Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Consider this

Imagine you are department director for a small Northeastern city. Imagine that city is Trenton.

Let's say you have a problem employee. He's been disciplined at least once, very recently, for failing to properly carry out his duties. His job will be in jeopardy if he has any more problems. He knows it. You know. The whole department knows it.

One day you find out that he is accused of violating the very rules as a private citizen that he, as an employee, is charged with enforcing on every other citizen.

What would you do to that employee, if you judge the accusations are true?

Would you mete out a more severe punishment?

Would you suspend the employee? Would you fire him?

Whatever action you took, how would you feel if your decision was overruled by your boss against your objection?

That seems to be the core issue at last month’s dismissal of the city’s inspections director, Cleveland Thompson.

Sources indicated at the time that Thompson’s departure was brought on by his insistence that an employee in his department should be terminated and the administration, for whatever reason, did not agree.

Thompson, who has since been brought back to his old title of electrical sub code official, reportedly either quit or was fired by the Jackson administration over a disagreement on the handling of a disciplinary matter concerning housing inspector Ken Bullock.

Citing the usual “we don’t comment on personnel matters”; the Jackson administration has refrained from providing any details. There are some things we do know via the results of some requests for public information.

  • Kenneth Bullock, a barber since 1978, was hired by the city of Trenton in July, 2006. He was known to be an avid supporter of Doug Palmer who had just started his fifth and final term at the time Bullock was hired. In fact, Palmer was one of three references listed on Bullock’s employment application. The others were Palmer Public Information Officer Kent Ashworth and then East Ward Councilman Gino Melone.
  • In September of 2011, Bullock apparently was laid off along with many other city employees. He was rehired in July of 2013. 
  • In March of 2014, Bullock issued a Certificate of Occupancy to a house on Bayard Street that was being sold. Work was being done in the house that required permits yet Bullock failed to cite the seller or buyer and issued the C of O.
  • Payroll records show that Bullock was not paid for two days in April of this year. This corresponds with a disciplinary suspension Bullock served for failing to perform his duties in that case. 
  • Also in March, Bullock inspected 216 Rusling and approved a rental and sale final C of O. Due to complaints received a re-inspection was conducted on May 9 and several violations were discovered.
  • Bullock granted a rental C of O for an apartment on Grand Street on April 29. On May 5, another inspector responding to a complaint by the tenant, inspected the apartment and discovered a dozen violations that were not included in Bullock's inspection report. Included in the overlooked violations was the lack of carbon monoxide detector and access to the electric panel box. 
  • On May 13, inspectors acting on an anonymous tip went to 218 and 220 Dickinson Street to investigate the dumping of construction debris in the former lot after the installation of a deck and stairs on the back of the house at the latter address. Indeed, there was evidence that a deck had recently been built on the rear of 220 Dickinson and there was debris from that job in the lot next door. 
  • The 220 Dickinson property is owned by Kenneth Bullock. He bought it from the city for $15,000 at an auction in May, 2010. When the inspectors approached the house they noticed a recently added deck and stairs and the debris on the property next door. When they went to the front door of the home, they were confronted by Bullock who allegedly told them to “tell Cleveland that he needs to stop thisThe report by Inspectors Joe Pratico and Ray Bucchi states Bullock also said: “Listen to me carefully. I have reached my boiling point. Do you understand what I am saying? I’ve reached my boiling point and I will go back to prison.
  • Bullock was issued a summons for allowing the dumping of the construction debris leftover from the construction of the deck on the adjacent (218 Dickson) vacant property. The matter has been transferred to Ewing Township out of Trenton Municipal court because of potential conflicts of interest. 
  • Bullock paid $900 for not taking out a permit for the construction of the deck. The initial violation of not having a permit cost him $500 and there was an additional $50 fine per week for eight weeks until he got the permit. 
  • Once the permit was issued and the deck inspected, violations were noted. They were to be corrected by September 12, 2014. We currently have no information on the status of those violations. 

As a result of all of this, we are told that a disciplinary hearing was held.

Reportedly, Director Thompson felt strongly that Bullock’s cumulative actions should result in immediate termination.

The administration, on the other hand, wanted to suspend rather than terminate Bullock.

Thompson is alleged to have refused to sign the suspension paperwork which resulted in him no longer being the Director of Inspections.

What would you do?

You have an employee with a record of failing to perform his duties. He’s already served one suspension. He obviously disregarded the very construction code he is employed to enforce by not obtaining a permit for work on his own property. It certainly appears he allowed construction debris from the project to be dumped on an adjoining property.

What would you do?

A tip of the cap to Kevin Moriarty for his input on shaping the opening of this piece.