Portland was my first experience as an Animal Services Director. It is a first in other ways as well. Portland was the first County (that’s Multnomah County) to provide protection to gays. They were first to provide benefits to gay couples as they did to heterosexual couples.
One day, after attending an Human Resources seminar on job protection status, I came to realize that my gay brothers and sisters in government service had taken a giant leap forward in job protection and I had none. In order to even the playing field, I decided to come out of the closet. You would have no idea as to how difficult it is for a heterosexual guy to come out of the closet. I kept insisting that making me prove that I was homosexual was sexual harassment. When pressed on the issue, I would finally insist that I was a lesbian; I saw myself as a woman who preferred other women. That was new in those days, but today, people are allow to see themselves as anything… by gender, or ethnicity or ever breed. I fear that twenty-five years ago, I started a fad. Fortunately, I was never fired from Multnomah County, so I never had to put my sexual orientation card.
While serving in Multnomah County, I encountered some strange behavior with one of my animal attendants. It was reported to me that one of my animal attendants was getting himself invited into the homes of single women with young children to take photographs of them and their newly adopted pet. It seem an odd behavior and I confronted the employee. He told me that he was doing this off duty and it was none of my business. I’m usually a pretty calm person, but this guy hit my switch.
I began investigating this person’s life history and discovered that he had previously been a teacher and was fired for having sex with his students. How the hell didn’t Multnomah County Human Recourses uncover this in this work history. Anyway, he was now my employee and he was now my responsibility. I have to admit that our Human Resources Department was absolutely of no use to me. If I had done it their way, they guy would still be working for the County and molesting children.
But calm minds must prevail. Since the employee refused to stop meeting with our clients (and their children), I placed him on leave so that he could not access our files. I sent him to a counselor and after weeks of interviews, the counselor was intimindated by the employee and refused to release his findings. That didn’t prevent the counselor from sending us a bill for his efforts. I told the counselor that he had been hired to provide a risk assessment and he failed to do so; if he wanted to see his fees paid, either provide the assessment or take me to court.
I decided to revisit the time that the employee had been a teacher. Fortunately for me (I guess), one of the students that had been molested had a parent that was a key player at the school. In talking with that person, I discovered the name of the counselor that the school had used with the employee. I was fortunate to that the counselor remembered the employee and he was free to give me a risk assessment. So off to another few weeks of counseling.
The assessment revealed that nothing in the employee’s life had changed, he was as much a risk as he was when molesting school children. I took all of my findings to our Human Resource Department and they told me to put the employee back on duty… and to watch him.
What the hell? I explained the danger that this guy presented and all they wanted is for this guy to return to work. I told them “Hell no, no child is going to be molested on my watch. If they want to find this guy another job, fine; I’m going to fire him.” They were not happy with me, but I fired the guy.
The HR guys claim they worked out a severns package to prevent me from being sued. I told them they has wasted the County’s money, I would have loved to be taken to court by this guy.
This incident, among others in Multnomah County, taught me that sometimes you have to stop listening to “the professionals” in order to maintain the integrity of your organization. Do what is right and tell “the professionals” workout the paperwork.
Have you ever had a day that you would like to relive? One of the happiest days of my life was when one of my employees quit to take a job with the police department. After a few weeks, the police department discovered what I knew all along that the person was a worthless employee. She could not go into the field alone unless she was following another employee. It was a funny sight to see two animal control vehicles following one another in North Portland. After being fired by the police department, she asked for her old job back.
I told her no and the matter went to the County Commission to make the final decision. Everything was going well until the County’s Legal Department advised me to not say anything bad about the employee. I have always beat myself up for listening to them. How can you depict an employees bad performance if you cannot say anything bad? I was forced to take the employee back and as I learned with the County’s HR department, they don’t have our best interests in mind. They are just trying to make their own jobs easier. As you walk the walk of your profession, you’ll have to decide which battles are worth taking on. Keep in mind that if you are in municipal services, the advice that you receive will only be fifty percent right. Doing the right thing, frequently comes with a battle. But it feels good to win them.