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Bexar County employee promoted on same day co-worker she testified against was handed proposed termination

Read more at www.ksat.com

SAN ANTONIO – A Bexar County employee was promoted to a senior analyst position this summer, the same day officials handed a proposed termination to a co-worker she had recently testified against in a disciplinary case.

The documents unearthed by the KSAT 12 Defenders were among a batch of records that raise questions about personnel decisions among county leadership.

Since last fall, four employment complaints have been filed against Assistant County Manager Tina Smith-Dean. Many of the allegations and complaints swirl around possible bullying and retaliation.

MORE: 3 Bexar County employees placed on leave or removed from departments after filing complaints against supervisors

Now, new information obtained under open records law and from county sources shows that two employees who worked under Smith-Dean were dealt very different fates on the exact same day this summer, after they were involved in a disciplinary case.

One of those employees, Syvia Diaz, was promoted to a senior analyst position June 9. Diaz was moved up two pay grades and placed in charge of implementing and monitoring a state-mandated cybersecurity training program for the county, records show.

Her promotion came two months after she testified against the second employee in a disciplinary investigation. That employee, who asked not to be identified because she has a pending federal complaint against the county that names Smith-Dean, was handed a proposed termination by county officials on June 9 – the same day as Diaz’s promotion, records show.

RELATED: Bexar County hires ombudsperson following string of complaints from employees

Diaz was a key witness in the months-long investigation into the actions of the second employee, who was accused of intimidating co-workers by taking photos of them as they walked off of an elevator inside the Paul Elizondo Tower in late February.

The employee has said she was not photographing employees, but was instead carrying out her assigned task of making sure a display near the elevator looked orderly.

Records show a veteran Bexar County employee was given a proposed termination the same day a co-worker who testified against her was given a promotion. (KSAT)

In February, Diaz sent an email calling the woman’s actions “very annoying and aggravating” and that she was not going to tolerate the co-worker’s behavior anymore, records show. Several fellow employees sent similar messages within an hour of Diaz’s email or by the following day.

Months later, during a video conference meeting with Human Resources about the incident, Diaz acknowledged sending Smith-Dean an email about the elevator episode and that Smith-Dean then came to her office to discuss it.

County officials, however, have stated Smith-Dean played no role in the investigation of the employee, who late last year had accused Smith-Dean of harassment and bullying.

Due to Smith-Dean’s high-ranking position, according to multiple sources, the decision was made to bring in an outside firm, Kelmar Global Investigations, to handle the investigation of her beginning late last year.

County Manager David Smith earlier this year informed the woman’s attorney that Kelmar had concluded its report and based on a legal review of it by the district attorney’s office, the allegations against Smith-Dean could not be substantiated.

County officials have refused to release a copy of the report and claimed in late May that some of the information was protected by attorney-client privilege.

In late July, officials with the Texas Attorney General’s Office ruled that the information could be withheld from the public despite KSAT’s appeal.

County officials, to date, have refused to confirm how much money was paid to Kelmar and its investigators to put the report together, despite repeated requests over several months from the Defenders asking for that information.

The employee retired in June while facing a proposed termination and earlier this year filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the county naming Smith-Dean.

Officials this month refused to make Diaz available for an interview about her cybersecurity experience, but said she applied after the position was posted internally and was then chosen for the role.

County auditor documents handed over to the KSAT 12 Defenders following an open records request offered few clues about Diaz’s move to the new position. The section at the bottom of the employee status form certifying the move was left blank.

This section, labeled ‘All Other Changes,’ typically contains information about why an increase or decrease in pay is taking place.

Fourth EEOC complaint filed against Smith-Dean

Multiple sources confirm a longtime county employee this month filed a federal employment complaint against the county, which specifically names Smith-Dean.

The complaint accuses Smith-Dean of retaliation, sources said.

It is the fourth EEOC complaint filed against Smith-Dean since last fall.

Assistant Bexar County Manager Tina Smith-Dean.
Assistant Bexar County Manager Tina Smith-Dean. (KSAT)

County budget analyst Alexandria Millan last year filed two EEOC complaints against the county.

RELATED: Bexar County hires ombudsperson following string of complaints from employees

Millan was removed from her budget analyst position in late May and reassigned to the county’s purchasing department in another building.

County officials claim Millan was reassigned because she was uniquely qualified to help several county agencies manage COVID-19 related expenditures.

Her attorney, however, said the move was punishment for speaking out against Smith-Dean, after Millan accused her of unfair treatment at work and retaliation.

“…this position is to be treated confidentially…”

County budget records obtained by the Defenders show that Smith-Dean’s annual salary has increased by more than $43,000, to more than $174,000, since she was promoted to assistant county manager in 2012.

It has been no easy task in recent months for the Defenders to track the executive’s pay, however, as her salary and benefits is divided up among four county departments: HR, budget, management & finance and health insurance.

Smith in an email sent earlier this month referred to that approach as “activity-based costing”.

After the Defenders requested payroll status records for Smith-Dean and other current and former county supervisors, officials released a single sheet of paper for Smith-Dean.

Her pay jumps, which include multiple “reclassifications” of her position and at least one merit increase, have taken place without Smith-Dean receiving a promotion, according to budget records provided by county sources.

