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10/1/2012 6:01:00 AM
Message to Kingman staff: Silence is golden
Mayor John Salem
Mayor John Salem

Ahron Sherman
Miner Staff Reporter

The city has confirmed that it is in the process of providing training to its Human Resources Department related to how to respond to applicants not offered jobs when they ask why they weren't hired.

It's been about two weeks since the city decided to settle a lawsuit for $15,000 brought against it by former department head Keith Adams. The city viewed the suit as groundless, but Council voted to settle anyway in order to avoid the estimated $100,000 price tag defending the case in court would've carried.

When Adams retired from the city in 2010, he was critical of its spending practices in his exit interview. A year later, he returned to the city and applied for another positing but was not offered the job. He asked the city's Human Resources Department why he wasn't hired and received an email stating it had to do with his "expressed displeasure toward the city."

Adams sued the city for a violation of his First Amendment rights and torturous interference in an employment opportunity.

Though the city stands by its statement that it did nothing wrong, it is reevaluating how to reply to applicants in similar situations.

"This won't happen again," said Mayor John Salem. "We learned our lesson."

Linda Semm, the woman who sent the email, was trying to do the right thing, Salem said. She simply wanted to explain to Adams why he wasn't hired and was not done out of malice.

Mark Ogden is the managing partner for the New Mexico and Arizona locations of Littler Mendelson, a national law firm that represents employers. He said the city did nothing wrong by responding to Adams' inquiry, but added that it maybe wasn't the best decision at the time.

"There wasn't any need to answer the inquiry from that employee," he said.

The issue with responding is that it can create problems and open the door for litigation. The best way to deal with applicant inquiries is to either not respond or say something to the effect of, "We hired the most qualified individual."

"But you don't have to respond at all, which is probably the safest thing to do," Ogden said.

It's similar to when an employer calls another employer to ask about an applicant, he said. If there's nothing good to say, the best bet is to say nothing at all, as it can get the employer who being asked the question in legal trouble.

Make employment decisions based on merit, follow the law and don't respond to questions like this, Ogden said.

Salem was hesitant to say the city will no longer respond to applicants who aren't offered positions because the city often tries to help applicants improve their ability to be hired. An applicant denied a job in one area often applies for another in a different department, Salem said. The city doesn't want to lose that potential employee because it failed to tell him or her what improvements are needed to get better, he said.

"We just need to be more careful with how we respond," Salem said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, October 7, 2012
Article comment by: Just Curious II

Just Curious-I find it very interesting that they have a City Attorney and they had to hire outside to have this "no merit" law suit settled. I'm starting to think that they have a bunch of over paid directors who aren't qualified to do their jobs.

Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Article comment by: Status Quo will prevail

Managers, employees or councilpeople shouldn't go against the status quo. May be why Keith is gone and Ms Gordon was voted out. Mr Anderson is becoming a liability to staff and a nusiance to Watson, so he may find the next election may have some status quo people running against him.

Posted: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Article comment by: Was it worth it?

I hope $15,000 is enough to compensate Mr. Adams for coming out of this looking like a giant cry baby.

Posted: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Article comment by: Not Surprised

There is "For Good Reason" why Keith couldn't be part of a solution, because that is not the way the past director Darel Fruhwirth would have had it. Seems he wanted to be everybody's friend and if you made waves by mentioning things that needed to be improved or changed you would become an enemy of the dept. Don't make them (managers) look bad. If Keith would have persisted with his concerns he would have been on the end of Mrs. Walkers firing stick. The ironic thing about it, them same managers more often than not would have looked better in the end. Instead they with the backup of HR would rather get rid of the employee. Foolish, down right wrong and boarder line illegal, if not illegal. Treat people with respect and you will get treated the same. I’m just saying.

Posted: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Article comment by: Just A Suggestion

Why not fire this so called human resource employee, put a freeze on the job until the money spent to compensate for the settlement is paid?
Then the city can open up a new job posting and hire someone who is competent to do the job.
That way, the taxpayers don't have to pay an incompetent employee AND pay for the settlement!
Just a suggestion!

Posted: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Article comment by: For Good Reason

No one would want someone like this on their team! Keith worked for the city for a long time and if he thought their were improvements that needed to be made then he should have worked to be part of the solution instead of waiting until he retired to make his point. This defines character. Kudos to her for telling him so and shame on him for taking this money! And, guess what...the person they hired for this job was qualified! Hats off to the Parks and Rec Dept for all the services they provide for our community and my kids!

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Wouldn't it Be Nice

Wouldn't it be nice if you could just screw up and pass the consequences on to the taxpayer. What a country. It would sure be nice to be absolved of liability just because you are a public employee.
"Oops". They don't even say "Oops". They don't know what they did wrong.

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: This just accentuates...connections

All of the people who work for local government are in place because of who they know and not what they know. How many are degreed? How many have had a real job? They all shoot from the hip at our expense. "That's ok, the taxpayer will pickup the bill." There need to be laws in place that require the individual who screws up to pay up and not the taxpayer. This stupidity would stop if there was a personal impact. If a private person were to have made this misspeak, that person would pay. Not us. Government employees get fired, quit, resign or get a slap on the wrist, still get their pension while the tax payer pays for their stupidity.

