Guest column: A Fearless Opinion: Part Deux

Seth Eaker

On Dec. 1st of last year, the first portion of what is now unexpectedly becoming a series about alleged malfeasance at City Hall, was published in the Sun News. Unfortunately, I have seen little to indicate a change in the stance of the City Manager, City Council or executive staff. At this point, existing and former staff members are coming forward to me directly, without investigation, to tell their horrific stories of a business gone mad: The City of Seal Beach and City Hall. No longer do I have to investigate or question. People are coming to me of their own free will and out of desire for real change. I am humbled by their trust and integrity.

What symptoms indicate the city has gone rogue? They are clear. There has been no announcement or progress with Chief Joe Stilinovich (as of this writing), which has dragged on now approaching five months.

At the most recent City Council meeting, I heard a Seal Beach citizen come forward, on behalf of his traumatized wife, demanding respect and stating in front of a live television and citizen audience that there was a toxic work environment, a misogynistic department head, and rampant favoritism via – Jim Basham, who had so deeply disturbed an employee, her only psychological resource was to resign. I saw our mayor not only insult and fail to permit not one but two members of the public the proper decorum to speak.

The Constitution of the United States says quite clearly in the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

City flooding issue

Oh, then of course, there is the flooding. Do I agree that the non-exempt, and maybe a few of the exempt salaried staff were out working as hard as they could and well beyond expectation during the series of storm events from Jan. 12th–22nd? Yes. What happened was a failure of leadership, laid directly at the feet of Interim Public Works Director Basham and City Manager Jill Ingram. Regardless of how you “spin” the level of storm, there was less than one quarter tof he functional capacity of the West End Pump Station (WEPS). That means, flooding could have been far less on the Hill, Bridgeport and Old Town. Why were there not the larger or at least more pumps of whatever size deployed as Robert Goldberg, Paul Yost and others suggested at the Emergency Council Meeting on Jan. 17th?

I was grateful for Councilwoman Ellery Deaton’s detailed timeline requests, which seemingly percolated new information from a visibly uncomfortable staff.

More unhappy employees

Three employees came forward just in the last 10 days to talk to me about the alleged harm inflicted upon them by Director Jim Basham and subsequently the City Manager, Jill Ingram.

I have in my possession, on city letterhead, a formal complaint and allegations of serious misconduct against Basham from October of 2015. This is only one of three that I am aware of. Do you think any of them were sent to an “independent investigator” while Basham was placed on “non-disciplinary paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a third-party investigation?” I cannot find any public record which indicates that.

As a matter of fact, I have interviewed three employees directly and in person. Their stories all ring true and consistent with what we heard at City Council by at least one speaker. Again, I assert the truth of these communications as my opinion. I have removed identifying text to protect the writers, but I am certain that the parties most culpable will know the truth of the complaints and statements.

Below are some excerpts from some of the complaints. Let me remind you readers, that some of this material is on City of Seal Beach stationary and addressed to the Human Resources, in accordance with the City of Seal Beach personnel policies. I have a copy of the policies through Public Record Act (PRA) requests. The first begins:

“During a meeting with Jim Basham, Michael Ho, and myself, I was told by Mr. Basham that he would treat me differently because he had heard that I spoke to my union. When I expressed my disapproval that he would treat anyone different than someone else, he did clarify his statement. Mr. Basham clarified his statement to mean, he would not be able to help promote my career or give me tasks that will further my career because he would need to stay strictly within the guidelines of my job description. According to the definition of Discrimination: Section 4 of the personnel material provided from Liebert, Cassidy, and Whitmore training, ‘The different treatment must relate to the terms and conditions of employment, and reasonable likely to negatively affect an employee’s job performance or prospects for advancement or promotion.’

“I feel his statements have not only created a hostile working relationship, but directly affect my prospects for advancement. At this meeting Mr. Basham also slammed his fist on the desk and told me to, ‘shut up and not interrupt him.’ This has made for an uncomfortable working environment. Since this statement was made, I was verbally reprimanded for using profanity, which I have heard nine other employees use similar profane terms, including Mr. Basham himself. All occurrences have happened during work hours within ear shot of my desk and in turn the public counter.” [Note: I have a detailed occurrence notes of over 20 such profane uses by employees with a time and date stamp in my possession.]

Here is another excerpt from another formal complaint made during an exit interview: “My experience here in the City of Seal Beach has been one I hope I never have to endure in my future. I’ll start by informing you that in my 25 years in the work force and 15 years as a public servant, I have never worked in such a hostile work environment as I have here. This is not because the city doesn’t have the potential to be a great city to work for, rather, because it has people like you [Jim Basham] supervising individuals fully capable of doing their duties. Your sole mentality of ‘I don’t want you making me look bad’ simply does not allow you to see past your own failings to manage people for success.”

“The moment you called me a liar to my face about duties that you and I had addressed already regarding an email sent was the worst thing anyone has said to me. I refuse to be abused, called a liar and discriminated against simply for not being able to ignore your deficiencies as a supervisor. I had witnessed it with others and further, know that there are others who feel the same way about you right now. While dealing with citizens, contractors and professionals, they would make comments like, ‘let’s see how long you last. Jim Basham doesn’t like to come out of his office and deal with the public. No one likes working for him.’”

Suggested action

So, City Council, City Manager, City Attorney, Director Basham, are you listening now? You can’t hide behind the “protected personnel file” argument—these employees were smart enough to email their own complaints to themselves because they knew how little regard you all had for them.

These are very serious allegations of misconduct against Director Basham, the entire Human Resources Department and City Manager Jill Ingram. As a citizen who has met with these individuals, has written proof of their perfidy, corruption and environment of fear that Ingram and Basham have allegedly engendered, I personally call for their immediate non-disciplinary paid suspension pending an independent third party investigation by a citizen selected firm(s). The Council should recuse itself from participation as clearly, the council has not been listening to the citizens for months.

Further, I suggest that current Mayor Sandra Massa-Lavitt reconsider her position due to her consistent, blatant, obstinate, unethical and frankly illegal misconduct at the dais. She has insulted the very fabric of the law that governs our nation. She has attempted and succeeded to interfere with the First Amendment rights of not only citizens, but potentially others, including City Staff, where a culture of fear, stagnation and loyalty to people rather than principles seemingly reigns supreme.

Our local government has become one of “alternative facts,” which in a rational society are simply not facts, they are lies. Though others have made efforts to silence me, harm my business and associates, as long as others bring their valid, truthful, painful stories, I will continue to share them as my own fearless opinion to shed some light on what is going on in secret at Seal Beach City Hall.

Guest column: A Fearless Opinion: Part Deux