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  Leslie Knight Investigation and Outcome
March 21, 2013

As a City Council member, I do not have the authority to intervene in or influence the outcome of a personnel matter. Furthermore, we do not have access to copies of the investigative report and details about any discipline imposed by the City Manager on Leslie Knight.  

Article 1, Section 1, of the California Constitution provides employees a Constitutional right of privacy.  This privacy right extends to employees’ personnel records.  (See, e.g., Harding Lawson Associates v. Superior Court (1992) 10 Cal.App.4th 7; Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior University v. Superior Court (1981) 119 Cal. App.3d 516).  California courts have generally concluded that the public interest in preserving confidential information outweighs the interest in disclosing the confidential information to a third party.  Even when the balance does weigh in favor of disclosure, the scope of disclosure must be narrowly circumscribed. The Public Records Act also provides an express exemption for personnel records. See Government Code Section 6254(c). This law is consistent with the personnel exceptions of the Brown Act, which authorizes a closed session for personnel purposes only with respect to the employees actually appointed by the legislative body.

That said, a Council majority could, at least conceivably, hold a City Manager Evaluation in closed session to gain more information in order to determine whether the manager conducted a proper investigation and responded appropriately to the findings.

In response to a number of requests, I provide the information copied below:

  • Email from Bill Lindsay in response to an inquiry:


Mr. _______:

Thank you for your e-mail.  I appreciate your taking the time to thoughtfully address this issue.

As I have publically reported, the independent investigator retained by the City found that Ms. Knight violated City policies, including using a City vehicle during a period of time when she was also receiving an auto allowance.  As I have also stated, I do not condone such behavior, and the violation warrants disciplinary action.  The specific nature of this disciplinary action is a personnel matter that I cannot disclose based on the law.  I understand that, from what I have reported and potentially from other sources, you believe that Ms. Knight should be terminated from employment.  I have reviewed the complete investigation into the matter, including facts that cannot be disclosed under the law, and I will form my decisions based on this complete set of facts.

Your second paragraph is both troubling and unrelated to the investigation that was recently completed.  You write that, “Ms. Knight is also an abusive and vindictive manager” as if it is a statement of fact.  As the Human Resources Director, Ms. Knight needs to fairly administer an esoteric personnel system that often leaves employees and supervisors frustrated and puzzled.  This is neither abusive nor vindictive.  In fact, rigorous administration of this personnel system, while frustrating at times, has contributed to maintaining a responsible budget, an activity that  is praised in your email.

You state that “standard procedure is to place individuals facing serious allegations on paid administrative leave.”  This is simply not the case in my experience.  I have once before placed a supervisory employee on administrative leave during an investigation regarding misconduct and, because of the nature of the charges, I felt, at the time, that it was warranted.  (It turned out that the employee was completely exonerated.)  However, placing an employee on administrative leave during an investigation is not the typical practice.  We would do this in the case where there is, perhaps, an escalating disagreement between a supervisor and an employee, or where there might be a threat of workplace violence, or where the mere presence in the workplace of an employee being investigated is disruptive or contrary to good public service.  It is done often (but not always) in cases involving police officer misconduct where public safety might be called into question.

In this case, the investigation proceeded for several months.  During that time, there was no evidence that Ms. Knight was unable to perform her duties as the Human Resources Director as the investigation was proceeding.  There was also no evidence that her presence in the work place in any way impeded the investigation nor has it, to my knowledge, even provided the perception that the investigation was impeded.    In short, there was no reason to place her on administrative leave, other than perhaps a presumption of guilt that should not have been prejudged.  The fact that it is a “high profile” case is not, in my mind, a valid reason.

I understand that City staff, union members and the community at large are all watching this case very closely.  All I can say is that, from the point of view of fairness, each case must be evaluated on its own set of facts.

Thank you again for your e-mail, and for your ongoing interest in the Richmond community.

Bill Lindsay

Email from Bill Lindsay to Councilmembers:

Mayor and Councilmembers:

As you may recall, beginning on August 27, 2012, Stacie Plummer raised complaints in multiple forums and through hundreds of pages of documents.  Ms. Plummer is a  Finance Manager I in the Library and Cultural Services Department.  Her claims were primarily against Leslie Knight, Assistant City Manager and Human Resources Management Director, and Katy Curl, Director of the Library and Cultural Services Department. 

