READ THE REPORT: Dead City Hall Walking

One problem of complex investigative reports is the ease with which one can lose the forest for the trees. That’s what happening with the new State Attorney’s report on Doug Thomas and his alleged knowledge of widespread shenanigans in police hiring.

I want to try to clarify for people the core facts/issues, as I see them:

1) Jerry Hill didn’t start this part of the investigation. A “current Lakeland administrator” did. Someone working fairly high up in the organization itself did not feel comfortable bringing this information to anyone at the city.

2) Tommy Hamrick gave a wide-ranging statement under pain-of-perjury that is replete with detail about Lisa Womack’s approach to hiring and Doug Thomas’s approach to her. It covers five different incidents:

  • General concern from circa 2011 about the quality of police recruits the city was hiring and a subsequent controversy about the police officer selection test used for screening. This includes an assertion that a lieutenant pushed — with Chief Womack’s backing — pushed for an easier test. An LPD internal investigation later found that the lieutenant was having sex with one of the recruits. (Are you surprised?)
  • The ins and outs of the PIO hiring process that led to the Ann Dinges controversy.
  • The 2013 Womack’s nephew hiring debacle
  • The 2012 LPD captain hiring process.
  • The “Communications Director” hiring process

Each instance differs from the others. In each case, Hamrick says he personally raised concerns to Doug Thomas, who either had a direct role on the hiring practices or extensive knowledge of what was happening.

3) The rebuttal to these under-pain-of-perjury statements is that Tommy Hamrick can’t be trusted because of his own well-documented issues. This rebuttal asks you to believe that Hamrick spun this densely detailed account of hiring practices out of spite. And that he was willing to risk jail to do it. Also, the people, like Thomas, offering the untrustworthy Hamrick rebuttal seem to forget that Thomas observed untrustworthy Hamrick for years and years and then made him HR director as a reward. This rebuttal does not reflect well on the quality of our governance and leadership.

4) Perhaps the State Attorney’s findings should have no meaning because the State Attorney should not investigate the city government’s hiring practices. That’s a fair jurisdictional argument to make, even if I disagree with it in this case. But Doug Thomas himself already rejected it when he suspended Lisa Womack because of State Attorney findings about many of these same hiring issues. You have to pick one: Jerry Hill is either credible about this, or he’s not.

5) There is really nothing to further investigate here. This isn’t going to trial. It’s not an indictment. See point number 4. This is one institution — the SAO — stretching the boundaries of its power to fill the enormous vacuum of leadership left by another institution’s failures — Lakeland city government and its leaders. The few loose ends could be handled easily by any city commissioners with gumption.

For instance, Hamrick supposedly gave Assistant City Manager Brad Johnson a memo in 2013 that details and documents all the warning he gave in 2011, concerning the quality of hiring at LPD. Does that document exist? What does it say? What are the time elements? I’m sure you can get ahold of Brad.

Or any commissioner could simply ask Doug publicly, “Did Tommy Hamrick confront you and Lisa Womack in or after a department head meeting about hiring Bill LePere as communications director?”

So it’s hard to imagine what this outside investigation will accomplish other than continued finger-pointing, expense, and stalemate.

George Orwell once wrote that “to see what is in front of one’s nose requires a constant struggle.” Jerry Hill and The Ledger, through constant struggle, have forced us to look at what’s in front of our nose. It’s not pretty.

The State Attorney’s various reports provide, at a granular level, an on-the-record, under-pain-of-perjury glimpse into a dead organization twitching chaotically.

So investigate whatever you want at however much cost. Doug’s not going to jail. And our city government’s not coming back to life with him at its head. It is dead. Dead.

Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.

We’re just fighting pointlessly over the color of the tie on the corpse.

Here’s a quick illustration from the report. It concerns the LePere/Communications Director issue. Bottom line: LePere was an assistant chief — and a nice guy I used to know a little — who lost out to Womack for the chief’s job. Hamrick says the powers-that-be, including Thomas, arranged for LePere to have a soft landing and make way for the chief’s favorites. What follows is from the SAO report. The investigator quotes Hamrick directly in several spots.

They brought the idea to Hamrick that Bill LePere was going to retire as ACOP and the city would hire him back in the capacity of a Civilian Communications director.

Hamrick stated he had a real problem with this as it was a violation of one of the City’s general policy rules. He said this did not meet the criterion which was outlined as a special exception to the policy.

Additionally, he had an issue with the decision because he couldn’t justify Bill Lepere having any subject matter expertise in the communications department.

Hamrick stated that after the department he stood up in a professional manner [and] challenged Doug Thomas and Lisa Womack about this decision. Hamrick said he couldn’t defend the decision. [ed—not clear to me who the “he” refers to — Hamrick or Thomas]

He said it sounded a lot like they were “buying off” Bill LePere to get him out of the ACOP position in order to select somebody that was one of Lisa’s guys or gals. It was “we’re going to put Bill somewhere so he will keep quiet so he can retire and get some more income.”

During Friday’s agenda study, the city commission evidently discussed the consequences of the DROP program, which tends to keep long-term employees on the job in high-paying roles after formally retiring.

Here’s a tweet from the city’s official Twitter feed about that discussion:

That’s a culture at work. How many other people at City Hall or city agencies in highly-paid positions are we keeping “so he can retire and get some more income” while we sacrifice the Tamara Sakagawas of the world? While a “current city administrator” feels like he or she must go to the State Attorney’s Office to be heard? Remember all that talk about the perils of the “no complaint” culture? Key people are voting with their feet about that culture.

Let me just say that I happen to agree with the six commissioners who scuttled Howard Wiggs’ charter amendment idea that would have allowed for a direct commission role in hiring and firing of department heads. I think it’s a bad idea. But at least it’s an idea. Howard Wiggs is bringing some constructive energy to a commission and government that completely lacks it.

People with better ideas for resuscitating this government need to get in the game. Right now. Because the stench of death is everywhere.