Investigative Reports - Summaries

How Many Arborists Does it Take to Declare a Dead Tree DEAD?


Click here for the background analysis: One Arborist for the Price of Three: COA Field Arborist Productivity, First Quarter 2011

 


Our most recent study of the Office of Building's Arborist Division's work performance for the 1st quarter of 2011 confirms what we already knew from our previous report, "Time to Trim the Deadwood"That study indicated that the field arborists are not working to full capacity and one field arborist could do the work required under today's economic downturn.

The three Field Arborist's salaries are paid from the Tree Trust Fund.  That Fund was created to replant lost trees and educate our citizens of their rights and responsibilities under the Tree Protection Ordinance.  So why is the City spending money that was intended to replant new trees to pay three field full-time arborists to do the work of one?

The new 2011 Budget should allow for planting more trees by reducing the field arborist staff.

Over a year ago, Peter Aman, the City of Atlanta's COO, promised us that he would deal with unproductive arborists.  He said in a June 14, 2010 email that with regard to reduction in force he had "no discretion in how individuals are selected to be eliminated" but "if those individuals that remain do not do a satisfactory job they can and will be replaced." He boasted in a follow-up email that, "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." Seemingly oblivious to the productivity issues in the Arborist Division (which reports up to him), he asked us to provide "specific examples of poor performance of arborists".

Our latest report marks the 10th document that have been published on The Tree Next Door website detailing the lack of productivity and poor performance that has occurred for at least the past 15 months (since January 2010, when our analysis began) and the attempts by various city personnel to cover it up.  So far, Aman has done nothing other than use taxpayer dollars to pay for a sham of an "investigation" which was so poorly executed it was lampooned in a YouTube video.  Watch it to see how your City uses your tax dollars!

 

How many investigative reports does it take for one City COO to see that his field arborists aren't doing their jobs?

If the field arborist staff should be reduced in the forthcoming budget cuts, it should not be in accordance with the City policy of "last hired, first fired" that was used to reduce staff in 2010 (and triggered the arborist productivity analysis we've been conducting).  Afterall, Aman did promise that he would address the issue of poor productivity if we provided data showing the performance problems.  Given his promise and the data we've provided about each individual's performance, the only arborist that the City can rationally retain at this point is David Tachon.  Even then, Tachon's job can only be justified as a full-time job if he picks up the work of the other two field arborists.

Shel Schlegman, Chair of The Tree Next Door, wrote an email to all of the City Council members on June 20, articulating the above and attaching a copy of the One Arborist for the Price of Three analysis.  Perhaps City Council will pick up the ball that Aman has dropped?

   

Time to Trim the Deadwood


Click here for the full report: Nice Work if You Can Get It

deadwoodWith Kasim Reed’s recent announcement of needing to lay off 130 city employees to meet the City’s budget, the field arborists’ productivity records put them squarely in the firing line. The most recent data the City has provided (Jan - Feb 2011) shows that not much has changed since we began reporting on their work from a year ago.  All three field arborists continue to have numerous days in which they report no work: an average of 25% (to as much as 40% for one particular arborist).

And on the days they do work, it’s not much work at all.  Tree inspections don't take very long -- maybe ten minutes each.  If a field arborist is spending half his time in the field, he could easily manage a minimum of 12 inspections a day.  But instead, 12 is the average number of daily inspections that occur among all three arborists, which means the City of Atlanta is paying three employees to do the work of one.  And because the City has run out of money, the City is now raiding the Tree Trust Fund, using that money to pay these field arborists' salaries instead of planting new trees.

Read more: Time to Trim the Deadwood

   

He Lied!


Click here for the full report: "A Blatant and Knowing Lie".

fingers crossedWhat can you say?  A lie is a lie even when it comes from the newly appointed Assistant to the Director, Office of Buildings: Ainsley Caldwell.

Formerly the Arboricultural Manager for the City of Atlanta, Caldwell was asked point blank in a City Law Department investigation about the Standards of Practice for which is he has been accused by The Tree Next Door of failing to enforce.   According to the investigative report, "Caldwell explained that the Standards of Practice are professional expectations as opposed to Standard Operating Procedures which are rules."

Really now?  Did the Law Department even THINK about asking to see a copy of these Standard Operating Procedures to verify their existence?  No, they simply took Caldwell at his word.  Apparently, when the City of Atlanta's Law Department investigates, they dismiss any evidence that might incriminate a City employee.  The Law Department's job is clearly not to investigate but to protect.

The Tree Next Door stepped in to perform the job the City Law Department should have done themselves.  We requested a copy of these so-called "Standard Operating Procedures".  We had to file three separate requests under the Open Records Act to get them -- a clear violation of Georgia State Law which requires the first request to have received a response within three business days -- but once the City responded, they told us what we already knew:

The Standard Operating Procedures do not exist.  The Arborist Division uses Standards of Practice, not Standard Operating Procedures.

