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Harassment study on tap

After lawsuits, PTC authorizes probe into public safety ‘culture’

In the wake of several sexual harassment and job discrimination complaints against Peachtree City, a consultant has been selected to conduct a thorough “operational efficiency analysis” of both the police and fire departments.

The $65,000 study, to be conducted by Matrix Consulting Group, will include on-site visits, data collection and in-depth interviews to “examine the departments and their internal cultures.”

“We are trying to ascertain, are we on the right track,” City Manager Jim Pennington told the City Council Thursday night, noting that while the police and fire departments are highly regarded, “We all know we have had some issues we need to put to rest.”

Among those issues are a flurry of equal employment opportunity lawsuits filed against the city arising from issues with the fire and police departments. The city has already settled two of the lawsuits, involving the fire department, but two more are pending in federal court involving the police department and claims that Police Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark fostered an environment that was harmful to female employees.

The two lawsuits filed by female firefighters and the disclosure of an ugly incident involving former Fire Chief Ed Eiswerth resulted in Eiswerth submitting a hasty resignation in December. Eiswerth was accused of forcing his way into a female firefighter’s hotel room at a convention in Florida.

Though no specifics of those incidents were mentioned, Councilman George Dienhart asked if Matrix Consulting “had dealt with cities which had recent difficulties such as we have.”

“Yes, they have had more cities with much more difficulties than we have,” Pennington said.

Dienhart said he doesn’t care whether anyone likes the results and recommendations from the report, but he cares that “we solve our problems” with the report.

Councilman Eric Imker balked at the cost of the study, which was not included in the city’s budget last year.

“I think $65,000 for this is way too much money and the fact that the title is an organizational and operational analysis, I don’t like it,” Imker said. “I just think this kind of effort belongs in the HR (human resources) department.”

Pennington noted that the city’s HR department “does not have the ability or the time to do this type of in-depth analysis.”

Imker suggested scaling back the funding to about $5,000 or $10,000 and to eliminate a study of issues such as fire calls and police response times.

Pennington also noted that the city spends $12 million a year on the two departments put together so he feels the report would be “good for our future.” Pennington added that he has served as a consultant to cities in the past, and he wouldn’t undertake such a thorough study for $10,000.

The report may recommend expansion or contraction of the departments, Pennington noted.

Councilwoman Kim Learnard said she felt the consultant may identify cost savings beyond the $65,000 mark invested in the study. She noted the study would look at the organizational structure, culture, training and leadership.

Haddix said he agreed with Learnard and “sometimes you have to spend money to make money.”

Haddix said he felt it was important for the public to have the peace of mind the analysis would give the city, even if it points out failures and inefficiencies.

“If it says we’re doing bad or right, so be it,” Haddix said. “But I think this is what the public really needs to hear.”

Councilman Eric Imker cast the sole vote against the study, as it was approved by Council members Learnard, Dienhart and Haddix on a 3-1 vote with Councilwoman Vanessa Fleisch absent.

Haddix said he wanted to compliment staff, specifically noting that acting Fire Chief Joe O’Conor welcomed the leadership study.

“Saying ‘check me out and see if I’m doing something wrong,’ that is courage and leadership to me,” Haddix said. “... A willingness to be questioned.”

Under the request for proposals issued by the city, the study must provide an overview of the organization including policies, demographics, budget and fundings along with internal and external communications, a review of capital assets, staffing and personnel management and also a detailed “service delivery and performance overview.”

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