Why Did We Conduct an Arborist Productivity Study?

In the spring of 2010, two city arborists, Paul Lewkowicz and David Tachon, were let go in a budget related downsizing, and a third arborist, Janell Bazile, retired. Although The Tree Next Door did not dispute the need for staff reduction at that time, particularly given the City's budget crisis and lack of development in the height of the recession, we did question why the City let go what we believed were the two more productive arborists on staff. Peter Aman, the City's COO at the time, claimed that his hands were tied as to how the staff was reduced, but assured us that arborists who did not do a satisfactory job "can and will be replaced".

On August 26, 2008, nearly two years prior to these two arborists' termination, the Community Development/Human Resources committee of the City Council had voted to conduct an audit of the Arborist Division in response to community outrage over City Arborist Tom Coffin's sudden dismissal. However, no audit was ever completed, which prompted Sheldon Schlegman, then Chair of The Tree Next Door, to send an open letter to Aman, Kasim Reed, the City's Mayor at that time, and James Shelby, who was Commissioner of Planning and Community Development, suggesting that the City -- with its decision to eliminate arborists Lewkowicz and Tachon -- was continuing its support of Ibrahim Maslamani's policy of non-enforcement and accommodation that severely undercut the Tree Protection Ordinance. (Maslamani was the former Director of the Bureau of Buildings who presided over Tom Coffin's firing, and was later fired himself, apparently for colluding with his chief of the inspection division (also fired) to sign off on unpermitted work being done on a Great Clips franchise owned by Maslamani's wife.)

Peter Aman responded to Schlegman by email, saying: "No recent administration has held both senior and junior employees more accountable than Mayor Reed's. Indeed, we have developed a very strong reputation of holding individuals accountable for job performance and will continue to do so. Please pass on specific examples of poor performance of arborists to Commissioner Shelby."

And so we did. The first productivity analysis of the Arborist Division we conducted examined performance related records from January to June 2010, and was published on August 30, 2010. Three weeks later we published an addendum documenting the specific performance issues of one of the two remaining field arborists, Stan Domengeaux. (Just after the first productivity analysis was released, David Tachon, one of the two city arborists who was let go in June, was hired back.)

When our August 30 productivity report showed significant performance discrepancies between the arborists who were let go versus the ones who remained, The Tree Next Door called for an independent audit of the Arborist Division.  Like the City Council-promised audit in 2008, this audit was never conducted. However, when our subsequent addendum to the August 30 report alleged that Domengeaux had falsified entries in his field book and the Accela database at the direction of James Shelby, the Planning Commissioner at that time, the City Law Department agreed to look into the matter.

It took the Law Department five months to complete their investigation, which was no investigation at all.  In summary, the Law Department concluded that because the alleged perpetrators denied any wrongdoing, nothing happened.  The Tree Next Door responded with a letter to Aman, saying that the investigation was "not a forensic analysis" that we had expected, but nothing more than "a conversation with the very people whose veracity is in question."

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