You may recall a column I wrote a month ago entitled, ‘The Silence of our Friends,’ concerning an incident at the Georgetown boat show last October that ultimately led to the dismissal of six city employees and the demotion of their director, Tim Chatman.
Since that article was written, Chatman asked for and received an open hearing with the city of Georgetown. Though not quite full, more than 50 people packed the courtroom most supporters and well-wishers of Tim and his lovely wife, Denise.
After being told multiple times by city officials that I didn’t know all of the facts about the incident, which led to Tim’s demotion, I finally heard the city’s case against him at the hearing last Monday, Dec. 2.
Tim Chatman brilliantly defended himself. So brilliantly that if I’d closed my eyes, I’d swear I was listening to Johnnie Cochran again. I felt sorry for the city administrator, Dr. Sandra Yudice, as she attempted to make the city’s case against Chatman. Her argument lacked clarity and substance.
It’s interesting to note that no one was there from the city to support her. Contrastingly, the former Mayor of Georgetown, Jack Scoville, and City Council member Sheldon Butts were there in support of Tim.
After hearing the city’s case against Mr. Chatman, I was convinced more than ever that they were railroading him – although I still don’t know why.
Before unpacking the details of their case, let me say that the whole thing boils down to one word – “judgment.”
In sports, judgment is left to the referees. They make calls that players must live with right or wrong. One case in point was last year’s NFC Championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints. In a crucial moment near the end of the game, a blatant interference call was never made. Many believe the no-call cost the Saints a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
Likewise, on Oct. 19, 2019, Chatman exercised his judgment involving an incident with one of his crew members during the boat show. But, unlike the NFL officials, he was unceremoniously demoted for using his judgment.
According to Georgetown City Administrator, Dr. Yudice, she first received a call from Chatman concerning an alleged robbery on Saturday, Oct. 19, at 7:58 p.m. A witness at the boat show had accused one of Chatman’s sanitation workers of stealing a box of liquor. Chatman was not working that day and was not on the scene. He first learned of this allegation from police Captain Nathan Brown at 7:25 p.m. that night.
It’s disputed who initiated it, but Chatman and Brown agreed that a police officer should be dispatched to the scene ASAP. At 7:26 p.m., Tim called a veteran crew member/worker (who was already on the site and to whom he had designated to supervise the other workers at the event) to receive details about the incident.
“I trusted him to be reliable,” said Chatman. “He had been with the city well over 20 years and worked numerous boat shows.”
During that call, Chatman instructed this assigned supervisor to have crew members remained there until the police arrived. Less than a minute later, Chatman called Capt. Brown to inform him that his workers were awaiting.
At 7:40PM, Tim’s assigned supervisor apparently called him to say the police were there investigating the incident. At 7:42, Chatman phoned Capt. Brown informing him the police had arrived.
At 7:45 PM, Chatman reportedly received yet another call from his assigned supervisor, notifying him that the police were questioning witnesses and searching vehicles.
At 7:46, Chatman notified city police Chief Kevin Waites to inform him of the situation. At 7:55, the assigned supervisor called Chatman a final time to tell him that police had spoken with the crew, and they were released.
At exactly 7:58 p.m, Chatman called his supervisor Dr. Yudice to apprise her of all that had transpired. “As a manager,” Tim said. “I believed it to be prudent to get all the information about the situation prior to contacting my supervisor so that I can provide her with all the accurate information that she needed.”
Over the next few days, after witnesses were interviewed, statements were taken, and surveillance cameras were reviewed, city officials decided to terminate each of the six workers involved with the theft. But here’s where the plot thickens.
According to Chatman, after the last employee was dismissed, Dr.Yudice turned to him and said – “now Tim, what am I going to do with you?” She allegedly went on to say that the mayor feels that perhaps the management of public works is not the right position for you.
That day, “I was informed,” said Chatman, “that I’d be demoted to supervisor at my current rate of pay. No HR representative was present, and I received nothing in writing.”
A few days later, Chatman learned the city had not only demoted him but decreased his pay. “I was told the decrease in my pay was due to the reduction of duties I now had as a supervisor.”
