Report to mayor shows public safety agencies rife with problems

transition team's 67-page report to mayor shows low morale, leadership issues throughout

jkegley@herald-leader.comshopkins@herald-leader.comMarch 6, 2011 

Jim Gray

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

  • Below are summaries of portions of the report by the Public Safety Transition Team

    MEMBERS OF THE TEAM: The team was chaired by Glenn Brown, former jail director and senior adviser to the mayor for special projects. Other members of the team were: Former assistant Fire Chief David Ades; former Police Chief Anthany Beatty; Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training John Bizzack; Vice-Mayor Linda Gorton; Councilwoman Diane Lawless; Professor of Criminal Justice Derek Paulson; and Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt.

Just days before he was sworn in as mayor, a transition team provided Jim Gray with a 67-page report that highlighted myriad problems throughout Lexington's public safety agencies.

The report detailed management, budget and other issues at the jail and with police, fire, code enforcement and emergency services. Some of those problems were minor; others were complicated. But the report foreshadowed the actions Gray has taken since he entered office, including an attempt to dissect issues at the jail, the city's 911 call center and at the fire department, which Gray said last week needs new leadership.

Across the board, public safety unions who backed Gray during his campaign said their agencies were plagued with low morale and lack of faith in leadership.

Members of the police union want a new chief. At the jail, union officials said the top brass has a "closed-door policy" and "no plans to address the public's perception of the corrections facility." And the fire union president said there is a lack of diversity and "no trust, respect or leadership" in the division of fire's administration.

Still, Gray said the transition team report was not a driving factor in his decision to seek the resignation of Fire Chief Robert Hendricks on Monday.

"The symptoms have existed for some time," he said. "The transition report confirmed the symptoms."

Police

Lexington police have an authorized strength of 595 sworn officers, but only 512 of those positions are filled (30 officers are on disability or military leave). The chief would like to hire 26 officers, but it takes 11 months to hire. At a time when the ranks could use a boost, crime is on the rise, including gang-related activity — especially in the schools.

Understaffing, budget cuts aging infrastructure and pension reform are among the biggest concerns of the command staff.

The report says Chief Ronnie Bastin and assistant chief David Boggs, who met with the transition team, rated the division as "extremely efficient" in the face of financial difficulties. He added that the division routinely turns in excess money from its $60 million budget at the end of each fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the union is concerned about morale, which is the lowest it has ever been, and that officers' complaints are ignored by the chain of command, the report says. The report says union officials think some officers are "run ragged," trying to work with limited budgets and low staff and the division has a top-heavy command structure, with too many commanding officers and not enough officers within patrol and other bureaus.

Union leaders told the transition team that its members would like to see Bastin, who was appointed by former Mayor Jim Newberry in 2007, replaced.

Reached by telephone on Friday, Mike Sweeney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he did not want to discuss the report. Sweeney said he did not know the transition report was going to be made public.

As far as Bastin is concerned, Sweeney said the union has "an excellent working relationship" with the chief. He also said he has known Bastin for 26 years and has a good working relationship with the chief.

"He rolled with me as a recruit," he said.

Bastin declined to comment.

Gray said Friday he has no plans to replace Bastin.

"Decisions like this are not made in a vacuum," he said. "Any institutional leadership is going to have detractors, dissenters and objectors. I am sympathetic to the challenges and role of a leader. It's tough to be a leader."

Overall, the team did not express any major concerns with the police department. In fact, the team said the division of police leadership development model "should serve as a potential model for other public safety agencies to use."Jail

The problems that prompted Gray's assessment at the jail are well-documented. Numerous discrimination lawsuits have been filed against the jail, a sexual harassment investigation by the Kentucky Human Rights Commission is under way and an FBI investigation into inmate abuse eventually led to the conviction of five corrections officers.

Those incidents grabbed headlines and, in essence, have given the jail a black eye. The jail's managers and union identified a poor public perception as a serious problem, the report said. Management told the transition team the media has a "lack of interest in getting it right or getting it at all."

"Our successes are silent, but our shortcomings are blinding," Corrections Officer Randy Jones, president of Local 3370, said on Friday.

Aside from the jail's ill perception in the community, the administration is battling a high-turnover rate (25 percent) and it takes 90 days to hire. Bishop's team told interviewers the jail has made several significant steps to reduce employee turnover, including more thorough background checks of employees and tours of the jail.

