and legal issues.

City Council members said they did not know details because they cannot get involved in personnel matters, except for the top charter officers who report to them.

“On the surface it certainly raises some questions on how people were treated, but at the same time there may be something I don’t know,” Councilman Bob Littlefield said.

Phil Flemming, an attorney representing Fisher, said he did not know the circumstances of Weiss’ departure. However, Flemming said the fact she was able to voluntarily resign while Fisher was not given that opportunity leads him to a conclusion that perhaps because the city believed Fisher was criticizing the city or exercising his First Amendment right he was treated differently.

“What we do find unusual with Mr. Fisher’s case is considering he was a very respected and valued employee for 20 years, that there is this disparity in treatment,” Flemming said.

The Tribune posed a number of questions about the cases and how decisions were made about who was to be fired and who was not.

Scottsdale spokesman Pat Dodds, in response, wrote that city cannot respond to the specific questions that were raised.

“Each of these cases is unique and different. Our ability to fully explain these differences is limited by the fact they are personnel matters with legal implications for all parties,” Dodds wrote.

The Tribune first reported Tuesday that Weiss, a 28-year city employee, tried to give a $5,000 Web site design contract for a fitness program to her sister’s Virginia-based firm. The city’s purchasing director caught the conflict and the contract never went through.

In the documents provided to the Tribune, there was no evidence of a city investigation.

Weiss told the Tribune she met with human resources employees, asked if there was an option to retire and was told “yes.”

Weiss, whose last day was Nov. 23, said she does not know why she was granted that option rather than face discipline or termination. She has acknowledged she made a mistake.

The city placed Cohen on administrative leave in May 2003 after it was reported he had visited Casino Arizona at Loop 101 and McKellips Road. He also was confronted at his office by a KTVK-TV (Channel 3) news crew, which had tracked his casino visits. Two days later, he resigned.

“We can’t tell employees who independently initiate retirement or resignation that they can’t retire or resign,” Dodds wrote.

But a letter from Flemming to the city asking for Fisher to be paid 1 1/2 times his salary or be reinstated, says Fisher was not given the opportunity to resign.

In Fisher’s case, the city terminated him in September, a day after placing him on administrative leave. The city’s termination letter stated Fisher either used a private e-mail account from his work computer, including impersonating another city employee, or failed to properly secure his computer.

Flemming’s letter alleges Fisher was actually fired because he exposed violations at Drinx nightclub, owned by Scottsdale firefighter Steve Springborn, and the city’s mistaken belief that Fisher was a “leak.”

Fisher was placed on leave one day after an e-mail from his work account was sent to the Tribune revealing apparent violations at Drinx. That e-mail was included in the investigative documents provided to the Tribune.

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