The City retained Sue Ann Van Dermyden, an independent investigator, to investigate those claims.  She has completed her investigation, during which she conducted approximately 37 interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of documents.  The investigator’s findings are summarized below. 

  • Leslie Knight did not use surveillance cameras to “spy” on this employee.
  • She did not direct a subordinate to identify and coach a witness.
  • She did not abuse her power nor apply rules unequally.
  • She did not violate the City’s harassment policies.
  • She did not encourage a subordinate to retaliate against Plummer.
  • She was not responsible for, nor did she personally benefit from, a Macy’s flyer distributed to City employees that provided City employees a 15% discount.


However, the report also concluded:

  • Leslie Knight violated City policy by using a City vehicle, while also receiving a monthly car allowance, for some periods of time.
  • She violated City policy by using City-compensated staff time and City equipment for non-City purposes.
  • She used staff time, City equipment, City storage space and the City Hall address to create free gift items – morale boosters – for City employees, with supplies derived from her personal jewelry and gift business, although she did not receive any financial gain from this practice.
  • She improperly directed a subordinate to be given access to Ms. Plummer’s email account, after Ms. Plummer filed her complaint, in violation of City policies.


Finally, the investigator did not sustain any of Ms. Plummer’s retaliation claims against Katy Curl. 

I have taken disciplinary action against Leslie Knight, short of termination.  In addition, she will be required to reimburse the City the full cost of the monthly car allowance she received during the period of time while she was also using a City fleet vehicle.
I will also be taking steps consistent with recommendations made by the independent investigator to strengthen and clarify City policies.  These steps include a direction to City Management to (a) refine policy and procedure governing requests for email access, in order to assure proper documentation, clearance and review of requests for employee email, and (b) modify city policy and procedure to assure that the bases for transfer of employees is documented.  I will provide more information to the Council about these policy changes in the coming weeks.

I am advising the press regarding the conclusion of the investigation.  However, actions regarding personnel actions are confidential and the specifics of the investigation are also confidential.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or require any additional information.


Bill Lindsay

Article in Contra Costa Times:
Richmond: Protesters call for HR manager's ouster
By Robert Rogers Contra Costa Times
Posted:   03/20/2013 06:40:21 AM PDT
Updated:   03/20/2013 06:40:47 AM PDT

