This letter addresses a recent issue of some city employees being put on administrative leave. (The narrative below is obviously sourced by city employees.) They are concerned about an allegation, based on a rumor, which maintains certain employees organized and plotted to get a sitting council member to make a motion to hear their grievances about the city’s pay inequity. While this did not occur, these city employees sought consent from Deputy City Manager DeCarlon Seewood to sit in the audience and support Ryan Jarrett’s June 21, 2021 comments that the City of Columbia’s pay infrastructure is related to the city’s 19-84 ordinance is contributing to the loss of staff, which presently includes 200 unfilled positions. Seewood assented to this request.
- On June 21, 2021, a city IT employee, Ryan Jarrett, spoke as a citizen to the City Council and shared his story of how ordinance 19-84 has hurt the department and creates systemic issues within the City.
- Ryan noted that the pay for city hall employees has long been a systemic issue of inequity, which continues to thwart the city's ability to retain staff.
- Pay inequity has plagued staff members all across the City of Columbia administration for years and the problems resulting from the city’s 19-84 ordinance are well-known.
- Managers from the IT department were in attendance at the June 21 meeting while Jarrett spoke.
- City Manager John Glascock was out of town on vacation until July 6th and Deputy City Manager De’Carlon Seewood was filling in during that time.
The Issue: The City Manager is Essentially Claiming Insubordination FIRST Without a Conversation to Seek Understanding.
- On July 7th City Manager John Glascock sent the attached email revoking the budgeted salaries for certain I.T. management staff for being in attendance at the June 21 st city council meeting.
- However, none of the I.T. management members spoke at the meeting.
- In fact, they can only be seen as part of the audience in the public meeting.
What RMF Has Been Told
City Manager John Glascock has mistakenly assumed foul play on behalf of the city employees, and without meeting with them to discuss “what actually happened” BEFORE requesting that Finance Director Matthew Lue revokes the previously approved 2021-22 positions to the I.T. budget due to their attendance. He also put the staff on administrative leave.
● For example, before attending the July 6, 2021 council meeting, some I.T. staff members inquired of Deputy City Manager DeCarlon Seewood (acting city manager while Glascock was out) about whether or not they could attend and/or speak to show support regarding the issues of pay inequity that are perpetuated by ordinance 19-84.
● Mr. Seewood said only one person should speak at the meeting and the others could sit in the audience as a show of support.
● Is it possible that Mr. Seewood did not inform Mr. Glascock that he approved of the staff’s actions in advance of the meeting? They are deeply troubled by this outcome, as they were transparent with Mr. Seewood about their concerns and sought his advice and direction.
● This incident appears to indicate that Mr. Glascock does not trust his Deputy City Manager whom he has hired and groomed to replace him after his retirement.
● Does Mr. Glascock have trust issues with his staff?
○ City staff and management regularly (and are often required) to attend a variety of city council and city administration-related meetings, ostensibly to be available for council questioning.
○ In this case, it appears Mr. Glascock is retaliating and cutting a department's budget for staff for simply being present at a council meeting.
In closing, we presume that any public entity, like the City of Columbia, should be transparent and inclusive not only with the public but also with city staff to openly embrace both concerns and critique relative to city policies. It is quite frightening, and detrimental to our conceptions of public service and democratic principles if city workers are being punished and excluded for simply sitting in the audience as observers. Our understanding is that the First Amendment prohibits any law limiting freedom with respect to religion, expression, peaceful assembly, or the right of citizens to petition the government. If the city has specific rules of conduct regarding freedom of speech by city employees, please open a conversation publicly to clear up any confusion, and clarify boundaries.
From our perspective, Mr. Jarrett provided a personal, generative, and constructive response to the city’s pay infrastructure. Additionally, he did so humbly and with a desire to continue working for the city -- despite being paid considerably less than the competitive wage. We are concerned about the precedent of retaliation being set by Mr. Glascock’s waning months of lame-duck leadership, against city employees who express disappointment with the city’s persistent status quo that produces institutional inequity. Is this a necessary and justified use of his power to regulate “speech” even when done politely and silently?
We believe retaliating against staff members in this manner (abuse of power), indicates Mr. Glascock is not only uncomfortable with opinions that run contrary to his own, but he does not believe in, nor is he modeling the basic tenets of equity. We urge Mr. Glascock to revisit this subject with Mr. Seewood, the HR director Richard Enyard and the staff members who have been accused of this situation.
We request that all parties seek understanding with “soft ears” and reserve judgment until all voices have been heard.