At some point, the city finally put his demotion in writing. Officially, it read –
1. Failure to notify the administration immediately after he was made aware of the incident on October 19th.
2. Failing to properly manage the situation that occurred.
3. Failing to thoroughly review all information regarding the surveillance videos at the public work site. Tim vehemently denies all three charges.
A cursory look at the reported timeline from when Chatman first learned of the incident (7:25 PM) and the time he called Dr. Yudice (7:58 PM, a total of 33 minutes), debunks the city’s motivation for demoting him. During these 33 minutes, Chatman wasn’t having dinner. He was making and receiving phone calls, gathering information, and giving instructions to his subordinates.
“Once I was made aware of the situation,” he said, “I took a reasonable amount of time to communicate with my supervisor on-site to fully assess the situation, gather information from all parties involved, and update my city supervisor with the most accurate information I had available to me at the time.”
Apparently, Dr. Yudice (and the city) didn’t think 33 minutes of gathering details was a reasonable amount of time.
“By the time he called me,” said Dr. Yudice, “everything was done; there was nothing I could do. In my mind, if this were handled better, it would’ve had a better outcome. Maybe one or two would have been fired or terminated instead of six of them.” Really!
On the second charge — failing to properly manage the situation that occurred -Chatman rebuts the city’s claim that he mishandled the situation saying as Public Works Director he’s never had any negative complaints about his managerial skills, never had a needs-assessment written on him, and never had an unfavorable job performance review.
“I was shocked to learn that my managerial skills were in question, I’ve never received any indication from the current administration or the previous administration dealing with managerial issues. Furthermore, I’ve always strived to treat all of my employees and colleagues with the utmost respect. I value the reputation that I’ve built for myself. I believe effective leadership requires building trust among your subordinates, and I would never do anything that reflects negatively on the city or me or my family.”
Despite four years of positive performance reviews, respect from his peers and subordinates, and the gregarious relationship he’s cultivated over the years with the Georgetown community, Dr. Yudice brazenly disagrees.
“My assessment is that Tim is a good man, but he lacks the managerial skills to manage people in complex situations. The public works department needs directors who can manage people in complex situations.” Really!
How does one who’s graced our quaint city merely three months accurately assess the managerial skills of a beloved employee who’s been here for decades? Even if you’re less than impressed with his managerial skills, shouldn’t you, as his supervisor, afford him an opportunity to improve his performance before demoting him? It’s called Due Process.
The third charge against Chatman — failure to thoroughly review all information regarding the surveillance video at the public worksite building was perhaps Chatman’s best defense.
“I’m further being accused,” said Chatman, “of not viewing the videos that they (city authorities) had viewed. They got to review the info before I did.”
During the entire hullabaloo after the theft, Chatman was asked several times by city authorities if he’d seen the surveillance tapes in his building. Not knowing how to retrieve the film footage from these cameras, he initially responded no. “I’m not trained on how to remove footage from securities cameras, and I’ve never been trained.”
When asked if he needed someone from the police department to come and retrieve the film, Chatman happily said yes. That day a police officer removed the film and carried it back to where police and city officials reviewed it, including Dr.Yudice. Apparently, on the video, there was ample evidence to charge a few of the workers.
Not knowing that he hadn’t seen the footage they’d seen, city authorities may have suspected Chatman was less than truthful. But when asked by the hearing committee last Monday what she meant by the word videos (plural,) Dr. Yudice replied, “At the time, I thought that there was only one video, but I don’t know what Mr. Chatman saw.”
Indeed, there was confusion as to which surveillance video was in question. Chatman maintains that he did not see the video that city authorities saw until days after they saw it.
Again, Dr. Yudice did not find Chatman’s response reasonable. “Mr. Chatman has been here for three-plus years, and it concerns me that in that time frame, he has not requested any training.” Really! Raise your hand if you know how to retrieve film footage from your employers’ security cameras.
Given the confusion over surveillance videos, the fact that he had four years of excellent performance reviews, and he was never given an opportunity to correct any issues prior to his demotion, I believe the city should reinstate Tim Chatman to his former position and former salary (including back pay) – what do you think?
The hearing committee stated they would hand their recommendations to the mayor within 20 days, and it would be the mayor’s decision.
In this Christmas season, what could be a better Christ-like gift for Tim, Denise, and family in this the season of redemption and peace on earth- particularly in Georgetown?