MOUNT VERNON — Former city Parks Foreman Charles “Russ” Adams has appealed a demotion and is awaiting binding arbitration to determine if the city of Mount Vernon correctly levied progressive discipline.
The demotion occurred Aug. 3 as the result of a disciplinary action triggered by a letter written July 30 by a former summer employee who worked at Ariel-Foundation Park. The worker, who quit July 27, described repeated incidents of verbal abuse and “unacceptable behavior” towards him and other employees.
He described how Adams “talks down and belittles people until they feel broken down and his treatment would happen in front of other employees.”
He described how Adams yelled at him for attempting to fix a problem in a women’s restroom because it “wasn’t his concern,” and his crew trimming an area on its own initiative because he hadn’t told them to do it.
He would tell them they would get gas for their mowers “when they got it,” and when informed that the marker dedicated to Geoff Oliver near the Harcourt Road entrance was broken, Adams said he “didn’t care” and added that he “hated that guy” and “hoped he died a slow, painful death.”
On the initial discipline action, Daniels rated it as a fifth offense under the city’s progressive discipline policy. That means the city can issue penalties of up to a reduction in position and/or pay.
Daniels cited him for two Group I (minor) offenses and three Group II (intermediate) offenses. Under Group I, the offenses are “Threatening, intimidating, coercing or interfering with subordinates.” Under Group II the citations are for conduct violating morality or common decency, such as sexual harassment; the making or publishing of false, vicious or malicious statements concerning employees, supervisors, the city or operations and use of abusive or threatening language toward supervisors or fellow employees.
A disciplinary hearing was held with Safety-Service Director Joel Daniels on Aug. 2, which was followed by a letter from Daniels confirming the reassignment and pay reduction, and directed Adams to report to Utilities Director Mathias Orndorf for assignment Monday, Aug. 6.
Adams appealed the action, which was denied by Daniels, and the case has moved on to the final step of binding arbitration.
In issuing his disciplinary decision, Daniels said he took the past incidents into consideration, not just the record, since Adams became Parks foreman in 2016.
“You can’t ignore what was done in the past,” he said.
Progressive discipline allows the city to issue punishment for violating city rules in an accumulative fashion based on active discipline. According to the union agreement, discipline can become inactive if no further discipline is issued within a certain period of time and is no longer relevant to progressive discipline.
Daniels said the intimidation of employees has been a pattern and this just “put it over the top.”
“We’ve done what we could (in sending him to training and seminars), but it hasn’t helped, and we’re tired of it,” Daniels told the News.
In his denial of the union grievance, Daniels said that “Adams has received yearly evaluations of his performance. In nearly every one of those evaluations he has been given feedback about his inability to get along with and/or supervise others. In addition, there have been several disciplinary actions administered in regard to Mr. Adams’ behavior and performance.”
“In an effort to assist Mr. Adams, the city has sent him for training on such topics as ‘How to Excel at Managing and Supervising People,’ ‘Managing Emotions and Thriving Under Pressure,’ and ‘The Supervisor’s Role as Trainer and Coach.’ Daniels said.
“Unfortunately, it is the belief of the City that we have not been successful in the development of Mr. Adams as a supervisor,” Daniels continued. “That latest incident that brought about the discipline leading to this grievance is an appalling example of his incompetence in a supervisory role.
“It is the right, and more importantly the responsibility, of the City to effectively manage the work force. Time after time Mr. Adams has failed when it comes to his interactions with other employees. The city has repeatedly, and progressively, given him feedback about his behavior, this feedback and training has not resulted in improvement,” Daniels said.
Adams was moved to a maintenance worker position in the Water/Wastewater Department. While Adams appeals his discipline, John May has been named acting Parks foreman, Daniels said he will not act to fill any open positions until the arbitration case is settled.
In 2003 he received a 15-day suspension for making obscene statements about a fellow employee’s daughter.
He was also suspended for three days in 2003 by then-Parks Director Geoff Oliver for dishonesty and insubordination in an incident at Phillips Park when a summer employee was apparently injured.
He was issued a verbal warning in April 2004 for leaving Memorial Park before his crew’s assignment was completed.
History of unacceptable behavior
According to Adams’ personnel file, acquired through a public records request, the July 30 letter isn’t the first time Adams’ alleged behavior was brought to the attention of city administration. However, no discipline was issued
A member of the public wrote to Daniels in August 2017 saying Adams had “repeatedly displayed an inability to control his anger and hatred towards everyone. … His treatment towards the people in his crew is unacceptable. They are in constant fear of humiliation, insults and his tyranny. He treats them far worse than inmates at a prison get treated. They can’t ask questions without being belittled or a smart-(expletive) comment in return. He has the worst leadership skills I’ve ever seen.”
Daniels did speak to Adams about the information in the letter, but no discipline was issued.
In June 2016, a second-year seasonal employee who quit early in the season spelled out some of his issues with Adams which included:
•Creating an uneasy atmosphere for female employees by using sexually crude language,
•Referred to seasonal workers as his “property” and reminding them they are all disposable.
•Failing to communicate daily workload to seasonal employees. “We either wait for him to tell us what to do or we take the initiative to do what we think needs doing, but either way he finds fault and berates the crew leader.”
•“All of his belittling and downgrading towards the seasonal workers makes it difficult to maintain a positive [morale].”