The Plight of Camarillo: City Hall Vs. City Employees

prostate arial, buy sans-serif;”> By Tim Pompey

case arial,sans-serif;”>Behind the scenes at Camarillo City Hall, there seems to be an ongoing struggle with city management, the city council, and their treatment of city employees.

With the recent departure of Bruce Feng as city manager and rumors that the city is going to hire from within rather than do an outside search for a new city manager, one wonders how the city is going to address these issues as they become more costly to local taxpayers.

One hint of the city’s troubles was provided by Roy Villa, a 30-year resident of Camarillo, former city council candidate, and a local real estate appraiser. Villa received an anonymous letter in October 2014 titled “Camarillo City Employees for Change.”

In that letter, the morale of city workers was described as being “at its worst” and that the city council “could care less” about it. It also accused former city manager Bruce Feng of being a “fear monger.”

Villa believes that he received the letter because of his previous runs for a seat on the city council in 2010 and 2014. When asked about the letter’s content and its description of city management, Villa replied, “I don’t know the reasons behind what’s been described in that letter, but I know that it’s happening or has happened,” he said, “and the lawsuits filed by (Rosa) Chaparro, (Yolanda) Kueny, and now (Scott) Taylor seem to support that anonymous letter.”

The lawsuits Villa referred to have all been filed within the last three years.

Former Assistant HR director Yolanda Kueny filed her lawsuit in March 2013, naming the city and former city manager Bruce Feng as the defendants. The case, settled out of court, awarded the plaintiff $150,000, plus back wages, but the total costs to the city are estimated to be somewhere between 600 and 800 thousand dollars.

The case includes a laundry list of employment violations, including disability harassment, failure to prevent harassment, and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical and the California Family Rights Act.

According to document filings, Feng was accused of “wrongfully harassing and retaliating against employees and was involved in litigation that resulted in judgments issued against the City of Burbank.” The suit says that the city of Camarillo knew about Feng’s history when they hired him in 2005 and promoted him to the city manager’s position in 2010.

In another case currently being adjudicated, a lawsuit was filed in December 2014 by Rosa Chaparro, a former senior administrative specialist for the city. The suit was filed against the city of Camarillo and senior management analyst Linda Moore Palmer.

Charges in this case ranged from unlawful disability discrimination to failure to provide a reasonable accommodation and failure to prevent discrimination in violation of The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Palmer is specifically named as the defendant who engaged in “further acts of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation,” which eventually led to Chaparro seeking “medical attention and further leaves of absence for the severe emotional distress.”

The suit charges that Chaparro on several occasions reported Palmer’s behavior to the city’s human resource department both verbally and in writing with no resulting action on the city’s part. Shortly thereafter, Chaparro filed for medical leave based on “stress, anxiety and depression.”

In addition, in the case of Chaparro vs. the City of Camarillo, the city was fined $2,400 in discovery sanctions, purportedly for failing to provide discovery documents to the plaintiff’s attorney in a timely manner.

Another lawsuit was filed in June 2015 by Scott Taylor, a former employee of the City of Willows and a code compliance officer for the city of Camarillo. The suit named as its defendants the city of Camarillo, former city manager Bruce Feng, Assistant City Manager David Norman, and Director of Community Development, Joseph R. Vacca.

Charges in this suit include unlawful retaliation and failure to prevent retaliation in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

The lawsuit claims that members of the city retaliated against Taylor after Taylor disclosed “matters of public concern and complaining about his supervisors’ harassment, discrimination, and retaliation during his employment with defendant City of Camarillo.”

In addition, Taylor claimed mistreatment after he filed a whistleblower’s complaint with FEMA regarding the city’s reimbursements for the Camarillo Springs fire in 2013. According to Taylor’s complaint: “Taylor asserted that Feng had ordered him and other employees to submit false time sheets so the city could be reimbursed its labor cost related to the fire from FEMA.”

While the city has its hands full trying to settle these lawsuits, other past incidents should also be noted. For instance:

? Katie Ohmeisis, former Executive Secretary for city manager Jerry Bankston. Ohmeisis, a 22-year employee for the city, was so distressed by treatment from Bruce Feng, that she walked out of city hall and never returned to work at the city. The incident eventually cost the city $45,000 to investigate and settle.

? Brian Pendleton, Ventura Port District Business Operations manager, who, after working for the city for three years, left his employment in September 2012 because of alleged harassment by Bruce Feng. Pendleton is now the city manager for the city of Moorpark.

As the anonymous letter sent to Villa indicates, there certainly seems to be a curtain of fear among city employees when it comes to discussing the working atmosphere at city hall. When City of Camarillo Mayor Mike Morgan was contacted for comment, he replied simply that “legally I cannot discuss any personnel issues.” It appears that, whether out of legal concerns or fear of retaliation, neither can anyone else who works for the city.

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Tim Pompey, a freelance writer who has done lots of local affairs and entertainment/cultural writing, lives in Oxnard. Tim is also a fiction writer (Facebook Page). You can presue is books his page on Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/booksbytimpompey.

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10 Responses to The Plight of Camarillo: City Hall Vs. City Employees

  1. Hmmmm May 5, 2016 at 12:50 am

    I heard a different story on Scott Taylor who by the way was fired at his next job in Willows, CA within 3 months of working there. Not everything is as it seems! Not to say that Feng is innocent but there are always 2 sides to a story. Some of these lawsuits may be legitimate and one might be jumping on the band wagon after he was fired by Feng and cried mistreatment!

    Reply
    • Samantha October 19, 2016 at 11:30 am

      You sound line a jealous ex or a disgruntled ex employee of his. Just sayin!

      Reply
  2. Tom Douglas January 22, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning. ..for by doubt we are led to question and by questioning we arrivevat truth” – Petee Abelard –

    Reply
  3. J. McMullen January 22, 2016 at 7:31 am

    The City Council is either in support of the gestapo style leadership or they are oblivious.

    Reply
  4. J. McMullen January 21, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Mr. Villa seems to be the go to guy who apparently has insight into what’s really happening at the Hall. Maybe he should consider seeking a seat on the City Council.

    Reply
  5. J. McMullen January 21, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    The next City Manager will likely be the current Assistant City Manager. That spells trouble because records show that he has been terminated from prior CM positions, most recent was City of Port Hueneme.

    Reply
  6. Jay January 21, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    FYI: Camarillo City employees(148) are not unionized.

    Reply
  7. gail January 21, 2016 at 7:33 am

    I’m sure the Mayor will have a solution; he always seems to think he has all solutions.

    Reply
  8. Abe January 21, 2016 at 6:44 am

    My heart goes out to the City employees.

    Reply
  9. William "Bill" Hicks January 21, 2016 at 5:09 am

    Here’s something to think about with the City Employee’s:

    1) Like many public service employee’s, they are likely union members.
    2) With the current fiscal concerns in the city, reductions in pay or benefits may be a consideration to balance the budget.
    3) Public sector unions may be making a preemptive strike to that possibility.

    It’s just remembrances of my 43 year career with a public sector employer that brings this to my mind. You can take it for what it’s worth.

    Reply

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