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Why was Emily Harrison suspended?

Original post made by Diana Diamond on Mar 28, 2007

It all seems very strange. Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison has been suspended from her job without pay for three weeks. Council members were notified a couple of weeks ago by City Manager Frank Benest that there had been "an incident" and that Harrison will be suspended. Council members were given only a few details because, they were told, it was a "personnel" matter. Council members now say they cannot comment on the discipline, or tell me happened because it's confidential. And some council members admitted that when told by Benest of the suspension, they didn't ask questions why the discipline was imposed because it was a personnel issue.

Of course it's a personnel matter, but that doesn't mean the council and the public don't have a right to know what happened to the person that is second in command in this city. In fact, when Benest is out of town, as has frequently happened, it is Harrison who is running this city. As the governing board in the city, the council is expected and entitled to know exactly what happened to a sometimes acting city manager and why the discipline was imposed.

The public and the press were not notified of the suspension. Someone sent an anonymous note to the Weekly, and that is the way the newspaper learned about it a couple days later.

I don't buy the "personnel" excuse. Yes, public employees have some privacy, but when wrongdoings are involved, the public's right to know trumps the privacy issue. I have been told that there is case law that says once a public employee has been officially investigated and discipline has occurred, the "personnel" protection no longer applies.

At the federal level, we are now going through an examination of why eight prosecutors were fired by the U.S. attorney general. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez originally said it was for "poor performance" but Congress is now learning it may have been for political reasons. "Personnel matter" doesn't seem to be an excuse at the federal level.

In Harrison's case, evidently there was a run-in with another employee at some point, and a complaint was lodged, but that doesn't tell us much. What exactly happened and why did that lead to a three-week suspension without pay? Disagreements can frequently occur on a job, and they normally don't result in suspensions, particularly suspensions without pay. (Two Palo Alto police officers, Kahn and Lee, were involved a couple of years ago in a case where a black man was harassed. They were suspended with pay before and during the trial.)

Were there complaints about Harrison? Or is she being treated unfairly? Did Benest overreact? Or is the three-week suspension an indication that there is more at stake here and that perhaps Harrison is on her way out?

Palo Alto residents should not have to speculate about what happened.. At the very least, I think Benest should have immediately released an announcement on the suspension, including the reasons for it, and be around to answer questions. The public has a right to know, particularly since Harrison has been running the city.

It's all part of being an open government.

Comments (62)

Posted by Chris, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 28, 2007 at 2:16 pm

I agree with Ms. Diamond. There is entirely too much secrecy at city hall justified under the rubric of "personnel matters".

We never found out everything about the Utilities Department scandal, and much of what was disclosed only came about after the city fought a protracted legal battle with the newspapers on First Amendment issues.

And it's always puzzled me why the city was on the side of those who wanted to hide the facts in the Utilities matter in the first place. It seems to me that the city's interest, and the interests of the residents, were on the side of openness and disclosure. That's the side the city attorney should have been arguing.

If the employees' union thinks there's some subsidiary or parochial interest that trumps the First Amendment and the public's right to know, let them defend that in court. I'd rather see my city arguing that they have nothing to hide from the public.

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2007 at 2:38 pm

well, this is no surprise--I am sure Benest (who really runs the city) told the City Council that they do not need to know the details and they , of course, went along with what he said, as they usually do.
My feelings is that what happened with Harrison should be made public knowledge,since she is paid by us, the taxpayers. However, since the City Council went to extraordinary lengths to keep us from learning about the malfeasance going on at the Utilities Department, it is no surprise that we will be kept in the dark about this matter as well.
obviously the City Council wishes to avoid any conflict so they will hope that this matter will be swept under the rug so that they can focus on climate change.

Posted by Compromise, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 28, 2007 at 3:16 pm

Hush little baby... you live in Palo Alto.

Posted by Compromise, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 28, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Yoriko: Time to ask the right questions as you did before.
PA Weekly: get ready to file a Freedom of Info lawsuite in 1 month.

PA System works you know the game.

Posted by Henry, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2007 at 3:58 pm

Emily has been a very active Assistant City Manager. Many question in fact what Frank actually does. Could be Frank over-reacted to a personal issue that someone has or had with Emily . As the article stated, she is tough and makes tough decisions. I'd like to know if the person who filed the complaint has an axe to grind.

I agree the City should be more transparent. How about letting us know why Emily was suspended, and who filed the complaint. Of course it will eventually all be revealed. People talk.

Posted by Martine, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2007 at 6:09 pm

I imagine the council and Frank Benest wanted to avoid the Weekly's usual Saxon justice: i.e. trial by ordeal. I can hardly blame them for not revealing a personnel issue. Believe it or not, even city employees are entitiled to some rights and privacy.

Posted by Bill, a resident of University South
on Mar 28, 2007 at 8:29 pm

Others have said it. Emily Harrison runs the city - and does a darn good job. When the city manager was not able to function because of personal and health problems, we didn't miss a beat.

The Weekly says she is "willing to own part of the grievance, but not all of it". This doesn't sound like a holdover from her strong take-charge effort with the Utilities Dept. Emily does not suffer fools gladly, and I think she called someone to task.

Why this veil of secrecy since it will all come out in the end? Let us know now what occurs in our timid city government.

Posted by Suspicious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2007 at 10:28 pm

Given the city's inclination toward exonerating its own, I suspect there must be something really serious going on here. A suspension would not be given without good reason. This could be the tip of the iceberg.