RICHMOND -- Union protesters assembled at City Hall on Tuesday to demand the city's second-ranking administrator be fired after an investigation found that she misused public resources and ordered a whistleblower's emails be searched.
More than 20 people, many from SEIU Local 1021, joined Stacie Plummer to demand that City Manager Bill Lindsay fire Leslie Knight, the city's human resources director.
"This is absurd," said Charles Smith, a Richmond resident. "Knight needs to go, and if Bill (Lindsay) isn't willing to do it, he needs to go, too."
An independent investigation revealed earlier this month that Knight improperly received at least $400 monthly in car allowance while also using a city vehicle,
Leslie Knight (Contra Costa Times/Tue Nam Ton File)
used paid city staff to make trinkets and ordered a subordinate to access Plummer's emails after Plummer lodged a complaint against her. The investigation concluded that Knight did not profit from the trinket making.
Plummer said she was assured by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles that they would introduce a council resolution in April urging Lindsay to terminate Knight, if he has not already done so by then.
Lindsay has said that he will determine how much Knight improperly received from the city and devise a payment plan for her to pay the city back. He has declined to say what, if any, discipline Knight will face, citing public employee personnel privacy, but has said that she will not be fired. Knight was not put on leave during the investigation, which lasted at City Hall for several months and included dozens of interviews with staff members.
Plummer, who works as a finance director in the city, estimates Knight owes the city at least $600,000 in car allowances and misused staff time.
Plummer said Knight "bullied" her in part by repeatedly transferring her to different departments for years when she objected to what she saw as misuse of city funds.
"(Knight) moved me around the city like a ping pong ball for four years," Plummer said.
Knight and Lindsay both came to the city in 2006. Lindsay has been praised for his fiscal management of the city during his tenure.
But the protesters Tuesday were critical of Lindsay for both not stopping Knight sooner and for not meting out discipline.
"If this was any other worker, they'd be out of a job," said Andres Soto, a Plummer supporter. Plummer said Lindsay "turned a blind eye" to Knight's activities.
Knight issued a statement last week through her attorney, Thomas Bertrand of the firm Bertrand, Fox & Elliot in San Francisco. Bertrand noted that "the bulk of the numerous allegations made against Ms. Knight have not been
Stacie Plummer, a city of Richmond finance manager, has accused Leslie Knight, city human resources director, of misuse of funds. (Robert Rogers/Staff) (Robert Rogers)
"To the extent that any such allegation was sustained against Ms. Knight, she acknowledges that she did make certain mistakes, she has apologized for them, and she will take corrective action," the statement said, adding that Knight looks forward to moving on and serving the residents of Richmond.
The protest occurred before Tuesday's City Council meeting, and organizers said they would flood the public comment period with calls for Knight's dismissal.
Article in Richmond Confidential:
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers.
Investigation finds that Assistant City Manager violated city policies
By Stephen HobbsPosted March 13, 2013 3:52 pm
The results of an investigation into allegations against Richmond’s assistant city manager Leslie Knight showed that she had violated several city staff policies, according to a statement released on Friday by the office of the city manager.  
The summarized findings from the investigation conducted by the Van Dermyden Allison Law Corporation concluded that Knight had used a city vehicle while taking in a monthly car allowance that was supposed to pay for her to use her own car while conducting city business. The investigation also concluded that she had used city staff and equipment for purposes other than city duties, and that she had used city employees, equipment, storage, and the city hall address to “create free gift items—morale boosters—for City employees.” The two-page report said the items came from Knight’s “jewelry and gift business” and that Knight did not receive “any financial gain from this practice.”
The investigation also concluded that she had directed a city employee to access the email account of the employee who brought the complaint against her.
But according to the city’s summary, the investigation did not support previous claims that Knight had used surveillance cameras to spy on that employee, nor that she had violated the city’s harassment policies nor encouraged a subordinate to retaliate against her accuser.
“There was enough information provided as a result of this very thorough investigation that I believe it to be appropriate to take administrative action to correct the situation,” City Manager Bill Lindsay wrote in the release. “However, the problems did not merit termination of any employee.”
The investigation stemmed from a 59-page complaint last August by Stacie Plummer, the city’s finance manager for the library and cultural services department. In Plummer’s complaint, she stated that Knight had been receiving a monthly allowance of $450 to “drive her car for city business” while also using a car from the city. Plummer alleged that this had gone on for more than seven years.
Plummer also alleged that Knight had used the work of five human resource employees, during city hours, to benefit her own business, and that Knight had retaliated against Plummer by changing her position, transferring her to a different department and denying promotion requests by Plummer’s superiors after she “refused to do work, creating marketing materials for Ms. Knight’s jewelry business.”
In response, the city announced in December that it was hiring the Van Dermyden law firm, based in Sacramento, to look into the matter. The group’s shareholder, Sue Ann Van Dermyden, completed the investigation, which cost the city $30,000.
Knight’s attorney, Thomas F. Bertrand of the Bertrand, Fox and Elliot law firm, released a statement in response to the findings. “We are pleased that the City’s independent investigation has now been completed and that the bulk of the numerous allegations made against Ms. Knight have not been sustained,” Bertrand wrote. “To the extent that any such allegation was sustained against Ms. Knight, she acknowledges that she did make certain mistakes, she has apologized for them and she will take corrective action. The City and Ms. Knight look forward to continuing to do what she does best—serving the residents of the City of Richmond.”
Knight declined to comment further, citing her attorney’s statement.
In the city’s Friday release, Lindsay cited “employee privacy restrictions,” which do not allow the city to release the report from the investigation or to acknowledge if any disciplinary action has been taken as a result of it. When contacted by phone on Tuesday, he said, “I can’t go much further than I did in the press release.”
When asked when the investigation was completed, Lindsay said that the results were submitted to the city attorney’s office “several weeks ago.” But before the results were released, Lindsay said, Sue Ann Van Dermyden met with city attorney’s office staff.
Plummer called the limited amount of information released in the city’s summary of the investigation “frustrating.”
“All I really have is in the press release,” she said when asked to comment on the results of the investigation. “It is ambiguous on some things, but doesn’t provide information on other things.” For example, Plummer said that the release stated that Knight “did not abuse her power or apply rules unequally,” when in fact she felt the results of the investigation showed otherwise.
“I think that people will feel the outrage that I have always felt, because that is taxpayer money,” said Plummer, who said she is hoping the county’s District Attorney’s Office and the FBI will look further into the matter, now that the city’s investigation is complete. “The city policy is one thing, but state law violations are something else.”