WILTON MANORS –– The city of Wilton Manors’ human resources director has recommended that a city supervisor be suspended and demoted after she distributed a racist email from city hall titled, “Proud To Be White, Somebody Finally Said It’’ and failed to properly handle a racial discrimination complaint.
Human Resources Director Brenda J. Clanton said in an Aug. 22 internal memo to City Manager Joseph L. Gallegos and City Attorney Kerry Ezrol that Assistant Community Services Director Ann Barnes “failed to properly supervise” employees, and that she “misused the City email system for personal purpose” and “exacerbated” conflicts within the department.
“Ms. Barnes lacks the requisite skills to continue to perform in a supervisory management position,” the report concluded.
Clanton’s disciplinary recommendations for the 60-year-old Barnes include a two-week suspension without pay from her $87,360-a-year job, plus workplace behavior and sensitivity training.
Gallegos said Barnes was scheduled to attend a final hearing on both the email and the discrimination complaint on Thursday, Sept. 11, and that he would make a final decision on Barnes’ discipline some time after that. As of press time, no decision on the discipline had been announced.
“The pre-determination hearing will re-convene Thursday and I will take into consideration all matters brought to my attention at that time and will make final determination after that hearing,” Gallegos said in an email to the South Florida Times earlier this week.
Barnes could not be reached for comment, but according to internal city documents, she received a copy of the investigation’s conclusions on Aug. 22 and was scheduled to appear at Thursday’s hearing to defend herself against the investigation’s findings and disciplinary recommendations.
Barnes’ May 6 email to co-workers and residents uses the N-word to describe blacks, the K-word for Jews, and uses a litany of other insulting and derogatory terms referring to other minority groups. It also contains stereotypical slights of blacks, Asians, Jews, Hispanics, Arabs, Native Americans, as well as countless other ethnic groups.
Clanton’s disciplinary recommendation also stems from a recent racial discrimination complaint filed against Barnes’ department by a black employee. The city has settled the complaint filed by Lisa Wiggins, the only black employee in the city’s Community Services Department, for $52,500.
Wiggins’ complaint, filed with the Civil Rights Division of Broward County’s Office of Equal Opportunity, alleged racial discrimination and retaliation. Wiggins alleged that she encountered hostilities in her job as a community services technician, where she earned $27,905.31 a year.
“They talked down to me, made insulting comments, and tried to make me look bad in front of the customers,” Wiggins told the South Florida Times about her experiences in the department.
“There were many instances when I was yelled at for no reason. There are no rules of conduct or process on how to treat people, particularly blacks,” she said.
As a condition of Wiggins’ June 24 settlement, and in addition to the $52,500, the city has agreed to pay Wiggins’ medical insurance through Feb. 28, 2009 and provide her with a positive letter of recommendation for employment elsewhere. For her part, Wiggins agreed not to sue the city, and to resign her employment effective Sept. 12, and not to seek future employment with the city.
City officials delivered the check to Wiggins’ attorney, William M. Julien, on Aug. 29.
Wiggins said she was told by the mediators and attorneys on both sides not to speak to the media so as not to jeopardize the settlement, but she agreed to speak to the South Florida Times.
She recalled that at first, she reluctantly went to the Human Resources Department in hopes of having the conditions addressed, but that only made conditions worsen.
“After I went to Human Resources, everyone in my department stopped speaking to me, except for insults,” she said. “They even stopped giving me work assignments, and I was just sitting at my desk doing nothing, so I started answering the phones, because everyone just ignored me.’’
City officials do not deny her accounts, and, according to internal city emails obtained by the South Florida Times, Wiggins is not the first person to alert city officials to the alleged hostilities and workplace tensions in the department.
One such person was Lymarie Rivera, a staffing supervisor in the Fort Lauderdale office of TransHire, a South Florida-based firm that provides temporary administrative and professional staffing services to several city of Wilton Manors departments.
“Shawanda Jones decided not to return to her assignment at the City of Wilton Manors. Her last day was September 28, 2007. She felt mistreated by (co-worker) Melissa [Cole] and would not continue to work for her,” Rivera wrote to city officials in one email, dated Oct. 1, 2007.
“Melissa yelled at Shawanda twice and Ann Barnes told her that when that happens to walk away and cool off,” she wrote.
Clanton’s recommendation for Barnes’ demotion is in part based on the way Barnes handled the Wiggins discrimination complaint, and because of allegations made by
Wiggins that she was subjected to retaliation after informing Barnes of alleged hostilities in the department, the report states.
For example, Wiggins said she cringed when Cole, who was assigned to train her, hurled loud, profanity-laced insults at her.
“The most simple things would set her off and she would have these outbursts of anger towards us and the customers,” Wiggins said, adding that the outbursts would sometimes include Cole’s throwing files or other objects around the office in anger.
“When I complained to my supervisor (Barnes), she told me to ignore it because that’s just the way Melissa is,” Wiggins said.
Clanton’s memo also states that although Barnes “could be terminated for her conduct, I am recommending a suspension without pay since my recommendation also includes a reorganization of the department, which will result in her demotion.”
On July 7, Barnes received a verbal counseling over the email. That same day, she was escorted out of her office after the city received notice of Wiggins’ complaint.
The issues surrounding the “Proud To Be White; Somebody Finally Said It” email first surfaced when the South Florida Times reported in its July 25 edition that Barnes distributed the email from city hall to co-workers and residents.
“Everyone in the United States has privileges except the White race. They are the majority that made the U.S. what it is,” the email proclaimed. “Now look what it has become!”
“You rob us, carjack us, and shoot at us. But, when a white police officer shoots a black gang member or beats up a black drug-dealer who is running from the LAW and posing a threat to ALL of society…You call him racist.”
“This email is not putting anyone down. It’s a desperate attempt to keep what we have earned, not been given. I’ve passed this on, now please do your part,” it urges.
In light of the email, and the fact that the city was put on notice about the discrimination complaint by Broward County’s Office of Equal Opportunity, Gallegos directed Clanton on July 7 to undertake an investigation and place Barnes on paid suspension.
Clanton could not be reached to comment on her investigation’s findings, but according to the report, it involved input from several city divisions, including the police department.
Now, more than four weeks after it first began, the investigation could lead to re-training of staff and a reorganization of the department if Gallegos accepts and implements the recommendations.
Photo 1: Ann Barnes. Photo 2 by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Lisa Wiggins