Posted by Firefighter?Andrew jentzsch, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2007 at 10:33 am

I have had deals with the City of Palo Alto for many years..As I have stated before. I was a firefighter/Paramedic for 20 years in Palo Alto..I have tried to bring this to the public with very little luck..Talked with Diana,who felt that things should be looked at,however,she had no time to do so..State and Federal laws broken over and over again..The publics safety disregaurded..[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Millions of $ wasted and covered up..A budget that was a free for once signed... One small story..I was working at my fire Station #7 at SLAC..We had a brush fire rig.This is a 4x4 pickup truck with a water pump..We where called to respond to a brush fire along Highway 280..With other local Departments..This truck was in very poor working order,had been for years..This had been reported over and over..When we tried to use the water pump to stop the spread of the fire it would not work,as it had failed to do so many times in the past..We watched the fire burn past us unable to do anything.Spreading it start heading up the hill..I kick the pump over and over again until it started,which was to late..I was on duty for the Los Altos hill fire many years ago..I thought here we go again..40 foot walls of fire moving towards homes worth millions,peoples lives in danger,firefighters lives also..Then like magic this fire that we watched move past us out of control unable to do a thing about ..Started to go out??? It had burned into a natural spring that had not yet dried up..Thank GOD or someone/thing for this.. A new truck had been purchased to replace this one, 1 year before.. The city lost it,oops misplaced it..It took 1 more year to put this new truck into service..So the NEW truck was 2 plus years old when it went into service..Ask the citizens that live west of 280 how they fell about this..Try keeping your fingers crossed for two years??? This is not a limited incident..It is one of many...YOU must stop this..PLEASE help ME to help YOU..IT MUST BE STOPPED!!!!!

Posted by Firefighter/paramedic andrew, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2007 at 10:47 am

City workers are not covered by The First Amendment.. If you speak out they can fire you...As some of the threats I received in the past informed me of.. Would this equal {TOUGH}??.. Whistel blowers is what there are called..In Palo Alto it is whistel blowers season 24 hours a day,365 days a year..

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 29, 2007 at 1:05 pm

Again, we have more sensationalistic journalism that is much ado about nothing. No laws were broken, differences occured, someone was disciplined...period.

Isn't that enough?

What saddens me about journalism these days (if one can call Diana's latest column "journalism") is that it is so much about innuendo and circumstantial guesswork - all in
service to grabbing the attention of people (myself included) who are willing to weigh in?

Diana, as we all know, was removed from a prior management position at a local newspaper. Was that because she was incompetent? Probably not. Most likely, it was a politically motivated removal. That must have hurt, a lot. From that lesson, one would think that diving into the tiny, embarrassing details of personal disagreements at city hall would be beyond Diana's pen - details that tend to level embarrassing hurt - but I guess not.

It's enough for an executive to have to live with the public embarrassment of suspension, but I guess that isn't enough for some.

The constant attacks on management personnel and city workers in Diana's column - attacks that cannot be parried by those who are put under attack, is nothing but shameful, and says something about the author of those attacks that bears examination, and the newspaper editors that let them into its pages. The latter might begin to rethink what kind of message it sends to our city by letting this stuff publish, and further consider how the otherwise fine work that they do is severely counterweighted by this sort of trash. Or, is it all about "the money"?

The last series of blog posts placed here by Diana have been lean on detail, and more about personal attack. Frankly, I;m surprised that the Weekly's editors, who put so much weight on measured discussion, would permit columns like this from Diana, because they do nothing but stoke distrust of city officials and managers. Would the editors want this kind of scrutiny in their positions?

Frankly, if I was a city employee here, I would begin to wonder if it was all worth it.

This is what happens when a newspaper wants to be "cool", and create "contoversial" subject matter. It's a disgrace, and edges into the territory that a now-reformed competitor (PADN) used to own, It looks like the Weekly wants to own some of the territory that a now-more-enlightened PADN has given up. Something to think about.

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2007 at 1:24 pm

ms Harrison is a public employee--paid by us, the taxpayers. She has been suspended without pay for 3 weeks--I think we are owed an explanation for why she was suspended. Apparently this was all kept a secret and only an anonymous note to the Weekly allowed us, the public, to be informed of this.
It looks like Benest and the City council feel that they operate under a cloak of secrecy and they are not accoutable to the citizens of Palo Alt.
Kudos to Ms Diamond for her columns and her other columns for keeping usinformed about the continued hank panky going on at city hall.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 29, 2007 at 1:25 pm

If the city would just release the details of this matter, there would be none of the suspicion innuendo and the like that Mike complains of.

Is it not clear to all public officials that when you appear to be hiding something, as the city does in this case, that people assume the worst?

Do we know that "no laws were broken"? Nope because the city won't release the facts.

Circumstantial Guesswork? Yep because that's all we have to go on in the absence of release of the facts.

Stories in the press that are lean on detail? Release the detail, and we won't have to worry about what the detail is.

Distrust of city officials? Tell us the facts, and then we won't have to "trust".

This is what happens when a newspaper wants to be "cool", and create "controversial" subject matter. ? Hmm..I bet for most readers that beats hands down the alternative "lapdog journalism the Weekly has been accused of for so long . The press's main function in the political arena is to be a watchdog over the branches of government.

Bravo Weekly and thanks Diana

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 29, 2007 at 1:38 pm

All, perhaps a read-through of Donne's "For Whom the Bell Tolls"?

