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Ordinance passed defining CSC role

It was revealed Wednesday by City Manager Brenda Bauer that a portion of the Civil Service Commission’s files have gone missing, including files pertaining to Bainbridge Island Police Officer Jeff Benkert, who fatally shot Douglas Ostling in October 2010 after responding to a 911 call.

The matter arose as the City Council was addressing an ordinance defining the position of the CSC’s secretary/chief examiner — the ordinance was later passed by a 4-2 vote.

Bauer was fielding questions prepared by Council Member Bob Scales regarding the S/CE when it was revealed that the files were missing. Scales drew from her answers to make his case that the S/CE should be a city employee.

“There are two years of files missing from the independent contractor,” Scales said. “The file on the most controversial incident that this island has had with police, the file is missing. That’s a very serious problem and that would not happen with a qualified city employee.”

Bauer’s reasoning why the commission’s S/CE should be a member of the city’s staff was partly based on the former contractor — Kim Hendrickson who was not present at the meeting — who held the position. According to Bauer, the former S/CE did not properly maintain and organize the commission’s files and records.

After the position was transferred to a city employee and Hendrickson was terminated from the job, it was discovered that files from the years 2007 and 2008 were missing, including Benkert’s background material and other files pertaining to his testing and ranking as a candidate. Only personnel files have not been located, and no files relating to the shooting incident itself are absent.

“It is disturbing that they are missing,” Bauer said. “This is why you have a human resources professional who understands how they are organized,” In response to Scales’ questions, she said that having no administrative support, no supervision, and the fact they are responsible for city files but could not use city resources as reasons for wanting to place a city employee in the position.

“I inherited Civil Service Commission files in 2009 with non-inventoried contents,” Hendrickson said. “I was not allowed to inventory these files before turning over my key despite two written requests to do so.”

Hendrickson said that the files were kept in locked cabinets at the police station and that she was one of two people with keys to the files — the other being Police Chief Jon Fehlman’s secretary. Hendrickson also noted that she attempted to organize and inventory the files but was ordered to turn over her keys prior to her contract’s end, and did so without being allowed to inspect the files.

“Neither you nor Council Member Scales ‘accused’ me of losing the files of the two officers involved in the Ostling shooting. It was, instead, insinuated. This insinuation is insulting…” said Hendrickson in an email to Bauer. “I am getting the uncomfortable feeling that I am being turned into a scapegoat and I deeply resent it.”

Another issue was raised during the meeting by council members and the public involving the pressure to pass the ordinance when the CSC had all three of its commissioners resign in October and have not been replaced.

Rob Killian, who serves on the city’s Ethics Board, asked the council to wait until the CSC is filled and to allow the commissioners to participate in the decision on how their own commission is run. Councilor Kim Brackett echoed this sentiment, saying that it is offensive to some people to not allow new commissioners to collaborate on the issue.

“This is just terrible. We should be working together to come up with some solutions the community can trust,” said former council member Debbie Vann during time for public comment. “…you want to make (the S/CE) a position that is controlled by the city manager and that is different from any other city in the state. When I look at 50 cities and I find 45 of them saying the Civil Service Commission decides the duties and then I hear (from the city) that is not the case, I think we have some serious mistrust.”

Some wording was changed in the ordinance in response to public concern and apparent confusion over the line between the city manager’s role over a city employee as S/CE and the commission’s independence.

A portion stating that the S/CE will perform duties that the commission, “in consultation with the city manager, may prescribe” was taken out. It was replaced with wording that stated the commission will consult with the city manager over the work schedule of the employee.

“I want them to consult with me to manage the employee work load,” Bauer said. “Not to control what the employee does with the commission.”

 

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