By RUSSELL HUFFMAN || firstname.lastname@example.org
The Flash Today has obtained electronic communications between city officials involving the recent parting of ways between Judy Horn-Miller and the city of Stephenville. This is the second part of a series of stories releasing even more information about the incidents that led to Miller’s dismissal.
Regarding Performance continued…
On the surface, it appeared Stephenville’s Planning and Building Services Director Judy Miller was at the top of her game when she was in front of the city council and addressed various issues for review and approval. During the citizen’s input at the council meeting that preceded her official dismissal via a mutual separation agreement, person after person spoke out about what a great job Miller was doing.
However, there were probably at least 19 people who were unhappy with Miller, because their various permits and projects didn’t appear to be going anywhere. In his email to the Stephenville City Council, City Administrator Pat Bridges presented a much different perception of Miller’s job performance.
Bridges wrote, “On May 14, 2015, I advised Horn she was spending too much time in the field with Thomas Heap (city building inspector) and I was concerned that it was becoming a detriment to other duties such as her supervising her other employees and taking care of other obligations. Horn replied that typically was only an hour or little more during the day, and was of great value to her. She stated that whenever she or Heap was needed in the office they were usually back within five minutes. She also mentioned that she was “typically here late every evening and on weekends in order to cover the workload.””
Despite her claims of being on top of things, Bridges was finding out the results were not adding up.
“It has been discovered that building inspectors, particularly Heap, have failed to deposit funds from permit applications. Permit applications have not been acted on in a timely manner resulting in lost revenue for the City, poor customer service for our citizens and the possibility some substandard construction projects have occurred” Bridges wrote in his email. “A review determined 19 permit applications had not been addressed by Heap and five of them had funds attached.”
Bridges goes on to cite a “preliminary assessment of the planning and building services department” by Jason Halsey, who started his job July 31, 2015, and apparently started noting problems right away.
Halsey penned a memorandum in which he noted proper steps were not being followed by city staff regarding the handling of funds collected for fees and payments. Payments were not being credited and, in some cases, no refunds were being made when time limits expired.
In some cases, there were no records of transactions because most of them had never been entered into city’s Incode system. Halsey cites one example dating back to 2011 that never made it into the city’s records.
Halsey wrote, “I also located a money bag on Tom’s desk that contained $4 in cash. He did not have an explanation for it. I asked what the protocol was if the monthly balance was short for entered permits. He stated that the balance has been short and he has been paying the difference out of his own pocket.”
In his personal observations of the planning and building services department, Halsey notes numerous complaints regarding city inspector Joe Ann Everett and her professionalism in the field. The complaints appeared to be focusing on Everett’s lack of compromise or flexibility when conducting inspections.
Halsey continued his observations, “There is a noted measure of dysfunction between Joe Ann and Tom. Communication between the employees is ineffective and there is no standard practice of operation. When asking questions regarding processes or standard service practices, I received conflicting answers and often an explanation placing blame on the other employee.”
“Tension and lack of trust are apparent between the P&B staff and other department staff. Supervision and leadership in the department appears to be non-existent under the previous director,” Halsey wrote.
In summing up, his assessment Halsey made six recommendations including, “Immediately address and correct the practice of employees keeping money and never entering payment into the Incode system.”
At the time of Miller’s dismissal, Mayor Kenny Weldon stated the council had ordered Bridges to make specific changes and was setting a deadline for those changes to be in place. One notable change being Everett is no longer employed by the city.
Dysfunction is always a concern and so is a lack of leadership which apparently sparked, and continued to fuel what is described over and over again as a “hostile work environment.” Miller’s own emails back up Bridges’ allegations of problems.
In an email to Heap dated June 1, 2015, Miller displayed her disdain for Bruce Cole, an employee she hired. Miller had apparently became disenchanted with Cole after he sent site plans and supporting documents to Freeze and Nichols (engineering firm). That plan sought to review unsolved drainage issues at 1102 College Farm Road that potentially threatened the historic Mount Olive Cemetery.
Cole had sent out an email describing storm damage in Wimberly, Texas, but had failed to include Heap in the c.c.; in response Miller wrote, “What an Idiot. He includes Jimmy and Joe Ann, but doesn’t include you. Jackass!”
Cole had complained about a “hostile work environment” to Bridges in late April or early May of this year. Cole complained of “unprofessional demeanor” directed toward him and that Miller spoke very negatively about former employees.
Bridges spoke to Miller about Cole’s concerns to which her response was Cole was difficult to supervise and she requested he be transferred to Public Works Director Nick Williams’ office. Bridges declined the request and advised Miller if she felt Cole needed additional training it was up to her to assist him.
In a second complaint to Bridges concerning Miller, Cole again reported a hostile environment and described Miller’s demeanor in a visit to his office, “She was glaring, shaking her head and displaying visible anger.” Cole stated Horn was angry because he had sent the 1102 College Farm Road plans in for review. Cole stated it was Horn’s intent to belittle, chide and possibly suppress him from future plan reviews. Cole described Horn’s rudeness, lack of respect and communication with him as problematic.
Miller’s alleged tantrum might have been sparked by the fact she had given the project a green light months before. In February, just three days after she was hired on a full time basis, Miller issued an unauthorized and premature building permit for the project.
Following the incident in his office, Cole reported Miller did not verbally speak to him from June 12-29, but Miller wasn’t done running Cole down — even after Bridges did transfer him to public works.
Miller sent Heap another email July 27, 2015, and again showed her disdain for Cole complaining about another email he had sent out to numerous people, but he had again excluded Heap.
“This idiot copies everybody and their dog including Jeremy???? And failed to include the Building Official. A real idiot!” Miller wrote.
Miller’s demeanor was notably defensive when it came to Heap and that is pretty much expected when someone is an employee you are supervising and you feel they may have been slighted.
Or was there more to it than that?
Fellow employees started approaching Bridges with allegations of a possible inappropriate relationship in February of this year. Then Bridges, either while investigating the allegations or during a routine review of employee emails, found more reason to have a concern.
One email from Miller must have stood out because it had no content and the subject contained only, “2pm at your place.”
Bridges wrote, “Horn’s conduct has resulted in some potentially embarrassing situations. During the month of February 2015, I was approached on more than one occasion by different employees, concerned about a possible inappropriate relationship developing…..”
Stay plugged into The Flash Today as we continue our series about sex allegations, lies, cover-ups and the alleged conspiracy theory behind the cover-up due to no video available of the meeting when Miller was dismissed at Stephenville City Hall.