Posted by Andrew Jentzsch, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2007 at 2:05 pm

Mr Mike...If a person any person in the City of Palo Alto was suspended for three weeks without pay for "differances" plain differances that would be a crime and laws broken..I do not think that a person in Emilys position who is so tough would sit back and do nothing.Do you?? Are you sure no Laws where broken??Details come from the City..The City that goes to court to keep details from the public.I was attacked while on duty bye one of the two people, the only two people to cover up for the City in the Sandbag scandel.The two that both where promoted to Captains the very next test..Laws where broken in this case.[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] He got 3 days without pay.This was not his first,second or third incident. You or I do not have enough finger and would most likely run out of toes trying to count..So I ask myself what could she have done for THREE WEEKS??? You are so very correct about wondering if it is worth it..The constant attackes I saw where from the Management on the City workers..I do agree with you some what about Diana.I have tried to speak up for the City workers with very little luck..I will offer my case to the public without court protection..You can ask any questions you like Mike.. In a open public format.Maybe a City Counsel Meeting??When one is treated like trash,with laws broken along the way. Having an axe to grind might be something you would have also..How I understand the last part of your reply "would permit" meaning Censorship??? Mike please ask Frank,Emily and the members of the City Counsel Who,What and why about Firefighter/Paramedic [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] ..That is myself..I give you my permission..Better yet lets wait for Emily to return and we all will meet in front of the open public...As I have said before the view from the inside out is much differant than from the outside in..

Posted by Fireman/aj, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2007 at 3:05 pm

Mr Mike if YOU have a AXE to grind with Diana that is your issue..Personal issue..Stick to that..I do not think Diana has cost the City Millions of $$$$ and endangered there safety,laughing all the way to the bank.Playing the fool out of the citizens along the way..As for talking about City Workers I was one for 20 years..Maybe you should gather some facts from them and not guess at what it was like.[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 29, 2007 at 4:27 pm

It's understood that there are internal politics at play in EVERY organization. It's a fact that those politics often play out as severe personal differences that for whatever reason are not successfully mediated, and result in either organizational dysfunction, or an abuse of power.

Emily Harris has been suspended by the person she reports to. That should be enough.

The City Manager is charged with being the final arbiter of claims made by subordinates against superiors. It appears that our Citty Manager took the actinos that he thought were appropriate. If those actions were highly questionable, or illegal, stronger measures would have been put into play. They weren't.

Anyone who claims to need to know more about this has one or two agendas: either they simply don't trust city management, or they're "out to get" city management. I would advise all citizens to avoid the latter category of attacker/complainers, and ask themselves what motivates such a lack of trust from the former group. What underlies their mistrust? Is it a congenital thing? After all, some people are simply not trusting of others. Or, is it a genuine need to know more, for reasons that will make our city better.

If we're talking about the last case, how will knwoing more about this help out city to move forward? How will it help to preserve the respect that a suspended executive requires when returning from a suspension? How will it help those who would hinder the operation of government by feeding on innuendo, or magnifying the truth to an ugly scenario - as long as it serves their this case, to get column inches.

This is a "small" inquiry, at best cheap in its leaning toward gossip and innuendo, and at most harmful to the operation of city government.

Posted by Fireman/AJ, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2007 at 6:05 pm

The answer is in your responce..TRUST...Or lack of.. If you trust ..Then let the people talk...Make an arena for them to talk...The TRUTH will set you free P>S Read a book on HITLER Maybe your bell will ring a differant tone???? I think he believed in personal differences equal punishment...Ask someone who is Jewish..

Posted by Chris, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 29, 2007 at 6:49 pm

One need not have all the ulterior motives Mike attributes to those on the other side from him in this matter to be in favor of openness in government.

All he says about this being an appropriately handled personnel matter may very well be true. But all the evils he cites - increased innuendo, harm to the city from gossip, questions about the City Manager's action, lack of trust in city management, etc. - can be eliminated by just putting out the facts.

Mike says that the city manager took actions that were appropriate and that if his actions were questionable or illegal, then stronger actions would have been taken. But this assumes too much. The very purpose of illuminating the actions of government officials is so that citizens can judge their appropriateness.

Mike has no more basis to defend the actions of city officials in this case than any of the rest of us do to condemn them.

Which is why whatever your opinion of city officials - in favor or against - you should be FOR openness and fresh air.

No doubt it's true that some on this forum prejudge anything done by the city. Keeping secrets only serves to deepen this prejudice. Putting the facts out in the open will give defenders of city hall some ammunition if everything is as appropriate as Mike says. And knowledge that the public is watching will serve as a brake to any city official who is ever tempted to do the wrong thing.

So let's not cast aspersions on city officials for the actions they take until the facts are out. And let's not condemn citizens or the press for wanting those facts to come out either.

Posted by Gary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2007 at 6:59 pm

SOMEBODY knows what is going on, since an annonymous note was passed to the Weekly. The facts WILL emerge, but it might get messy, unless the City shines some sunlight on the issue.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 29, 2007 at 7:08 pm

As usual, we see a few local residents assuming the worst. Hopefully, our City Council members will ignore requests for further public information in this matter.

It's also notable that the Weekly itself is not clamouring for more information. Instead, they let Diana put out her puff piece to draw out those who mostly don't trust government, under any circumstances.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Professorville
on Mar 29, 2007 at 7:15 pm

Mike, is this what you really want:

City Hall to Citizens:

"Badges? We don't got to show you no stinking badges!"

Posted by Gary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2007 at 7:20 pm


Are you suggesting that the Weekly knows the real story, but is suppressing it? The Weekly SHOULD be clamouring for more information, unless they know the real story and have decided to be part of the cover up.