So, there you have it.   Caldwell lied to his own Law Department in a legal investigation.  It couldn't be more straightforward.  But why did he lie? Why did he mischaracterize the Standards of Practice as not being the actual rules to be enforced?  Why did he make up some bogus nonsense about non-existent "operating procedures" trumping the Standards of Practice?

Was he covering for himself and his gross lack of enforcement of these Standards of Practice?  Or could Caldwell have simply been confused and thought there must exist some Standard Operating Procedures which were the rules he was to enforce, relieving him of not having to enforce the Standards of Practice?  If so, he must have never read his job description in which the second sentence under "Essential Duties" states:

"Review work completed by arborists and plan reviewers to ensure accuracy and compliance with established Standards of Practice."

Actually, we give more credit to Caldwell for knowing more about the essential duties of the Arboricultural Manager's job than he would like for the City Law Department to believe.  The extent to which Caldwell knows and has even testified under oath that the Standards of Practice are required to be followed is detailed in the report "A Blatant and Knowing Lie".

Two questions now loom:

  1. First,  if Caldwell will knowingly lie to the City's Law Department, how will Don Rosenthal, the new Director of the Office of Buildings, ever know if his new Assistant is telling him the truth?
  2. Second, how can COO Peter Aman expect anyone to take seriously this law investigation he requisitioned when clearly the City Law Department accepts, without verification, bold-faced lies as the truth?
   

Magic Kingdom Comes to City Hall


Click here for the full report: The City of Pretend

atlanta-city-hallDon't worry about the cost of filling up the car to take a trip to Disney World for Spring Break this year.  The Magic Kingdom has come to Atlanta, building a replica of Cinderella's castle at 55 Trinity Avenue.  Peek inside the castle to catch a glimpse of the dwarf, "Happy", no longer toiling as a hard-working miner, but merrily going about his job trying to make sure that no one in the Kingdom is ever sad, especially the people who break the law.  And look, there's "Sleepy", doing the bare minimum to get by.  No ambition at all there, it appears!  But the boss, "Doc", doesn't seem to mind.  After all, he's been very busy sprinkling fairy dust in his newly created job as Assistant to the Director, Office of Buildings. And, with no "Grumpy" around to insist that the dwarfs actually do their jobs -- and Doc's position having sat vacant for months -- there is no singing of "Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho! It's home from work we go!" when the tower bell chimes at the end of each day.

Instead, you can hear the small voices inside the castle, softly chanting:

"Why work, when you can just pretend to work?
Why manage when you can just pretend to manage?
Why supervise when you can just pretend to supervise?"

So, it doesn't rhyme, but what difference does that make?  Nothing has to make sense in the Land of Let's Pretend. Even the City's Law Department is part of the Grand Waltz in the castle ballroom, where everyone is constantly spinning, but not much is getting done.

After five months of waiting, Jeffrey B. Norman, the City of Atlanta's Compliance Manager, has delivered to The Tree Next Door the results of his investigation of arborists Stan Domengeaux and Michael Franklin.  The City's investigative report can be found here, along with our rebuttal, plus a letter to COO Peter Aman , insisting that he personally see to it that an actual investigation occurs, not just a mere "conversation with the very people whose veracity is in question."

Remember, this is pretend.  This is not real.

All you have to do is BELIEVE.

   

Is it Relative or is it Pretend?


Click here for the full report:  Pretend Work: An Interim Report to The Tree Next Door
Credit: NASA

"Didn't get a chance to conduct that site inspection before the site plan was approved?  No problem, just get it done... whenever!"

Such is the attitude reflected in the work records of  Stan Domengeaux, an Atlanta field arborist who is still on the city payroll despite our repeated documentation of his failure to submit valid field notes and database entries.  In other words, try as we may, no one at The Tree Next Door can figure out what Domengeaux is doing on the taxpayer's dime.  Nor, as detailed in the investigative report released 1-5-11, WHEN it is getting done.  Does anyone in the Arborist Division know? The Bureau of Buildings?

Increasingly, the Arborist Division is beginning to resemble some renegade outpost in some far off galaxy where time has looped back on itself.  Think that sounds far-fetched?  Read on.

Read more: Is it Relative or is it Pretend?

   

Take Down That Tree!


Click here for the full report:  Public Safety Is Such a Nuisance:  An Interim Report to The Tree Next Door

nuisance treeAs much as we love Atlanta's trees, not every tree deserves to be protected. Some trees must come down, particularly when they present a hazard of falling.  Trees that pose an immediate hazard to the city's streets, other public property or an adjoining property are deemed to be Nuisance Trees and should be reported immediately since they present a significant safety risk.

But what if the city arborists that you entrust to deal with nuisance trees find it too much of a nuisance to bother with them?  Our examination of the field notes of the so aptly named 'Double Trouble' arborists show that this is exactly what's happening.  And even though their manager is being replaced, these arborists are still on staff, so it is our duty to report what we are learning about them through our own investigation of the City's records.

Read more: Take Down That Tree!

   

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