Without comment (for now), and with emphasis and typing as originally delivered, I present a letter that was delivered from Anonymous City Staff;
“November 11, 2016
Taxpayers, Council Members, City Staff, and concerned parties:
What would you do if you were made aware of a city employee who has caused numerous issues affecting the city including: failing to perform her job, creating a hostile work environment causing several city staff to quit and causing others to file complaints with the Manager and Human Relations Department, taking advantage of her close relationship with the your city manager, illegally allowing a Chevron lobbyist to conduct in-private hiring / personnel interviews with city applicants, illegal and inappropriate use of her city credit card to purchase among other things food and drinks for her personal and private enjoyment, stealing tax payer money by attending private functions on city time, ignoring calls and emails from business ·developers and others (who she doesn’t like or benefit from), purposely not setting up her city voicemail in an effort to avoid having to return calls from anyone, not being held accountable for official complaints sent in by non-city and city persons, constantly showing up late, constantly leaving early, not even understanding her job (however she recently started telling people she is the Assistant City Manager so maybe she does have authority to commit all of these actions regardless of the financial and other carnage.) Other areas of interest will be listed in the remainder of this letter. Will you ignore all of this or do something about it? Some of you may be aware of these issues or may have heard bits and pieces but you may not know the extent of the issues caused by Ms. Nicole Bernard.
But the question is, why has she been receiving all this preferential treatment under the protection of the City Manager even though H.R. is aware of it? Some believe it is because of her oddly close relationship with City Manager Joe Felz. Later it will be explained just how odd this relationship is. To use Ms. Bernard’s words, “I get what I want.” Is there some inappropriate personal relationship, does she have something she has been holding over the City Manager’s head from her time in Redevelopment where a lot of money was involved in their budget, was there some deal made on bringing in certain businesses to the city, or is it he just has a certain fondness for Nicole? Several employees mentioned a time when Ms. Bernard told of rumors emanating that she and the city manager are having an affair and how other staff members questioned their relationship because of the promotions she keeps receiving She should not be having this type of conversation with any employee. But what if the rumor is true or is there some other reason she keeps getting promoted with ridiculous amounts of salary increases? As of today, Ms. Bernard makes an obscene amount of money, but by the end of the 2018 contract, she will make $145,000 plus 35% in benefits equaling about $195,000 per year which is the same as the City’s Human Resources Director.
Staff, including Directors, have stated there must be incriminating evidence she has on the city manager or they are sleeping together due to the promotion, which accompanied a large pay increase. Many people know she does not know her job and does not perform well. Complaints are continuously received against her for her lack of response to phone calls and emails from developers, individuals and companies. In fact, if you call her office phone number she does not have a voice message or name attached to her phone number. When asked the reason for not having her voice mail set up, her reply is that she doesn’t want to return anyone’s call and wants to hide in her office because she is far too busy. We are confident that if her previous Redevelopment co-workers were queried they would provide interesting insight to her work ethic and how she tries to pawn her work off onto them by way of her using her current title as a means of intimidation, as if this will accomplish her doing less and them doing more. This is poor customer service and a tactic to avoid people and accountability. She shirks her responsibilities. Her co-workers are unjustly compensated for the quantity of work they perform in comparison to her. Each can easily outperform her and do it well but they do not receive their fair share of compensation. She receives much more, very unfair and disparate.
She has stated that she caters specifically to the Korean community as this is Fullerton’s future and she will devote as much as she needs in order to bring their business to the city because that is where the money is and, “that’s what she is about.” She stated something along the line, “…they (Koreans) get the vip treatment from me but don’t get me wrong I am not a Korean lover and I don’t have to live here so I don’t care how many of them come in”. Is this the way Fullerton conducts business? Are there preferred ethnicities for city services? This sounds quite discriminatory and coming from an individual who has their own personal agenda. Oddly, since her latest promotion as Assistant to the City Manager or as Ms. Bernard puts it to outside colleagues, “Assistant City Manager”, she chooses the ethnicities that seem most lucrative but for her personal gain. She brings in Korean businesses, is recognized for this one portion of her job, and receives an obscene salary. So on one hand she uses the business owners but does not like Koreans?