A three week suspension of a top Palo Alto official, without pay, is a MAJOR story, period. There is something BIG going on here.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 29, 2007 at 7:30 pm

Maybe people who assert that the city should be more open really think the city should be more open - and don't say that just because they hate city employees.

Mike would gain a lot more converts to his side if he weren't constantly attacking the motives of those with whom he disagrees. But maybe that's not his goal.

Posted by PLEASE SOO ME, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Mar 29, 2007 at 9:09 pm

Here is a familiar game that played out not too long ago:

People asked whatever happened in the Utilities dept.
Why did Ulrich leave/resign ?
- it is a personnel matter can't disclose

Weekly says this is open govt.
- it is a personnel matter

Weekly sues.
- oops now we lose. Here take this information - and btw we will also pay for you attorney fees.


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 29, 2007 at 10:36 pm

Sorry to say that I don't buy that line about the public having a right to know everything because we pay their salaries. I don't have any particular information about this example, but in general, I think that we taxpayers have a right to know policies and we have a right to expect oversight. We don't necessarily have a *right* to know what's in the individual's file, unless criminal charges are filed which are public records. Let's make a distinction between our rights and our preferences. It may be that it's unwise to try to keep this under wraps. Perhaps rumors are worse than truth, and perhaps it's a waste of time to resist the inevitable. But arguing that line is different from claiming rights.

I do think we have the right to ask by what guidelines or policies these actions are governed. We have a right to demand oversight by our elected officials. However, as a general guideline, I don't think our rights extend to having personal information about a case in which there were no criminal charges and no harm done to the public. A public employee should not have to give up all privacy regarding their work. There are many matters in the workplace for which there is no compelling reason to invite public exposure and scrutiny, for which the consequences and remedies can be handled internally and supervised through the "chain of command." If you suspect there's a systemic problem, then take it up with those responsible for the system.

Posted by powerline guy, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2007 at 3:40 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Diana is asking the right questions. Our city government is too secret. I remember several years ago when we won a "good government" award for providing information to the public. That changed when Benest arrived. Now it's like Dick Cheney is city manager. Here's what I'd like to know --- -- who suspended Harrison and why? It was either Gary Baum or Benest. -- Why? What kind of a "run in" are they talking about? Did somebody grab somebody? Or were strong words exchanged? -- i've gotten the impression that Frank Benest was going to retire soon, maybe right before this fall's election so that the new council could pick their own manager. How does that affect his departure? Frankly (pardon the pun), I don't want this controversy to delay Benest's departure. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Former employee, a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2007 at 8:55 am

As another local government employee who has worked for many local governments (including the City of Palo Alto), government employees are under constant scrutiny for all actions completed. If the matter was a personal matter, it should remain as a personal matter. What a person does that is "personal" has nothing to do with who pays them, it is clearly "personal." It is no ones business no matter who writes your paycheck. Public employyes are under the spotlight 24/7, give Ms Harrison a break, she is an outstanding, educated, hard working, professional employee who is an asset to the City. Ms Harrison's tenure and devotion to the City superceeds anyone I have come into contact with in the 5 plus local goverments I have worked with. I would be more concerned she is not around the 3 weeks providing the City of Palo Alto citizens her outstanding services.

Posted by Gary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2007 at 9:43 am


If the "private" misbehavior involves a subordinate, is it still private? A modern manager gives up a lot in terms of personal engagement with his/her subordinates. If there is no reporting relationship, then I tend to agree with you - personal behavior can be judged according to it appropriateness, but it is still "private".

For instance, if Ms. Harrison had a spat with, say, someone in the police department or utilities department, then that should be of public interest, because she handles many police and utility department issues.

Posted by fireman, a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2007 at 11:46 am

The key word is PRIVATE?PERSONAL?...Who makes the rules& regs for what .. PRIVATE/PERSONAL..means? Would it still be PRIVATE if the facts/truth was told without Names and faces.. Lists of REAL facts,without the names? Might work also??? Or is PERSONAL/PRIVATE a net to trap the truth????

Posted by Chris, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 30, 2007 at 11:57 am

SkepticAl may be correct. However his line of argument (that the public has no "right" to know) is exactly what was argued by the city in the Utilities case. The city lost. The city released the information under threat of court sanction. The taxpayers footed the bill both for the city attorney's attempt to keep secret information about city hall operations - and for the Weekly's attorneys who were on the side of the public's right to know.

I still don't understand why the city attorney should have been arguing in court that the public had no right to know. It seems like he should have been on our side. If the unions or affected employees think there is a reason that information should not be released, let them argue that - and pay the legal fees. But I think the city attorney was on the side of the bad guys in this one. Why?

Where this penchant for secrecy at city hall comes from is hard to fathom, but it is not good for the commonweal, or for removing the ever-growing barriers between the citizens and the governing establishment in town.

Posted by fireman, a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2007 at 1:57 pm

Lets not forget all the Citys efforts in the employee's email,newsletters and letters from the City Managers office..Selling to them that this Personal/Private info was Harmful??? Oh yea lets no forget the Firefighters union also...tried to sell that this was harmful.. I still wonder very much about , Mr Vinson??? Maybe it would be nice to start a list...Then stick a $$$$$ amount to this list... Think one could cover the 3 mill need now many times over..Just it the Fire Department, we could cover maybe half of it in one program that was funded,equipment purchased for,staffing increased and a starting date given..That never was????Failed and scrapped before it ever was..The only thing it was ,was paid for.. Maybe Frank or the members of the city counsel or Past Fire Chief should pay that $$$$$ back????? Or maybe that is covered under PERSONAL/PRIVATE... Think the above names would feel that way??? What was that??? Hush little baby,don't ask why??? Palo Alto Citizen will just cry why.. Then we will have to go to court again..

