Utilities supervisor demotion reignites department troubles | June 8, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 8, 2007

Utilities supervisor demotion reignites department troubles

Circumstances of demotion unclear

by Becky Trout

Union leaders are decrying the city of Palo Alto's plans to demote Michael Haynes -- a former Utilities Department supervisor previously reprimanded for involvement in the wide-ranging scandal of 2004 -- into a newly created position without following the city's strict recruitment process.

"It's really strange," said Phil Plymale, chapter chair of Service Employees International Union Local 715, who said he was informed of the issue by Utilities employees who would have liked to apply for the new spot.

"They can't deny our members the opportunity to get a promotion," Plymale said.

But Sandra Blanch, the city's risks and benefits manager, said the position Haynes is slated for is not new and, according to the city's attorneys, a different set of procedures applies to demotions.

Haynes, formerly a Water-Gas-Wastewater supervisor, previously received an unpaid suspension -- for about 60 days -- when his crew accepted money to perform non-city work on city time in 2004.

He has worked with the city since November 1993, Blanch said.

More recently, this spring, Haynes was disciplined and received a demotion, Blanch said. She said the issues were "ongoing," but would not say if they were related to the 2004 incident, as Haynes has alleged.

"Demotions are a result of lack of performance or quality of performance," Blanch said.

Working through the city's disciplinary process, the city decided to move Haynes from his supervisory position into a Water-Gas-Wastewater (WGW) Installer/Repairer Lead position, Blanch said, cutting his salary from about $95,000 to about $70,000 a year. The lead position is represented by the SEIU, while supervisors are part of the city's management group.

The city currently has five lead installer/repairer positions. But in the 2007-'08 budget cycle, which begins July 1, utilities managers propose converting a currently vacant truck driver position into a lead installer/repairer position, Blanch said. That move was proposed before Haynes was demoted, she said. It is included in the city's proposed operating budget for 2007-09.

The switch is considered a "reclassification," which requires union notification, Blanch said. The city provided that notice, she said.

Demotions are also governed by different rules, which don't require the standard recruitment process to be followed, Blanch said. She admitted they are rare.

The move has not been approved yet, however, so Haynes is currently working in a temporary position, Blanch said.

According to Plymale and sources within the Utilities Department, Haynes is working with electrical inspectors, although he has always worked in the Water-Gas-Wastewater section. And, he is wearing the white hard hat of management, rather than the orange hard hat of WGW workers or the yellow hat of electric workers, one source said.

"It's very unusual they would demote somebody and keep him on hand. With our members they're usually not that nice," Plymale said.

"This whole thing is just odd," one Utilities worker who asked to remain anonymous said. "I feel like I'm watching a train crash."

He said he didn't know what Haynes had done to warrant the demotion.

"Some people think he's useless; some people think he's a good guy," he said. "The guy has two kids in college, and I don't want to be a part of taking that guy's career down."

The Weekly was unable to reach Haynes. Utilities Director Valerie Fong referred questions to the Human Resources Department. The city attorney's office did not respond to several calls by deadline.

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at btrout@paweekly.com.


Posted by Dolly, a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2007 at 11:45 am

When is this whole Utilities scandal going to be over? And why has he just been demoted? Is it beacause the ones that were fired were rehired?

Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 18, 2007 at 1:14 pm

I have a idea. Make the Utilities Supervisor the new $181,000 Environmental- Green Coordintor for the city! I'm sure this would be a pay raise and maybe the lawsuit would go away.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2007 at 11:33 am

PG&E, save us from ourselves!