A director confided to a staff member of a conversation with Ms. Bernard where she told the director of how he should go about receiving a promotion or change in title and compensation the way she did. She stated the director needed to ‘……nag Joe into giving in, just like she did’. She further explained the way she went about ‘…incessantly nagging Joe until he gave in and changed her title and that is the tactic I use to get what I want from him. Joe eventually gives in.” She told the director she would do anything she needed to do for her to get ahead even if others found it distasteful as long as she gets what she wants. She said numerous times, “Joe cannot handle aggressive females so I use that (my femininity) to my advantage.”
Another issue that needs addressed is her sitting on the Fullerton College Foundation Board while performing in the capacity as an Assistant to the City Manager-Economic Development Manager, her actual city job title. Much of her time spent away from the office is to attend Foundation events, lunches, meetings and performing tasks related to the Foundation. Not only does she spend much of her city paid time doing these things but also utilizes city staff, full-time and part-time, to assist her. It should be noted these individuals are staff whom she supervisors, which seems like a conflict of interest and abuse of her position of authority and theft of tax dollars.
It should be noted that many Foundation Board Members dislike her and find her business tactics unethical to say the least. In an attempt to influence some of the board members to terminate Anthony Florentine while in violation of the Brown Act, she was warned by Attorney Mark Von Esch, a Foundation Board Member, of her actions and to the best of my knowledge was unable to accomplish the task she set out to do; however, Mr. Florentine was eventually relieved of his position. I am confident that if asked Mr. Florentine would provide much more insight to the type of individual she is and how she unfavorably represents the city of Fullerton, and spent a lot of her paid city time not doing her actual job. Some board members have commented to city staff and community members alike that the city manager and Ms. Bernard must be sleeping together for her to gain her unwarranted successes. In their opinion she is not bright and should not be a representative on the board; however, due to the board wanting to have a connection with the city manager, they feel it necessary to keep her on the board even though it proves fruitless. She is not thought of in a high regard and her intelligence is questioned on many levels. She has stated she wishes to acquire the positon of Chuck Allen, Executive Director of the Foundation and that is the reason she devotes so much of her attention to it even if that means doing so on city time. This is another form of abusing city time and funds.
While attending Foundation meetings on city time, she receives reimbursement for coffee and other things from establishments she frequents, all covered under the umbrella of conducting ‘city business.’ This is ridiculous and an absurd use of city funds. With the salary Ms. Bernard receives, she certainly has the ability to pay for a cup of coffee. These unwarranted charges made at the city’s expense were brought to the attention of the city manager by the finance director but the matter falls upon deaf ears. She also utilizes city time to attend personal appointments without documenting the time away from the office.
All that is stated above has been brought to the attention of the city manager and nothing has been done to correct these issues. She is neither reprimanded nor disciplined for her poor behavior, theft from tax payers in money and paid time, poor treatment of others, or anything else. She continues to receive preferential treatment and in many instances, better than many city directors. Ms. Bernard is not a director and should not have the ability to perform many of the actions she has either taken upon herself to conduct or persuaded the city manager into allowing her to perform. If you were to ask any of the directors and they were honest, you would receive the same information. They know she does not have the capability to perform in her position but feel powerless as they have stated their concerns to the city manager and nothing is done. She is favored. The question is why? Morale has suffered because of it and several staff members she has supervised have left because of her. Upon separation, they may have stated they were offered a better job but if you were to inquire with Chi-Chung Keung, previous PIO; Erin Haselton, previous PIC, Cynthia Santillan, previous PIO, and her current staff, we are confident they would be honest and inform you of the type of person she really is and her work ethic. These individuals stated she had them performing duties outside of their scope of their position mostly with the Foundation, Economic Development Commission (EDC), and other entities that they should clearly not be doing. Some of the duties they were performing were delegated to them because Ms. Bernard did not want to perform them. She had them undertake large quantities of work related to EDC, again not under the scope of their position, because she does not want to do her job. These individuals did not file formal complaints with H.R. as they did not want to burn bridges and they knew of her close relationship with Joe Felz; however, the Human Resources was made aware of this issue from one of the previous employees and told former employee Chi-Chung the department’s hands were tied as the department could not go up against City Manager Joe Felz. Mr. Keung’s exit interview outlined all that has just been stated about Ms. Bernard. The truth is these very qualified and talented individuals left because they could not work under Ms. Bernard’s thumb and direction. Upon their separation from the city, several of these previous employees agreed to assist if Ms. Bernard (at her request) as needed, but in fact told other staff members they would never assist or work for the City Manager’s office or Ms. Bernard if she remained employed.