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2007 at 3:13 pm

Looks like some people really have an axe to grind. Lots of sour grapes and no substance here. Time to move on...

Diana, try deep sea fishing for a change, instead of trolling the local tidepools for minows and guppies.

Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2007 at 6:29 pm

No substance??? Have you looked??? Has the City looked..Has the public been given the facts to judge for themselfs?? Move on, I think thats what people who have something to hide would say??? and want.. Substance..Are there 2 Hi-tech Fire Engines that where built to be transport Engines in the City of Palo Alto, Yes... Are they the most expensive Engines the City has ever bought...Yes...Is there a program for theses Engines to be used in... No... Did the Fire department work on this program for many years and spend much more than 1 million $$$$ on it...yes.. So where is the program??? Do noy have one.. Where is the agreement from the union to staff this program?? The City never got one..Tried after spending millions of $$$ and years of work/labor from City employees.. Do the firefighters like or think these Engines are safe??... No.. Would you like to see them???? You can...Would you like to read the reports on how unsafe they are??You can,I have them.. I think that is substance???? Do you want your life or home dependent on these Engines...Well Mike...Do ya...???? Ask the City Counsel or Manager about this program..Think they will give you the information... Move on up to city hall 8th floor and ask...Mike I do not think you would know what substance is ,Or want to know...Star the list,then investigate..To find substance...Not to hard to find 2 ,30 thousand pound Engines.Thats a whole lot of substance...And the tip of much more...Lets start a list.. City/department wide list...

Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2007 at 10:16 am

One more for the books..I will make it short and get right to the $$$$ and cents..Maybe at a city counsel meeting we can go step bye step. Bye as in $$$$ wasted..Years ago A plane crashed in the marshland near the airport..In the mud..We the Fire Department responded to the incident..Unable to do little to help for we had no program in place for a airport that had been there for 40-50 years??? The Chief puts together a program with a boat,boats need water to float..Program looks go on paper..Program never rescues a person.Firefighters get stuck in the mud at least 10-12 times..Have to wait for the tide to come in..This means the city is down one engine company.. The program is not supported with real trainning and falls apart but stays on the books and the budget getting funded with $$$$ ??? Where did the $$$ go??? Then Frank states that the Water Rescue program will be cut from the budget,this will save 145,000$$$ .This money already had been cut in the real world of services to the public years before..This program left a unsafe trap for Firefighters at best..Oh but still looks good on paper.. How and where do you save money that never got to where in was going..Where did the money go..Who covered it up??? Now Frank will say that the money was saved in trainning.. NOT TRUE.. The trainning $$$$ that where spent where on paper only..You see we train while at work on duty..This money is paid to us in wages..We get paid this money even if we do not train. This is part of the daily staffing,we are there anyway... Now where do you save 145,000 $$$$$. Yes the boat for a program that is unsafe,not legal and was cut from the budget is still at Station #3.. Maybe Frank things Marine World will be coming back and he can make a little extra money with a water skiing show..Where did the 145,000 a year for 3-4 years go????? Just asking Frank..Well City Counsel...I know back to court we go...

Posted by Mike M, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 31, 2007 at 11:07 am

To Fireman:

Did'nt you quit your job with the city and then four days later come beggging for your job back.
Remember, there is always two sides to every story.

Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Well Mike in a nut shell yes,your NUT shell.. Look back at your reply above {{I would begin to wonder if it was all worth it}} Sound like something you might have written... Yes I wondered..I put my letter in to resign, then on the day this was to take effect I ask to remove this letter..This was done by someone in the past,her letter was given back to her in the cheifs office.. The City reply was maybe lets have you jump through some hoops,,I jumped. I was told two times with a witness present that I would be returnning to work.Then they change there mind.In aletter sent to my home.Not in person. I am now dealing with the city..You see they want to use the citizens money to shut me up..You see I was a whiste blower and they can not have that..You have seemed to take intrest in my case..Lets go walking hand in hand up to City hall,see Frank and the Counsel and ask if we can have a chat with them about myself..Lets not forget the public.. Its a long story with the city breaking the law along the way many times.. As I was told..It makes no differance if I am right.They are the City of Palo Alto they have more money,lawyers and no life to live and they will break me!!! Oh that hand you might be holding has done many things for the Citizens for Palo Alto..Ever have to wash brains from a citizen who was run over with a car off your hands??? Ever have to speak or deal with someone who's wife,husband,child,mother,father,etc has just been kill..Ever hold a dead baby in your arms..The list goes on..I will spare you for I try not to remember..Then with these job related hazards ,deal with the City of Palo Alto...Now lets see I go to a doctor he looks at my medical history,x-rays and takes a MRI... Well Mr Jentzsch you need a new shoulder joint..That means replaced.. The City doctor or duck.. Looks at no medical reports,takes no x-rays ,no MRI and reports that I have carpal tunnel syndrome...??? As I said before I work for the citizens of Palo Alto for 20 years..Saved many lives,put myself in harms way..That means risked my life and have done things that I wonder if you would or could do..What have you done for the citizens?????? Its about substance Mike.. When would you like to go ask Frank and the City counsel to talk about me in front of the public and someone who could bring legal action against the city...Or are you sure no LAWS have been broken...Just BENT??? Have you ever seen or heard one employee group say how nice the City has been to work for or with.. If you think the City has nothing to hide??write to Frank and the Counsel..Then let me know where and when I and the Public should show up..How many copies of the SUBSTANCE would you like???? A little information is dangeres..A little closed mind is fatal.... WHERE and WHEN???

Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Open to all... I have many things written down on paper about life in the Palo Alto Fire department/City of Palo Alto,,People who also where members wanting to talk,present members who would talk if it was safe for them to do so,,Thousands of Department Emails and reports.. It is a huge amount of information..If anyone would like to see it let me know,,Pass it on to a person you think might be interested..I hope that someone would like to ask why.. How could all this have happened and how could all this be covered up.. Two short storys.. One about Morphine a drug that is a controled substance..Well not in the Palo Alto Fire Department..Morphine like all controled substances must be controled/gaurded.The federal government sets the rules PAFD/CPA do not seem to floow rules..The Fire department upper managment did not want to spend the 200 to 300 hundred dollars to buy a safe or secure lock bock..So we where told to keep it in a wood cabinet that was in a room that had two doors and was most of the time open where the public could walk right in.. The lock on this cabinet was a could also pull on the door and reach in and grab anything you wanted in there..Pay a Million for a study but not 200/300 dollars to follow the law..Well that along with mismanagement we have 80 to 120 mg of Morphine missing or unaccounted for..Maybe more after awhile you stop caring..Then when we promote a new Chief for the medical part of the Fire Deopartment his first job was to cover it up on paper of course..Then be impressed with himself on how slick of a job he had done doing so.. See you have to know how to play the game in the PAFD to get ahead and not wonder if it is all worth it.. Second..A female empolyee of the City working in the Fire Department but,not a member of the Department was feeling uncomfortable about how some of the Firefighters where treating her..She started to close the door to her office.. Things went up to the management about this..The person who now is the Chief ordered the door to be removed and stated that the employee had no right to close the door. That this was not her private office and she had no right to think she could close the door.. So lets just take it off..Now if you the public thing you get no answers we the employees also get no answers.. Remember PERSONAL?PRIVATE?

Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2007 at 3:55 pm

Correct me if I'm wrong- but when did this posting become a Fire Department issue?? I thought it was about the Assistant City Manager being put on a 3 week suspended (without pay) leave!?!? I'm lost!!

Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Sorry Tim, it expanded... However it all has to do with the City and there leaders,also on the Public getting kept in the dark..Kind of zeroed in on the City manager and Counsel.. Tim you can post whatever you would like about the suspension.. People will still see it..They will just get alittle more information about what has been going on for along time..Have anything to say..Or trying to steer.... Tim do you know where the money went,or way millions where spent on a program that the city does not have?????

Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2007 at 5:26 pm

Tim maybe if the City leaders where more truthful and open with there information it would not end up like this??? Now if Frank or the City Counsel would do that to Emily, What would they do to a small fish employee like myself????

Posted by sorry you learn a hard lesson, a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2007 at 8:22 pm


You resigned, and the city has the right to accept your resignation.

I sense a lot of anger about the consequences of a choice you made.

Sorry it worked out poorly for you.

Posted by Luis G., a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2007 at 1:50 am

Though this discussion has drifted in a different direction, I'd like to go back to the management of the city. In my very limited contact with Mr. Frank Benest, I got the impression that he was just a "figure head" -- somebody who was to provide a few "sound bites" but was leaving all of the details up to Emily Harrison. When it came time to get down to details, I worked with her. Emily was extremly professional, courteous and informed. She seemed to be a much better City Manager than Mr. Benest, who impressed me as a "blowhard." Maybe -- and this is speculation -- Mr. Benest came down on Emily harder than necessary in order to eliminate an hair apparent, so that he could keep the top job. I know there have been rumblings that City Council wanted to fire Mr. Benest, but those in favor of firing had only 4 of the 9 votes on Council. Perhaps Ms. Harrison's departure was an insurance policy for Mr. Benest. Again, this is just speculation. But unfortunately, that's what we're left to do given the paucity of information being released by OUR city government about this very important situation.

Posted by Phil Lanthrop, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 1, 2007 at 10:33 am

Well said Luis. Thanks for your candid appraisal/opinion/comments....and for bringing the topic at hand back into focus.
Fireman: sounds like you have had some bitter moments with folks downtown. Thanks for sharing as well. Hopefully this forum has allowed you to at least let go of some of the anger that you seem to hold. I hope that you can move on from this episode. Keep up the good work. Thanks for caring/sharing. More power to you.

Posted by Veritas, a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2007 at 12:43 pm

Lets get real. Three weeks without pay is a MAJOR sanction. The next level would have been termination. Whatever happended had to be very serious indeed to justify this kind of punishment.

Posted by DFT, a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Mike said:
Looks like some people really have an axe to grind. Lots of sour grapes and no substance here. Time to move on...

Diana, try deep sea fishing for a change, instead of trolling the local tidepools for minows and guppies.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 30, 2007 at 3:13pm

Then he says he doesn't insult anyone. MikeAnnaVeritas RWE JeremyNot so Fast, JL,Pubicus and who knows what else, you are a TROLL.
Note to other people: Don't feed the troll ! (DFT)

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 2, 2007 at 6:08 am

To DFT--just for the record, I am not Mike/Anna/Veritas/RWE/ Jeremy/Jl or whomever else you think. I post under that name not under any others.
Not sure why you find it hard to believe that more than one person can have an opinion that is different than yours.
As a matter of fact, I completely disagree with Mike regarding the proposed bond measures, something you would have seen had you read my posts in this and other threads.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 3, 2007 at 1:05 pm

All this yammering over a three week suspension...yawn.

