HR found ‘toxic environment’ in mayor’s office

Among the public records received by Inweekly on Friday afternoon was the report of Human Resource manager Tracy Walsh’s investigation into Constituent Service Administrator Latasha Buchanan’s hostile work environment complaint that she filed on March 13, regarding an incident that happened in February 2017. Read Buchanan Complaint.

A handwritten document, titled “Edward Sisson Notes,” described the incident based on what Buchanan told him:

Beth (Barr, assistant to city administrator) came in and with pointed finger said, “Listen here. If you short me eight hours again, there is going to be a problem and I will let Eric know.”

Latasha said, “Excuse me.”

Beth said, “You heard me. If it happens again, you and I will have a serious problem.”

Beth leaves.

Latasha goes to Beth’s office to discuss. Knocks on the door, open and says, “Uh, what just happened?”

Beth said, “You heard what I said. This is the second time you’ve done this to me. You didn’t give me 80 hours.”

Latasha interrupts to say, “There was a holiday.”

Beth says, “I don’t care. You put 80 hours for me.”

Latasha said, “This is escalating. I’m going to be an adult and leave.”

Beth says, “Yes, you go be an adult.”

Latasha then called to Eric’s (City Administrator Olson) office to discuss matter. She requested that Beth be invited to the meeting.

Eric stated that he couldn’t address and Latasha stated that she wanted to go on record as she felt threatened and insulted and she wanted it addressed.

Beth insulted Latasha in front of Eric by stating, “any decent human being would have come and told me.”

Eric stated he had a meeting to go to and that he’d have someone else address it.

In the course of her investigation, Walsh received a spreadsheet from Barr that she felt showed a pattern of bullying on Buchanan’s part – Barr Notes.

Walsh completed her investigation and submitted her report to City Administrator Eric Olson on March 23. She found the “threatening behavior” Barr towards Buchanan had not been addressed and had “festered to the point that both parties have made complaints about each other and the problems have still not been addressed.”

Walsh wrote in her report, “This neglect to correct the situation from the beginning has produced a toxic work environment for many of the staff in the mayor’s office.”

Walsh stated that since Barr was considered a part-time employee, she should have been terminated when she threatened another co-worker when the payroll incident occurred.

“However, the incident occurred over a year ago (February 2017), and no other incidents of threats have been brought to the attention of Human Resources,” she wrote.

Walsh recommended that Barr be formally reprimanded and told any future threats would be grounds for immediate termination. She pointed out that Olson violated the city’s policies by not immediately reporting the incident.

See HR Report.

How did Olson handle the HR report?

An email to investigator Rod Powell shows that Barr was shifted from “temp agency” to “permanently” employed on April 23, 2018.

Olson rescinded his approval of Laura Byrne, who works for Buchanan, to attend a conference. Byrne filed in May a complaint of retaliation against Olson believing the city administrator was upset that she supported Buchanan.

On June 4, Buchanan filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. See Exhibit_3.

“In February 2017, I complained to Eric Olson (white city administrator) about being physically threatened by Beth Barr (white assistant to city administrator), and no action was taken,” she wrote. “I have been discriminated against because of my race, black. Since I last complained in March 2018, Olson has retaliated against me by changing my work terms and conditions, which has had a negative impact on my daily duties.”

HR Consultant Rod Powell was hired to perform an independent investigation. His findings regarding the February 2017 threat were similar to Walsh’s.

Tracy Walsh’s notes show that attorney Rob Larkin, who handles most of the city’s legal matters involving employment, initially recommended a third party investigate the matter. On March 15, City Attorney expressed her concerns about hiring an investigator when the situation involves the city administrator.

Larkin agreed to meet with the mayor on March 19 to inform him of the situation and his recommendation of having a third party investigator. After the meeting, it was determined to have an internal investigation and not involve a third party.

There is a note that Walsh obtained on March 22 the exit interview of Ben Ouellette, the mayor’s former executive aide. Walsh wrote, “His interview states the lack of structure.”