She cannot be trusted and clearly has a hidden agenda. She stated she would be the next Fullerton City Manager and do whatever it takes to get to that position and that the next step was to remove the “Assistant to the City Manager” from her title and eventually claim the title, City Manager.
Staff despises her and the favorable attention she receives and feel helpless as to any change and have to adapt to the environment in which they work. They suspect something foul and inappropriate but fearful of making complaints to H.R. in fear of retaliation and the fact other complaints to H.R. have never been addressed. Those who haven’t already left are looking elsewhere for employment and perhaps even retirement to get away from Ms. Bernard.
Additionally, Ms. Bernard and the city manager have often been seen out drinking together after hours and sometimes on city time. This is inappropriate behavior and only adds more questions. Not only does this reflect negatively on the city but also sets a tone that she is special and keeps the company of the city manager in an odd and seemingly inappropriate way. The city has enough issues and does not need additional negative attention. We believe Ms. Bernard needs to be terminated or at the very least demoted to a position she is capable of performing although nobody is certain of what she is capable of doing other than, “Getting what she wants.” She is not management material and should not be compensated as such.
A hostile work environment exists and it is rumored that several employees have sought legal counsel to get whistleblower protection and to seek remedy for a hostile work environment, retaliation, and disparate treatment. The city manager and H.R. Director cannot or will not get this employee under control so you must. Witnesses and those with intimate knowledge of Ms. Bernards’s activities, include her current staff, former staff as mentioned earlier (including Chi-Chung Keung, Lucinda Williams, Mea Klein, Eva Arevalo, Gladys Blankenship, Cynthia Santillan, Ginger Molar) as well as Ramona Castaneda, Christine Pilapil, Charles Kovac, HR Director Gretchen Beatty, H.R. Department, other department directors (including Julia James and Don Hoppe), the city manager, and other employees. If you provide a safe method and guarantee of immunity these employees will come forward and speak with you.
An investigation should be made into her duties before you decide to allow the city manager and city council to afford her another pay increase. At the very least the investigation should include:
- Review her calendar to see where she has inappropriately spent her claimed city time. Time spent at the Fullerton College Board is just one of several excused uses to be out of the office and on the city dime. She also utilizes city time to attend doctor appointments and other personal appointments without documenting the time away from the office.
- Investigate how much city time, her staff’s hours, and city resources she has spent while performing her duties at the Fullerton College Foundation and other places. How much has she billed taxpayers for other things that are of a personal benefit to her? Coffee, food, travel, hotel stays, lunches, dinner, alcoholic drinks? Only a full review of her charges will reveal the full extent.
- Review her expense reports and verify their legitimacy. At one point she was even chastised by the Finance Director Julia James for using her city credit card to buy her morning cup of joe alas coffee and pastries at Starbucks or some other fancy place. Why are some employees allowed to buy their breakfast on the taxpayer dime and others are not?
- It is common knowledge Ms. Bernard and the city manager are drinking buddies. They have been seen around the city in different states of inebriation. Staff employees are well aware of the common practice of Ms. Bernard sneaking out of work early to meet the city manager for drinks. It is believed some of these, “meetings” took place well into the late hours of the evening after normal work hours.
