True or False? Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh is the source of a $10,000 ethics complaint against the police chief and two lawsuits costing thousands of dollars due to talking nasty about fellow employees.
True for sure. After being recorded on a public surveillance system, Police Chief Larry Pitchford reported the problematic talk to City Manager Rob Anderson. Pitchford’s whistle blowing was rewarded with a written reprimand by Anderson, then an ethics complaint by Ashbaugh and finally termination by the City Council.
Truth be told to other city employees, if you see a fellow employee misbehaving, you might better keep your mouth shut, otherwise you could face having your name dragged through the mud ending up with a termination just months prior to your planned retirement. The city leadership’s response to whistle blowers.
After reporting Ashbaugh’s inappropriate conversations on the public surveillance equipment, Ashbaugh received a reprimand but so did Pitchford, apparently for blowing the whistle.
Following the reprimand, Ashbaugh filed an ethic complaint against Pitchford, leading to an extensive investigation by Attorney Sara Bell that included a review of the reprimand to Pitchford. Bell wrote “There is no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Chief Pitchford as it relates to the recordings from August 7, 2016, or any recordings of which I am aware that were reviewed thereafter. It is important to note that this finding is based on the fact that the recordings were kept in-house (given only to the City Manager and Mayor) and not released publicly by Chief Pitchford.”
Pitchford was expunged of all wrongdoing with the council accepting Bell’s dismissal of his reprimand and four other recommendations, one being that due to Ashbaugh’s threat of a lawsuit, the videos should not be released without a court order. Another was that city employees be banned from sharing the videos or discussing the content.
While using the excuse of fear of a wiretapping lawsuit by Ashbaugh, the council abided Bell’s advise not to release the videos. The advise was bad, the videos public, the law violated, end result being the council losing an expensive FOIA lawsuit by Ray Kirkus. Thousands of dollars in legal fees were wasted because the council chose the street supervisor over obeying the law.
Yet Ashbaugh wasn’t through with Pitchford, using the same accusations of illegally distributing a private conversation, he included Pitchford as a defendant in a federal lawsuit. A baseless lawsuit with inflicting pain as the only apparent purpose.
Let this be a warning to city employees, the city leadership does not appreciate disclosure of wrongdoing or transparency in government. Pitchford was used as an example for workplace expectations. After blowing the whistle, Pitchford was forced from his job by the city council two months prior to his official retirement. No dignified finish for a man with 40 plus years of service after he reported the inappropriate behavior of a co-worker that led to a forced early retirement, costing him his reputation and the gratitude of the community.
Get this, by trying to protect Ashbaugh, the city council was first sucked into a FOIA lawsuit that they lost and then a baseless federal lawsuit brought by team member Ashbaugh. Instead of trying to protect the reputation of an employee who was the center of the most expensive ethics complaint in the history of the city and two lawsuits, a better idea for the City Council would have been to abide the law by releasing the videos thus resulting in Ashbaugh’s demise.
To top it off, while Ashbaugh filed suit with accusations of illegal disclosure of the videos by employees and the city broke the law to keep the videos private, then violated a Judge’s verbal order to release the videos, Ashbaugh himself failed to comply with Bell’s directive not to discuss the videos. On February 2, after i was denied a copy of the videos at city hall’s front desk, Ashbaugh, sitting in City Manager Dave Richards’ office, discussed the contents of the videos on TV 57 while the reporter held up Pitchford’s expunged reprimand. The council members and their employees disregarded all the recommendations of Sara Bell except the one to cover for Ashbaugh, leading them to violate the law. Tax dollars wasted by a council played the fool by one of their team members.
Although the threat of a lawsuit by Ashbaugh led to the council’s decision not to release public information, a new threat of a lawsuit got this response from Council member Liz Ennis as reported in the Harbor Country News, “If it’s illegal, we’ll find that out,” after she made the motion to accept a site plan fraught with legal holes. Instead of knowing and following the law, it was easier for Ennis to move it to the legal system. The City will lose yet another lawsuit because the City leadership continues to support employees instead of caring about the legal and ethical rights of residents. Should private citizens continuously have to hire attorneys to defend their zoning rights?