In an interview with the two unions, representatives said they were concerned about the large number of grievances at the jail, high turnover rates and failure to correct the community's negative perception of the jail.

As with police and fire, union representatives for the jail told the transition team employee morale was low. That's in part, because there was "no long-term goal setting" and no plan to address retention issues at the jail. The unions said the jail's administration rules "by intimidation" and has a closed-door policy when dealing with staff.

The transition team recommended the establishment of an oversight board for the jail and an immediate and thorough review.

In February, the mayor announced that David Boggs, an assistant police chief, had been assigned to conduct the review.

The review is ongoing and Gray said it was too early to say what actions may be taken once it is concluded.

E 911

Vacancies, high turnover, a lack of training and difficulty recruiting are among the problems cited in the report by Enhanced 911 Director David Lucas. The division has funding for 11 new hires but has not been able to find qualified candidates, the report said.

Just like the other public safety agencies, Lucas says his center needs money for new equipment and programs but it's simply not in the budget.

Police, fire, and E-911 all requested the installation of a new radio system. The radio system was installed in 1988 and there are "dead spots" where the radio cannot reach, the report says. If a new radio system is not installed by 2013, the city government could face federal fines of up to $60,000 per week, the report said.

Lucas warned task force members that failing to update the public safety radio systems was a "catastrophe waiting to happen."

In addition to the radio, the report says there are issues with employees who "do not work" and are sometimes tardy or absent and his staff isn't getting enough training.

The division began receiving a budget for temporary workers in 2010. Temps have been used in the department since 2008 to combat staffing shortages, according to the report. Previously, money for temp services was drawn from the overtime budget, which was exceeded in fiscal years 2007, 2008 and 2009.

In 2007, E-911 spent $622,798 on overtime, more than doubling its available budget of $249,000.

According to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader, the 911 center has not exceeded its overtime budget in the last two fiscal years. During the transition team meeting, Lucas claimed the reduction in overtime spending as a significant accomplishment.

Despite that victory, staffing levels are still low, requiring mandatory overtime and fewer breaks — a situation that contributes to the low morale of the division, Lucas said in a phone interview Friday.

"It's a stressful job to start with," Lucas said.

E-911 employees don't have a union, but questionnaires were given to all E-911 employees, said Glenn Brown, former jail director and senior adviser to the mayor for special projects. Brown chaired the transition team and is leading a management assessment at E-911.

In February, Gray assigned Brown to review "perpetual problems" at E-911 including understaffing, productivity, employee morale and overtime spending.

Brown said he was not prepared to comment on what problems E-911 employees have been reporting. He is still waiting to speak with some members of the division.

"It's still a work in progress," Brown said. "I'm still working on it."

Fire

About two months before Gray requested the resignation of the city's fire chief, the union that represents most of the city's more than 500 firefighters expressed concern about their leadership.

Chris Bartley, president of the Lexington Professional Firefighters Local 526, and other union leaders were interviewed by the transition team on Dec. 7. Much of their interview focused on the need for more training and equipment. At the end of the interview, almost as an afterthought, the team asked about the union's impressions of its management, Bartley said.

In response, the union said there was "no trust, respect or leadership" with Hendricks' administration.

According to the report, Hendricks recognized his department had some problems, including excessive overtime costs, understaffing and a need to get the staff together more often. The fire chief said collective bargaining would be an issue and fire management suggested monthly or weekly meetings with a representative from the mayor's office and bringing in an outside negotiator to the Division of Fire's upcoming collective bargaining contract negotiations.

Hendricks appeared to be frustrated with a lack of resources, which, among other things, restricted his ability to provide better training, make repairs to fire houses and acquire a new fire training tower.

Despite those issues, Hendricks never identified himself as the problem. Most of the issues Hendricks discussed in the report revolved around a lack of funding.

Last Monday, Gray asked Hendricks to resign by noon on Tuesday, citing lack of leadership, failure to manage the division's overtime budget, and low morale. Hendricks did not resign last Tuesday so Gray asked the city's law department to start compiling charges against the chief that could be presented at a formal hearing seeking his dismissal. Those charges had not been presented as of Friday and Hendricks has yet to resign.

Hendricks did not return calls for comment.

Bartley said on Friday that the union had heard rumors that Gray would try to oust Hendricks, but he said the union did not know it would happen so quickly — if at all.

"We never made a deal saying we would get something if he would get fired, or anything like that," he said.

Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen contributed to this report.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service