SNOCOM executive director under fire

  • Tue Sep 14th, 2010 7:20pm

By Mina Williams Enterprise editor

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — An independent investigator has reported that claims made by the SNOCOM Dispatchers Association last April are unfounded.

The report was accepted unanimously by the nine-member SNOCOM board of directors Aug. 31.

South County cities contract with SNOCOM for 911, police and fire dispatch services.

After a little more than one year as executive director of the emergency public safety dispatch agency, Debbie Grady faced claims from SDA, the dispatchers association, of age discrimination and retaliation for union activities.

SNOCOM’s board of directors entered into the independent investigation to determine if the discipline of two 911 operators was warranted.

“That report concluded that the allegations against Director Grady were unfounded,” Jerry Smith, SNOCOM board chairman, wrote in a letter to the agency’s employees. “The board has adopted this conclusion, and determined that there is no evidence of wrong doing by Director Grady,’’ wrote Smith, who also is mayor of Mountlake Terrace.

Board supports director

“As a new person coming in (Grady) has established controls and procedures, has been given guidelines and has the board’s support,” Smith told The Enterprise. “She has put step by step procedures in place and is a strong leader.”

One of those procedures precluded union business to be conducted while on SNOCOM’s dime. This procedure is included in the union contract, and was irregularly enforced prior to Grady’s appointment.

The only exceptions to that procedure are union negotiations with the agency and grievance arbitrations. SDA is currently in labor negotiations with SNOCOM for a new contract.

“I was asked to work with board members to develop goals,” Grady said. “These goals included beginning a review of core agency functions in the context of personnel, labor relations, budget and technology. No work standards were altered, however work place expectations were provided to employees and some operational policies have been modified to meet operational procedures and practice, directives which have been put into place are the result of inconsistent or unclear application in the workplace,” she said referring to disallowing union business being conducted on SNOCOM time.

Investigator’s report

While the investigator’s report indicates Grady’s management style could be shifted, it concluded that the facts in the matter did not support allegations of age discrimination or retaliation for the individuals’ union activity.

“It is unfortunate that these issues have arisen and created so much dysfunction within SNOCOM,” investigator Stephanie Alexander of the Seattle law firm Michael &Alexander, specialists in employment litigation, wrote in the report.

The issue boiled over in June when the board received written notification from the union attorney, James Cline of Seattle’s Cline Associates, about the complaints. SDA also sent the board a vote of no confidence against Grady, which the board rejected. It was then the board sought legal advice and initiated the independent investigation.

Operator charged with interference

The union’s notification came on the heels of a complaint about Jodi Basim, 38, filed last January by the Mountlake Terrace Police Department, a client agency that pays for SNOCOM services. Police Chief Greg Wilson implicated Basim in communicating classified information with a recently discharged police employee and inserting herself into his department’s investigation of the employee’s actions.

The city of Mountlake Terrace was further embroiled in this employment matter as SNOCOM outsources human resources functions, including payroll, to the city. Scott Hugill, Mountlake Terrace’s assistant city manager sits on the SNOCOM personnel committee at the request of the SNOCOM board. He has also become entangled in the events, giving professional counsel to Grady.

A secondary SNOCOM investigation was initiated by Grady in February 2010, following a complaint from a dispatcher claiming on-the-job bullying by Basim, SDA’s president, and Margie Penman, 48, SDA’s second vice president. The two were placed on administrative leave pending the bullying investigation.

Both Basim and Penman, dispatch supervisors at SNOCOM, are currently working full time.

An unfair labor practice complaint, filed by the union against SNOCOM covering the same complaints, is also being investigated by the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission.

In a preliminary ruling issued April 15 by state, examiner Jessica Bradley wrote assuming that the allegations are factual, true and provable, “an unfair labor practice violation could be found.”

A hearing regarding the complaint, filed in February, was held Aug. 27 by the PERC. That hearing will continue Sept. 15 through Sept. 30. A decision from the hearing examiner is expected later in the year, according to David I. Gedrose, unfair labor practice manager for PERC.