Chandler Citizens Benefit from inclusive management

Fired, disciplined city employees not fighting punishments

Edythe Jensen
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 27, 2008

Chandler’s Merit System Board hasn’t met since 2006, and that’s a good sign, officials say.

The board’s only job is to hear appeals from fired or disciplined employees who dispute their punishment. The city has 1,652 full-time employees, but not a single personnel appeal has been filed in nearly two years even though 18 workers were suspended and five fired during that time, Human Resources Director Debbie Stapleton said.

That’s a big change from what was happening between 2002 and 2005 when several workers challenged suspensions and dismissals, including some high-profile cases involving police officers.

Officials tie the appeals reduction to changes in workplace communications and culture. In 2004, Chandler hired a city manager and police chief; both introduced employee communications programs that sought suggestions from rank and file workers. That same year, voters approved a city charter change that recognizes employee unions.

Clessene Heil, a board member since 1996 and a former Chandler police officer, said a rash of discipline appeals ended after Police Chief Sherry Kiyler replaced retiring Chief Bobby Joe Harris. “This trend says good things about the city and Chief Kiyler,” Heil said.

Historically, most of the Merit Board appeals have come from the Police Department, she said.

One of the most publicized cases – former police Officer Dan Lovelace – required months of Merit Board hearings. Lovelace was fired in 2002 after he shot and killed Dawn Rae Nelson, 35, outside a Walgreens drive-through window where she was trying to fill a forged prescription and flee. The police union backed Lovelace, but the Merit Board upheld his dismissal.

In 2004, a voter-approved city charter change allowed Chandler to recognize unions in a “meet and confer” process that sets budgets, salaries and personnel policies. Mayor Boyd Dunn said early concerns about the process have been replaced with open discussion and high morale. “When you can have management and employees working on issues together, you build trust,” he said.

Paul Babeu, president of the Chandler Law Enforcement Association, the police union, said Kiyler’s inclusion of rank and file officers in department communications has improved morale and productivity and reduced conflict. “There has been a huge and systemic change in the whole process of how decisions are made and a great sense of good will,” he said. When it comes to discipline, “There are calmer minds … you can’t lob mud pies when you have a seat at the table,” Babeu said.

Kiyler said communication is a priority and she hosts open employee forums at least six times a year. “We have disciplined and terminated employees, but we try to do that judiciously and fairly,” she said.

Stapleton said City Manager Mark Pentz introduced employee development and communications programs that are changing Chandler’s workplace culture. “It’s all about communication and collaboration, involving employees in decision-making,” she said.