Is the city still running? Are you getting power to your home? Are the streets open for traffic?

The fact is that Emily Harrison is a very competent administrator. She made a mistake and has been disciplined for it. So? Time to move la vie...

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 3, 2007 at 1:12 pm

Veritas, you're probably right; it was most likely a serious internal *personnel* matter. As long as no laws were broken, it *needs* to stay private. Why? because making something like that public - details beyond the fact of the suspension - could impact the suspended person's ability to manage in the future. Think about it.

I have personally disciplined people for poor job performance, without letting their subordinates know the details. Why? because they were otherwise competent - even outstanding- employees. Why would I compromise a person's organizational reputation, and compromise his ability to manage after a rather severe disciplinary action? What if the employee is indispensible to my organization? What if the employee's performance - on the whole - FAR exceeds the mistake he made?

Some people want blood. That's been the tenor here; it reveals far more about those who are frothing at the mouth for details than anything else.

Posted by Veritas, a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2007 at 1:20 pm

Mike, three weeks suspension without pay is a quarter-step short of outright termination. The damage to organizational effectiveness has already been done due to the seriousness of the lapse in judgement and lack of self-control than would result in this severe a punishment. The newspaper coverage just puts an exclamation point to this affair.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 3, 2007 at 2:02 pm

Veritas, I agree -as long as further details stay private, the organization will recover. I'm not questioning the suspension, just the rubber-neckers and gossip-mongers who want all the details.

Posted by DFT, a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2007 at 4:49 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by DFT's Mama, a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2007 at 10:17 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Betsy Allyn, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 6, 2007 at 2:08 pm

I have had on several occasions the good fortune to work
with Emily Harrison in her capacity as ACM. I found her to
be an excellent listener, a reasoned advisor with good
advice, which at times was hard to listen to, and harder to
realize was in my best interests.. But she was always directly
honest and forthright. If she had a problem, I am sure there
are two sides to the story. And we should be allowed to make
our own decisions about it.

Posted by Charles "Daddy" Marx, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 9, 2007 at 1:57 pm

Emily Harrison returns to work April 10th, just in time to help Frank Benest celebrate his seventh anniversary as Palo Alto City Manager. (Benest's first day as City Manager was April 10, 2000.)

What's the appropriate seventh year anniversary gift for someone who just suspended you and reduced your annual income by over $10,000?

Someone leaked the fact of Harrison's suspension.

Someone also refused to identify the 19 Utility Department employees, including nine managers and supervisors, who were disciplined as a result of the Utility Department scandal that Harrison resolved with the help of Administrative Services Director Carl Yeats, who is retiring at the end of 2007 according to a gratuitous comment Benest made during a Council meeting earlier this year.

Six of the 19 disciplined employees were terminated are forced to resign, in addition to Director John Ulrich and Assistant Director Scott Bradshaw.

Even the Weekly would not identify the names of the disciplined managers when it reported in its editorial of July 6, 2005, that it "had obtained the names of two other managers who suddenly disappeared from work with no announcement in the past month, plus two others said to be on leave."

Yet the someone who leaked Harrison's suspension to the Weekly must have been confident that the suspension would be reported, while the someone who refused to disclose the names of the disciplined Utility Department employees could apparently rely on the Weekly to keep secret the names of the disciplined managers it had learned of on its own.

Maybe the someone who leaked Harrison's suspension to the Weekly and the someone who refuses to name the 19 disciplined Utility Department employees is the same "someone".

The process that led to Harrison's suspension involved interviews with a large number of city employees who ultimately report to City Manager Frank Benest and is reminiscent of the interview process the City Council used in 1981 when there was a dispute between City Manager Bill Zaner and City Attorney Roy Abrams, which the Council ended by interviewing a large number of employees who ultimately reported to the City Manager.

Meanwhile, Harrison's suspension and its disclosure come at the same time that neighboring Menlo Park is beginning a six-month search for a City Manager, where two of Harrison's former colleagues, Audrey Seymour (Assistant to the City Manager in Palo Alto) and Kent Steffens (Assistant Director of Public Works in Palo Alto) have successively been named as Interim City Manager, and the deadline for submitting applications for the City Manager's job is April 30th.

The public disclosure of Harrison's suspension could adversely affect her potential candidacy for Menlo Park City Manager.

The salary Harrison lost when she was suspended also affects her retirement benefits should she choose to retire in the near future, because the amount of her retirement pay is directly related to the highest annual salary she received before retiring.

Should Harrison decide to remain a City employee for at least a year to restore her retirement benefit to its former amount, she has no guarantee that she will receive the same salary increases that other employees receive, or even retain her current salary, because Palo Alto management and professional salaries can vary substantially below (or above) the amount established for each position in the city's compensation schedule.

Should Harrison decide to retire, the current and proposed city budgets include changes to employee expenses that would facilitate any transition.

The current fiscal year budget for the year ending June 30, 2007, includes a new mid-level management position at an annual cost of $149,748 that was first proposed by City Manager Frank Benest at the Finance Committee meeting of May 23, 2006, to "offload certain projects and administrative support functions and free up the Assistant City Manager [Harrison]" to "provide support to the department's oversight function."

