All but one of the five members of the City Engineer’s Department who appeared before the Mayor and City Council’s Human Resource Committee have been suspended without pay. This decision was taken even as several councillors declared that if replacements were available they would have fired them.
“The level of disrespect in their facial expression alone would’ve caused me, had I been the chairman, to say fire them now. But we do not have people to replace them,” Councillor Noelle Chow-Chee declared even as council maintained that the men were being disciplined for remorseless neglect of duty.
Deputy City Engineer Ron Eastman, Assistant City Engineer Rasheed Kellman, Technician Engineer Kabila Hollingsworth, Senior Building Inspector Marlon Harris and Building Inspector Vaughn Canterbury were all placed before the committee for disciplinary action after City Engineer Colvern Venture accused the men of neglecting their duties by failing to submit requested reports and respond to memos and directives.
All of the men, except Kellman, are to be suspended without pay. While Eastman and Hollingsworth have received two-week suspensions Harris and Canterbury have been suspended for one week each. Kellman is to receive a letter of caution.
The officers appeared before the Human Resources Committee on the recommendation of Mayor Patricia Chase-Green, who at the May 9, statutory meeting recommended that disciplinary action be taken against three members of the department over flooding in the city. At the May 9 meeting, the mayor noted that subsequent to flash flooding last December, three engineers were placed on a rotating shift to oversee the operations of the sluices and pumps and asked to submit regular reports to Venture. It has been claimed by Venture that they failed to fulfil these duties.
The engineers identified had denied Venture’s accusation stating that for months they submitted reports chronicling persistent problems which were never addressed by Venture until the mayor became involved.
Despite these claims the men were unable to prove to the committee that they had submitted the requested reports.
Eastman was found to have submitted one report on January 17. Hollingsworth was able to provide evidence that he had written five reports and could not prove he had submitted any of them. Kellman was found to have submitted 15 reports over the period January to May 2017. There were, however, no reports submitted during the month of March.
“These officers are being disciplined for neglect of duty that could’ve cost this city millions of dollars,” Chase-Green declared to the gathered councillors.
All the councillors who had been present at the disciplinary meeting expressed shock and frustration at the level of disrespect shown to the City Engineer, the committee and its chair by Hollingsworth who refused to cooperate during questioning.
Both the councillors and the committee minutes detail a tense 20-minute exchange during which Hollingsworth refused to respond to questions from Committee Chair Oscar Clarke.
After waiting 30 minutes for Hollingsworth to return from his office with copies of five reports, Clarke asked if the reports were hard copies previously printed or if they had just been printed from the computer.
Hollingsworth reportedly refused to answer, even though several committee members and the Human Resource Manager also asked the same question.
Chow-Chee described for the full council how this exchange and several other so riled Councillor Malcolm Ferreira that he asked that Hollingsworth be ejected from the meeting before declaring that he himself would leave.
Meanwhile, Canterbury and Harris were placed before the committee for failure to provide a requested report on unauthorized building in several areas of the city.
A directive was first given to Harris on April 19, 2017 then on May 2 and 3 all to no avail. Though Harris apologized and claimed that the report would be submitted on May 17, the committee recommended that he be suspended.
Harris who has been employed by council for 24 years claimed that the necessary inspections of the areas identified took some time since the department is understaffed and this delayed the report.
The committee also found that Canterbury who claimed he submitted reports to his immediate supervisor Harris was disrespectful in his response to the Engineer on April 28, 2017.
The Engineer had requested that Canterbury report to him on unauthorized works in various areas of the city and stop construction on a building where a violation had been identified. However, it was discovered during questioning that Canterbury had been the draughtsman who drew the plan for the building in question. The plan was then approved by a colleague since council’s regulations prohibit building inspectors from approving plans they have drawn.
The regulations also prohibit these inspectors from drawing plans for buildings to be constructed in areas of the city for which they hold supervisory function; Canterbury failed to comply.
The report noted that council had never attached a reprimand to this offence and recommended that the regulation be reviewed to prevent further breakdown in the efficiency of the system.