- Ms. Bernard’s authorization of non-employee Scott Starkey the lobbyist for Chevron to conduct private and joint interviews for city employee applicants. This includes interviewing at least 2 applicants for the position of Public Information Officer (PIO). Starkey interviewed some applicants in private and others in the company of Ms. Bernard. The probable date for these interviews was November 9, 2016. How is this allowable and not poor judgement? Would any other private citizen let alone a lobbyist with business in front of the city be allowed to interview and influence the hiring decision for PIO. Would any other lobbyist choose our next city manager or Chief of Police? This alone exposes the city to a lawsuit from the denied applicants as well as the resulting hired applicants. What questions were asked of them in those interviews or worse yet, what were they asked to do or not do? What would Chevron and Friends of Coyote Hills do when they are notified? Why is Starkey involved and thereby influencing hiring of city staff? Has he been provided or promised some sort of financial or other benefit to Ms. Bernard or someone else? More questions than answers.
- If proven true, which is likely the case if enough people are interviewed including all of the people who applied for city staff positions in the Administration Department. Mr. Starkey should probably be banned from all dealings in the city due to the crossing the line and also showing poor judgement. Does Chevron want him and Ms. Bernard as the faces in light of their hopes to develop in the City?
- Ms. Bernard probably can’t even be trusted with Economic Development matters due to the fact she allows lobbyists to interfere with personnel matters and is using racial lines to decide who gets her attention and accommodations in the city.
- Research complaints in the form of emails and other forms of correspondence from developers including (RED Development, Smart Transportation Division Local 84). She has upset them repeatedly by ignoring them.
- Query of co-workers, past and present in order to gain a complete picture of her performance and lack of ethical behavior. Understand their fear of reprisal due to Ms. Bernard’s ability to do what she wants. If lawsuits or freedom of information act requests are filed on several matters, who knows what subpoenas, depositions, and FOIA requests will reveal.
- Speak with her staff (Eva Arevalos, Gladys Blankenship, Ginger Molar) to verify information regarding her purposeful refusal to set up her voicemail and ignoring her responsibility as a very high paid city employee.
- Is it fair to ask that maybe developers and investors would be getting preferred treatment and access like lobbyist Mr. Scott Starkey if they were doing something for Ms. Bernard or giving her, “…what she wants…”
- Consider eliminating the current position Ms. Bernard is in as aside from the fact she has shown repeated poor judgement, she really has no idea as to what she is doing.
- Correct the ridiculous pay she is making and scheduled to make. Joe Felz clearly wasn’t being prudent in approving this.
- In last year and previous months, Ms. Bernard has been trying to get unvented access to the Fullerton Police Department. She has argued that she should be given complete access to the police station including access to police files, records, secure rooms, evidence rooms, personnel files, and everything else. The only person who stopped this was former Police Chief Danny Hughes. Now that he is gone, she has already spoken of how she plans on trying to get this access. Nobody knows why she needs this access but anyone can imagine what she might try to do with information she. might find.
- Ms. Bernard’s actions have resulted in a horrible reputation in the community and with her coworkers which affects her ability to be effective in her job.
The investigation now going on with the city manager is an embarrassment to the city and at a cost to taxpayers as well as the city’s reputation. The issues discussed here must be investigated by a qualified team who is willing to do the right things. Allowing Ms. Bernard to continue in her capacity as a supervisor and ability to make and influence decisions affecting the city in light of all of the things she has done and is doing is setting up the city for lawsuits, embarrassment, and more costs for taxpayers. We hope that our frustration due to fear and victimization has not bled too much into the verbiage of this letter and that you actually see the numerous illegal unethical issues we have listed. Stop this bad agenda, stop Ms. Bernard’s meanness, and flakiness. This letter only touches the surface as private conversations among staff constantly reveal more questionable acts. You, as a collective unit, approved her title change and you, as a collective unit, should put an end to this misuse and abuse of her position and either demote, reclassify or terminate her. She has the power to inflict harm as she has shown with some of the people who have left the city and those who are considering leaving.”