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Friend Walker

The Council made a mistake to settle. They've opened themselves up to more groundless lawsuits. They may have saved some money with this case but they'll end up paying much more in the long run. Just look at St Clair and Madison Counties in Illinois. The #1 and #2 lawsuit capitals in the nation. Anyone out to make a quick buck will sue knowing that the City will settle versus fight. Never settle if you're in the right.

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Huh Hmmm

@Lance Alworth

What do you mean by "much more here"? Care to elaborate on such a vague response? What is the fog surrounding this situation?

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Keith did a great job

I would hope the HR Director and City Manager learned the lesson Mr. Mayor!
I understand Keith was a very dedicated, respected employee. My question? Why wasn't he hired for the position?

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: At a Loss for Words


Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Nothing surprises us any more

Lets make sure we teach the cuity employees how to cover up the truth in their interaction with the general public. What ever happened to good old fashioned honesty in dealing with the public?

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Just Curious

"Mark Ogden is the managing partner for the New Mexico and Arizona locations of Littler Mendelson, a national law firm that represents employers. He said the city did nothing wrong by responding to Adams' inquiry, but added that it maybe wasn't the best decision at the time."
My first question is, how much did it cost the city to hire this "national law firm" to come up with this idiotic response that the employee didn't do anything wrong?
I would also like to ask when the right time would have been for this "human resources" employee to respond the way she did? The city did nothing wrong by responding but it wasn't the best decision at the time.... sounds like this law firm is good at talking out of both sides of their mouths! Oh... that's right... they're lawyers!
Also... is this "human resources" employee related to any of the city's big wigs? Sure does seem like she must be... OR they hired someone with less qualifications than other applicants had!

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Here we Go Again

Maybe Mr. Adams' goal in his exit interview was to express concerns in the hope that some big wig would take his remarks as constructive criticism and move to improve the spending practices. Yes... it seems that was probably his point! He worked there long enough to have insight into the finances and probably hoped his suggestions would be taken serious.
As for Ms. Lemm. It seems as though the city should have trained her better in the first place instead of waiting for her to expose the city to civil litigation. As a matter of fact, she should have known better, period!
It's against the law for any employer to BLACKBALL former employees and that's exactly what happened here. Call it what you may but it's still blackball in the 1st degree. Lemm should have known better before she was ever hired into the Human Resources Department and, as far as I'm concerned, she should be looking for another job.

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Not Surprised

Hasn't Mrs. Simms been in the human resources field long enough to know better. The HR dept needs more than re-educated. They need to rethink how they treat people. No one I have ever talked to that works for the city as anything good to say about that dept. or Jackie Walker. They all feel like there will be ramification to themselves if they report wrong doings or any other complaints they may have. Seems like to me intimidation and dictatorship is the best way to describe the human resources dept.

In Keith’s case the old lie “We hired the most qualified employee” would have still got you in trouble. I’m pretty confident that he could have proven the employee hired for the position was not qualified. This admitted by the city. But then again I heard that Mrs. Walker didn’t have the credentials when she got the directors job. Dishonesty catches up with you sooner or later.

“Make employment decisions based on merit, follow the law and don’t respond to questions like this, Ogden said”. What a novel idea, also wouldn’t hurt if personal grudges and feelings did not effect the decisions made by the HR dept., that has obviously happened many times. The mayor needs to have the dept. investigated after all they practice risky management way to often.

This education that the mayor speaks of should not come at the expense of the tax payers, after all they should have been experienced for their positions and or trained properly from the get start. Either way there was ineffective management in that dept. and/or with the city manager. I’m just saying!

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Brilliant Move

Hey Keith, you wonder where the $15K is going to come from? I'll fill you in, the tax payers. And why? Because you couldn't get your cush city job back. Thanks a lot. What a bunch of nonsense.

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

No merit law suit, someone did not think it was a no merit law suit, they settled out of court since like all law suits the loser an be ordered to pay not only a judgment but the legal fees of the winner! I venture this was not a settlement of a no merit law suit but a quick coverup that might be embarrassing if all the dirty laundry was aired in open court under oath and penalty of perjury!

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: concerned citizen

Again, I repeat what I said originally... If you are a professional working for a HR dept for a city, KEEP YOUR BIG MOUTH SHUT! Especially, if you are responding in writing!
How moronic can you be, telling why an applicant why they weren't hired!
Retraining, huh? She should be on the receiving end of an e-mail from the HR Director!

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Lance Alworth

Even if you are the most qualified person for the job, say nothing, especially about the HR director or the golf course advisor/rec/parks person. There is much more here, but you won't hear it, because of the fogg surrounding this.

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
Article comment by: Nothing Important

Poor Keith. I understand you did a good job when you held your position there.

Poor Linda. In a year or two, you also may be given that silent treatment.

Yes Mayor, we understand.

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