2012-04-11 / Front Page

Batiste addresses employment rumors

By Chris Frost
Bulletin Staff Writer

COMPTON—Interim City Manager Bryan Batiste is the subject of many rumors surrounding his employment in this month, and The Bulletin separated the fact from fiction during an interview on Tuesday, April 3.

Batiste took over for former interim City Manager Lamont Ewell on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Allegations that a Council member asked him to rehire a former employee fired last fall, he said, are true.

“I told the Council member that I would consider it, and discussed the request with City Attorney Craig Cornwell,” Batiste said. “The former employee was on probation when he was fired and had no reinstatement rights.”

He said during his due diligence he noticed things that he was not happy with.

“He came in, filled out his own paperwork, then went to work without authorization about three weeks ago,” Batiste said. “He claimed a furlough day exemption when everybody, including me, is taking them, put himself at top status with a vehicle and car allowance, and submitted a $1,600 travel request.”

He instructed his secretary to send an email saying the employee was not cleared to return to work.

“He came back to work the next day,” Batiste said.

He sent Metropolitan Law Enforcement Service over to escort him off the property, and said he considered the action disrespectful.

“My first thought was who is in charge here,” Batiste said. “I do not want a prospective employee taking that kind of action before I hire the person. It upset the unions because people unjustly laid-off are still unemployed and employees planned a sick-out to protest the reinstatement.”

He explained his decision to the Council person who wanted the former employee rehired, and received a directive to hire him.

“I refused and stood my ground,” Batiste said. “It escalated to the brink of confrontation.” The Council member’s action, he said, violates the city charter.

“Section 602 of the charter covers this,” Batiste said. “It is my decision whether to bring an employee back.”

He also verified rumors that the Council member has the support of a city employee, who sent him an email to target select employees, collapse departments and lay people off.

“I am here to serve and do what is right and legal,” Batiste said. “It is the same thing they accused Willie Norfleet of, but there is a different person behind it.”

The following week the Council scheduled a closed session and reports that his job was on the line were accurate.

“The action planned was evaluation, discipline and termination,” Batiste said. “I went from hero to zero because I did not rehire this employee.”

He said he explained his side of the story to Council members.

“ The closed session was about me, so I did not attend,” Batiste said. “ The discussion lasted less than 10 minutes and sent a message to the Council person that the selection process for a new city manager will continue under its current format.”

The work environment, he said, was like being in bondage.

“If it is going to be like this, I will just return to my position with the Fire Department,” Batiste said. “The Council member controlled and second guessed me.”

The interim tag is OK with him, he said, and his goal is simply serving the best he can.

“Someone said to remove people that have the skills to perform certain tasks,” Batiste said. “ That puts me at a disadvantage when the city needs to move forward.”

Part of the agenda he faced was being told to create contracts for vendors, and he confirmed the allegations after some hesitation.

“I was asked to drum up some work for a construction company in litigation with the city, and an attorney the Council person has a relationship with,” Batiste said. “I am not going to do it, and this is what I have been going through for the last two months.”

An allegation questioning his use of a city vehicle, he said, was the next issue he faced.

“My contract says I have exclusive use of a city car,” Batiste said. “I heard rumors that the Council person went to Cornwell and asked if there is a conflict of interest if I carpool with my wife.”

He said they carpool to city hall, and she takes the family car to her job at Walton Middle School.

“Occasionally we run late, and I take her straight to school,” Batiste said. “We usually leave the city car in Compton and drive home together.”

Since taking a stand, he said, the city is running better.

“Everybody knows what is going on, and things are working out well,” Batiste said.

The only rumor proving to be inaccurate, he said, was the one that claimed a deal was complete to hire him as the next city manager.

Batiste said Cornwell planned to send a memo to Council members advising against such actions.

The next City Council meeting is on Tuesday, April 17.

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