In effect, for almost a year, Harrison has been training a mid-level manager as her potential successor.

For the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2007, Benest proposed a number of operating expense reductions to be reallocated to increase spending on existing infrastructure.

Curiously, in a document that proposed expense reductions, Benest included an increased annual expense of $242,133 in the Police Department to restore the position of Assistant Police Chief for better oversight and succession planning in the department headed by Harrison's friend and joint property owner Police Chief Lynne Johnson.

These two new annual management expenses total $391,881, although the addition of the Assistant Police Chief would be offset by the elimination of one Police Lieutenant for a savings of $193,362, resulting in a net increase in annual expenses for the two new management positions of $198,519.

The Utility Department scandal and the Harrison suspension may indicate that something is broken in Palo Alto's current system of government.

We have had city-owned utilities since 1896 for water, since 1898 for wastewater, since 1910 for electricity, and since 1917 for natural gas, but it is only recently that we have had scandals in the Utilities Department. (Remember the Utility Department employees who got paid overtime to play golf on the city's golf course?)

Palo Alto has had a Council-Manager system of governance for about half of its existence as an incorporated city -- incorporated 1894; voted for Council-Manager government in 1950.

Maybe it's time for a change.

Posted by andrew, a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2007 at 11:05 am

Big Daddy knows SUBSTANCE...Thank you,restored alittle faith in the human race,Thanks.. This is about a City and one of there top employee's being suspended.. #1..#2 How severe this suspension was..A history of attacking co workes in the Fire D gets 3 days?? #3 Maybe?? about what this position in the city did??..Small picture.. Big picture How this City has changed into a iron curtian.. Showing no respect for there workers or the Citizens. Anonymous letters,secerts court found,Huge amounts of the publics $$$$ wasted,services and programs cut to cover this..Employees threatened and dirty deeded to make shut up or follow orders.. I was just trying to show you a part of the picture,then to look at the whole..I spent 21 years helping the people of the PUBLIC,all the public the same..Was taught "The pubilc is the Customer and treat them right and 1st,, Do your job.Do it well..For good or bad..Think about the whole picture.. Maybe this annonyous letter was Emily's why to get help?? Someone else wrote See Emily Play???..Who knows?? But there is substance all around to show huge problems..

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2007 at 11:12 am

Thank you, Charles "Daddy" Marx, for a thought-provoking analysis. Don Imus (the talk show host) only got a two week suspension for making sexist and racist remarks on air. Two PA police officers got suspended with pay after allegedly beating a black man. What could Harrison possibly have done to deserve three weeks without pay?

Harrison is a senior executive. If Palo Alto was a public company, do you think the board of directors would tell its shareholders and the press that an exec's suspension was just a personnel matter?

We need to know the truth on this one.

Posted by lm, a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2007 at 4:46 pm

The San Jose Mercury had a story today.
Details of city manager's suspension will be released
Web Link
Details of city manager's suspension will be released
By Kristina Peterson
Article Launched: 04/11/2007 01:45:52 AM PDT

The city of Palo Alto will release the discipline report detailing why Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison recently was suspended without pay for three weeks, City Attorney Gary Baum said Tuesday.

In response to a MediaNews public records request, Baum said the city would provide both the notice of discipline and a report prepared by an independent investigator within two weeks. The report will include performance evaluations, e-mails and other information related to the suspension, though all names of anyone other than elected city officials will be redacted.

Baum said the independent investigation cost the city between $25,000 and $30,000.

Harrison, who returned to work Tuesday, earlier had confirmed that the discipline stemmed from a clash with a city employee.

Assistant City Attorney Don Larkin said Tuesday there are no specific guidelines for determining the length of a suspension.

"There is no set of rules for this violation," Larkin said, adding that discipline is "at the discretion of the city manager."

Harrison received a preliminary "notice of intended discipline," then met with City Manager Frank Benest to "give her side," Larkin said. Harrison later received a final notice of discipline. The attorneys declined to specify on Tuesday when the notices were issued.

The three-week suspension without pay cost Harrison $10,740 in salary. According to a 2007 management compensation table
available on the city's Web site, she earns $186,166 annually. Harrison did not return a late afternoon phone call for comment.

Posted by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger
on Apr 11, 2007 at 9:13 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Charles "Daddy" Marx -

You seem to have a lot of knowledge about the city. Please send me an e-mail with your telephone number -- Thank you for all the information you provided us. Certainly food for thought.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2007 at 11:39 am

I look forward to finding out more about this in the estimated two week timeframe. Since the Utility Department incident, and the strange behavior by the city to hide it, I have wondered if there might eventuallt be an attempt to get even by parties who felt offended, or the union itself acting through employees.

Perhaps this suspension is the result of an altercation between the assistant city manager and the employees union; similar to a brush back in baseball where the pitcher intimidates the batter to reduce the chances of a hit.

If it is anything that reveals possible infighting or employee/management sniping I think we should know. It may certainly bear on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of our city operations and perhaps the costs as well, which I still tend to think are way above what they should be if they were more closely managed.

Posted by fireman, a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2007 at 1:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2007 at 1:51 pm

I think you are naive if you don't think that this is often how adversarial groups work within all kinds of organizations-including union and management friction. A group pressures a decision to come down hard on someone they do not like. The group does not have to be the ones with authority to deal out the disipline.

If you don't get the brush back analogy, think of the firing of a warning shot across the bow.

I guess we will know better in two or so weeks...

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