Something's rotten in Denmark...or at least Rio Rancho City Hall.
Beneath the surface of this Breaking News story, there are rumblings that City Manager Keith Reisberg recently showed up at a police union meeting during a proposed vote of "no confidence" in the Police Chief.
According to sources, the City Manager indicated there would be repercussions if the vote of "no confidence" went through, although it is not known what repercussions might occur.
Even more troubling - many City department heads appear to be jumping ship. Just last week we learned that the City Attorney has reportedly joined the ranks of resignations over the past few months. Other department heads that have resigned (or were forced to resign) or retired include the Finance Director, Parks & Rec Director, and Utilities Manager. Rumor has it there are other department heads actively seeking to leave.
Not surprisingly, we heard about most of these things before many Governing Body members even had a clue. That speaks volumes. Questions to consider - Why are so many senior staff members leaving? Is there intimidation going on at City Hall? If so, who is responsible?
You know what they say - Where there is smoke, there's fire.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Ex-police union president files labor charge against Rio Rancho
Sources say Vega-Brown out as city attorney
By ERIC MADDY
The New Mexico Coalition of Public Safety Officers has filed a complaint with the state labor board on behalf of a Rio Rancho police officer, alleging he was unfairly disciplined by the department for union activities.
Meanwhile, multiple sources not connected to city government have told The-SCORE.info that city attorney Jennifer Vega-Brown is no longer in that position, though it is not clear resigned or was fired.
City spokesperson Annemarie Garcia is on maternity leave and an automated e-mail referred inquiries to assistant city manager Peter Wells, who did not return a phone call or e-mail Friday afternoon. Both Wells and city manager Keith Riesberg refused to comment at Saturday’s five-hour Governing Body retreat/work session, indicating it was a personnel matter.
Vega-Brown was not in her office Friday afternoon, nor was police chief Michael Geier to comment on the labor issue.
The complaint was filed on behalf of Corporal Justin Garcia, the immediate past president of the union that represents police officers. Garcia was placed on administrative leave pending an internal affairs investigation after he represented another officer in a union matter and expressed concerns at a local union meeting in March.
Garcia was recently reinstated by the department after being on administrative leave for 10 weeks, NMCPSO president Steve Harvey said.
Even so, the complaint, which names both the Governing Body and police department as respondents (defendants), will be heard. An official with Public Employee Labor Relations Board said the complaint has been received but a hearing date has not been set.
Harvey emphasized he believes the complaint is not a personnel matter because the allegations are of policy violations, and policy is the purview of the Governing Body.
In that vein the-SCORE.info attempted to contact all six city councilors. The five who responded said the city administration had not notified them of the labor complaint.
Garcia completed his two-year term president of the Rio Rancho Police and Communications Association, an affiliate of the state organization, in July.
According to the complaint, while still president, Garcia served “as the union representative during some portions of the investigative and disciplinary process” for former officer Vernon Ford, who agreed to resign after a random drug test and internal affairs investigation.
Ford is now suing the city, contending that a provision of his termination agreement was violated. The agreement was signed by Geier.
The Ford lawsuit was filed in October. “On or about March 15, 2016, Corporal Garcia was deposed by the Rio Rancho City Attorney’s office in furtherance of its defense against the Ford lawsuit,” the complaint reads. “Corporal Garcia did not receive any advanced notification from the City Attorney’s Office, whether pursuant to a notice of deposition or a properly served subpoena. Instead, the City Attorney’s office called Corporal Garcia at home, on his day off, and callously demanded that he report to City Hall to be deposed.”
The complaint states that Garcia “was not provided notice of his right to counsel and he was not afforded his right to review, read and sign his deposition transcript despite requesting the opportunity to do so on the record of the proceedings.”
Garcia’s deposition supported Ford’s contentions, and he talked about the way his deposition was handled at a local meeting of the union, “making comments, sharing ideas and offering suggestions.”
Garcia is still a union steward.
One week later, on April 6, Garcia was placed on administrative leave under a memorandum from deputy chief Paul Rodgers. Garcia was required to surrender his badge, weapon and service vehicle.
“Additionally, the Department unilaterally changed Corporal Garcia’s work schedule, changing his hours and hours and days off,” the complaint states. Doing so without any notice “forced Garcia to use accrued personal leave to accommodate prior commitments that were scheduled on his regular days off.”
Garcia was also “disqualified from working on more previously approved overtime assignments in the days and weeks following.”
The complaint states the next day, April 7, Garcia received a second memo that an internal affairs investigation was under way to look at “possible violations of the Department Standard Operating Procedures and City of Rio Rancho Personnel Policies … as a result of a complaint from the City Attorney’s Office.”
After an exchange of letters and notifications, the internal affairs investigators questioned Garcia. The complaint said “one or more members of the Bargaining Unit have been questioned during the Department’s IA investigation” about the union meeting and Garcia’s comments.”
The complaint states that the Public Employee Bargaining Act “provides that the right of public employees shall be free from any ‘interference, restraint or coercion’ by the public employer. And it is a prohibited practice for any public employer to:
“*discriminate against any public employee in regard to terms and conditions of employment because of the employees’ membership in a union’
“*interfere, restrain or coerce a public employee in the exercise of a right guaranteed pursuant to the Public Employees Bargaining Act;
“*discriminate in regards to hiring, tenure, or a term or condition of employment in order to encourage or discourage membership in a labor organization;
“*refuse to comply with a provision of the Public Employee Board act or rule.”
The complaint states the city violated Garcia’s right as a public employee and his “First Amendment rights concerning freedom of speech and association by punishing him for engaging in protected union activities” and that the city’s actions “have a chilling effect on the exercise of protected union activity by Corporal Garcia and other members of the Bargaining Unit.”
The union is seeking several remedies, legally called “prayer for relief,” some of which have already been met by Garcia’s return to duty. But the union also wants the city to “reimburse or otherwise compensate Corpora Garcia” for lost wages, personal leave time used to accommodate his schedule change, lost wages for approved overtime, all records of the matter be expunged from his Human Resources file, and “such other and further relief as the (Labor) Board sees justified and equitable.
Some of the circumstances, including the city’s seeking a statement without legal counsel and on short notice, parallel complaints made by new city councilor David Bency about the city’s continued prosecution of a misdemeanor charge against him.
That case had been scheduled for a preliminary hearing on June 21 but it is not clear if the case will begin that day given the recent developments.
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