Last week, on November 4, a San Diego Superior Court judge ordered the City of San Diego to reimburse a city employee nearly two years' worth of wages that had been withheld due to an unjust and unfair suspension.
William Broderick, a procurement specialist in the city's Purchasing and Contracting Department, was suspended without pay for nearly 20 months for trying to clarify the voting requirements on a bid to bring new parking meters to San Diego.
In 2012, Broderick was assigned the city's five-person Technical Evaluation Committee, which was to evaluate incoming bids. The committee chair was the deputy director of the Purchasing and Contracting Department, Dee Dee Alari. Before presentations were given, Alari informed the committee of the scoring method. In trying to make the process easier, Alari decided to alter the normal procedure and directed committee members to score the final round of presentations differently by using an "all or nothing" vote. Alari's idea was to award the top vendor the full number of potential points while the others would not receive any points.
But because the committee was accustomed to the incremental scoring method, some members continued to use the prior method while others opted for Alari's suggestion. Yet, despite the scoring method, one vendor had performed ahead of the others and the difference in scoring did not effect the outcome.
But after the vendors were informed, some noticed that they had not been given any points for their oral presentation by some committee members. They complained to Broderick, who then discovered the error in scoring. In hopes of improving transparency, Broderick informed committee members to go back and score the presentations using the incremental scoring method, as they had earlier in the process.
Broderick informed the members that doing so would not impact the outcome of the final vote.
Committee members contacted Alari and informed her of Broderick's request to change their votes. The contract was canceled, as reported by *The Voice of San Diego.*
The city launched an investigation. In February 2014, Dennis Gakunga, then head of the Purchasing and Contracting Department — the fourth department director in a span of five years — issued a termination letter to Broderick for trying to change scores after the fact.
Broderick appealed the decision to the San Diego Civil Service Commission. Broderick, however, was suspended without pay from February 2014 to October 2015, the date of the commission's hearing.
At the October hearing, a hearing officer found that Broderick had tried to alter the scores but only in order to correct the discrepancies in voting. The hearing officer found that while "severe" discipline was warranted, termination was not. The Civil Service Commission ratified the findings and rescinded the termination but at the same time ordered the suspension without pay to remain in place.
Broderick filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the commission's decision.
On November 4, 2016, a superior court judge found the commission's suspension to be "grossly excessive," says Broderick's attorney, Michael Conger. The court ordered the commission to reduce the suspension. The commission is expected to do so in coming weeks.
Says Conger of the court's decision, "Sometimes city department heads forget what it's like to be a lower-level employee without clear guidance, training, or feedback. Mr. Broderick is a very good city employee and it was dishonest for those involved in his termination to make [him] the scapegoat for poor management and mistakes made by other managers. We're happy we could right this wrong."
Broderick's case is further evidence of a purchasing and contracting department that has been mismanaged and understaffed since former mayor Jerry Sanders decided to streamline the department. In doing so Sanders reportedly laid off 17 employees, thus adding to the workload of the remaining employees. Sanders's attempt at reforming the department was dealt another setback when news leaked that the former Detroit Public Schools official he hired to run the department had a checkered past.
Problems inside the department continued. In July 2015 Gakunga was fired after the city auditor discovered numerous paid leave of absences by department employees. Now, the city will be forced to repay Broderick's lost wages and will likely pay attorney fees.