A reclassification takes place when fundamental changes occur in an employee’s job duties over an extended period of time. These changes must be “the result of planned business changes, organizational restructuring or changes in a program mission,” according to county policy.

An email provided to the Defenders shows the lengths county officials went to in the summer of 2012 to keep the creation of the assistant county manager position and Smith-Dean’s appointment to it under wraps, even though it was to be funded by public money.

“At this moment, this position is to be treated confidentially and should only be discussed with (redacted),” states a July 2012 email written by Smith’s chief of staff, Thomas Guevara.

Smith did not address Smith-Dean’s position during a brief, terse interview with the Defenders following commissioners court earlier this month, even though the topic had been provided to a county spokesperson ahead of time.

Bexar County Manager David Smith.
Bexar County Manager David Smith. (KSAT)

Smith stated only that he would look into it and that Smith-Dean’s salary and benefits may have been divided that way because that is how she would be allocating her work.

In an email sent days later, Smith defended the secrecy surrounding the creation of the position.

“Reorganizations are handled in a sensitive and confidential manner in order to avoid misinformation and confusion among employees that may be affected. There is no expectation that information is to be kept from the public. This is simply to allow enough time for affected employees to be briefed appropriately by their respective supervisors,” Smith said in an email.

County officials also provided the Defenders a 2012 administration report from Smith outlining a long list of projects he and the county had undertaken.

Smith-Dean’s appointment is listed at the end of the six-page report.

Bexar County chief of staff Thomas Guevara.
Bexar County chief of staff Thomas Guevara. (KSAT)

County officials confirmed Guevara signed for his own cost of living wage increase for the 2013-14 fiscal year, after the Defenders obtained records showing his signature on the cost sheet that listed him and other employees in the county manager’s office.

When asked if it was standard to have Guevara’s signature on the sheet instead of his own, Smith replied, “For every department head. They’re prepared by HR. They’re called cost sheets. So, yes, you could literally find hundreds of those.”

The sheets, however, contain language printed on them that states: “The auditor will only accept the signature of the Office or Department’s Elected or Appointed Official.”

Additionally, the Defenders in recent weeks reviewed hundreds of pages of Bexar County costs sheets going back nearly a decade, and overwhelmingly, they were signed by the heads of county departments or elected officials themselves.

One former elected official, who spoke with the Defenders on the condition of anonymity, called Guevara’s signature on the cost sheet an unusual move.

The county has also defended a significant pay increase given to budget manager Tanya Gaitan in the fall of 2017.

Bexar County budget manager Tanya Gaitan.
Bexar County budget manager Tanya Gaitan. (KSAT)

Despite moving up only a single pay grade and keeping the same job title, budget records show Gaitan received a raise of over 17%, well above the minimum of the new pay grade she was promoted to.

County policy on promotions states that an employee is to be given an 8% raise or have his or her salary risen to the minimum of the new pay grade, whichever is greater.

RELATED: Memo: Bexar County Manager David Smith directed employees to receive absolution

Smith declined to address Gaitan’s pay increase during the interview, claiming it was not a question he was told he would be asked ahead of time.

Smith also offered to provide a copy of the county’s promotion policy, even after this reporter quoted lines from the policy verbatim.

Days later, after the question was sent to a county spokesperson, Smith replied via email that Gaitan received the significant raise after a reclassification of her position.

County officials did not provide a list of Gaitan’s additional duties or work she had been doing outside the scope of her position’s description.

After the Defenders shared with officials the adopted budget item for Gaitan’s reclassification, which showed her salary increase was well below what she actually received, a spokesperson said via email the increase was higher than what was detailed in the budget book because Gaitan had been reclassified to a new pay table put together by HR for that fiscal year.

Smith says constable office’s aren’t being targeted for cuts

When Ruben Duran was informed that his deputy constable position with Bexar County Precinct 2 was being eliminated in March 2017, he said the news hit him like a ton of bricks.

The reduction in force came outside the county’s budget cycle and brought an abrupt end to his 36-year career in law enforcement.

Duran worked for the Texas Department of Public Safety for 26 years and then after coming out of retirement, worked for Precinct 2 for close to a decade.

Former Bexar County Precinct 2 deputy constable Ruben Duran.
Former Bexar County Precinct 2 deputy constable Ruben Duran. (KSAT)

“I was told that the county commissioners had decided they needed to reduce some of the deputies,” said Duran. “It caused marital problems with my wife and I.”

Duran is far from alone in venting frustration about how county officials have addressed the budgets for constable’s offices in recent years.

This fiscal year, officials cut a total of 20 deputy constable positions, 19 that were occupied and one that was already vacant, according to a county spokesperson.

That figure, however, would have likely been much higher had members of the four precincts not protested a proposal this summer that called for a total of 38 positions to be removed.

Smith scoffed at the idea that he and budget staff have targeted the four constable’s offices for cuts in recent years.

“I don’t consider them a target. I think any budget we look at, is that an efficient way to staff that function? That’s direction we’ve been provided by the court over the years,” said Smith.

When the Defenders described the salary increases of some county staff working on the top floors of the Elizondo Tower, Duran said, “If that’s just the tip of the iceberg, what else is going on?”

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