City staff’s Trump trip broke rules

In­stead of rent­ing a van, group with Sun­shine List mem­bers rode to Wash­ing­ton in city ve­hi­cle with­out per­mis­sion

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW DRESCHEL

A group of city of Hamil­ton em­ploy­ees who took part in the mas­sive anti-Trump women’s march in Wash­ing­ton last month were in breach of city poli­cies.

The staffers used a city van with­out per­mis­sion to get to Wash­ing­ton and con­ducted out-of-coun­try city busi­ness with­out proper au­tho­riza­tion.

Joe-Anne Priel, gen­eral man­ager of com­mu­nity and emer­gency ser­vices, was the rank­ing staffer among the seven em­ploy­ees.

Priel should have got­ten au­tho­riza­tion for the travel and use of the van from city man­ager Chris Mur­ray. She didn’t.

In an email to Mur­ray and coun­cil­lors, Priel ex­plained the group used the city van be­cause they were con­duct­ing busi­ness while in Wash­ing­ton, specif­i­cally vis­it­ing com­mu­nity hubs and pick­ing up “ideas which we are keen to im­ple­ment.”

The ques­tion is, did they book the hub vis­its be­fore or af­ter the de­ci­sion to take part in the Wash­ing­ton march?

The an­swer is a muddy as the op­tics.

Priel said via email that the vis­its were booked “al­most con­cur­rently” with the de­ci­sion to join the march and she sim­ply thought if they were do­ing city busi­ness they could use a city ve­hi­cle.

Asked why the group didn’t just rent a van, Priel re­sponded, “I didn’t look at the pol­icy,” adding the is­sue is “very painful” for her.

No doubt. Dur­ing Priel’s 16 years with the city, she’s built a golden rep­u­ta­tion as a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate for the poor and un­der­priv­i­leged.

Be­cause of her record, her sup-

port for women’s rights, and her dis­taste for Trump, many may be will­ing to turn a blind eye to her pol­icy breaches.

But rules and poli­cies are sup­posed to ap­ply to ev­ery­one, the Queen bee as well as the worker bees.

Se­nior man­agers not only need to un­der­stand the rules, the pub­lic and front-line work­ers count on them to ex­er­cise good judg­ment.

In­ter­est­ingly, this story be­gan with a call to the Spec from a city worker who’d seen a photo in the pa­per of Priel and the other staffers at the Wash­ing­ton march. Among other things, he won­dered if the trip had been ex­pensed.

I asked Mur­ray, Mur­ray asked Priel, Priel said it hadn’t been. Un­for­tu­nately, how­ever, she ap­par­ently ne­glected to dis­close the city van piece. That came to light when Coun. Donna Skelly, who had also been con­tacted by some­one, asked about the van.

That trig­gered Priel’s email to city of­fi­cials in which she de­scribed the group’s hub vis­its, ac­knowl­edged they had used a city van, and ex­plained they had “ex­pensed none of the trip.”

Ac­cord­ing to Priel, they left Hamil­ton on a Fri­day, re­turned on a Tues­day. Fri­day and Tues­day were booked as va­ca­tion days. They marched on Satur­day, vis­ited the hubs Mon­day and worked on email the rest of the time.

It all sounds per­fectly rea­son­able and re­spon­si­ble. Un­til you re­call they took the van and en­gaged in city busi­ness with­out per­mis­sion.

Bear in mind, rent­ing their own ve­hi­cle would have been a snap. Priel’s an­nual salary is $206,000 and two of the other staffers on the road trip are on the Sun­shine List for pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ees who make $100,000 or higher.

As far as Mur­ray is con­cerned, it’s now a dead is­sue.

“I can say that Joe-Anne and I have dis­cussed this mat­ter and we would both agree that, hind­sight be­ing what it is, she should have asked for writ­ten per­mis­sion from me to use the city ve­hi­cle,” he said via email.

Given that rel­e­vant info was brought back about com­mu­nity hubs and af­ter dis­cussing the mat­ter with hu­man re­sources, Mur­ray says he’s sat­is­fied the mat­ter has been ap­pro­pri­ately ad­dressed.

Fair enough, as long as in the fu­ture the same un­der­stand­ing will be ap­plied to worker bees who ne­glect to fol­low the rules.

Mean­while, hope­fully Priel and her col­leagues ap­pre­ci­ate the irony that their cavalier be­hav­iour con­forms per­fectly with Trump’s crit­i­cisms of elites, a not in­con­sid­er­able fac­tor in his elec­tion vic­tory.

Their cavalier be­hav­iour con­forms per­fectly with Trump’s crit­i­cisms of elites, a fac­tor in his elec­tion vic­tory.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Joe-Anne Priel, far left, and six other city em­ploy­ees drove down to Wash­ing­ton to par­tic­i­pate in the Women’s March last month.

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