Failures at HR Lead to Clean Slate for Future
The sudden resignation of San Bernardino County’s human resources director leaves a void of leadership in a crucial division and a bad taste in the mouth of county employees who have yet to see consistent integrity from that department.
But it also allows the perfect opportunity for new county leadership to remedy past problems.
The San Bernardino Sun newspaper re-ported the abrupt resignation of Cindi Peterson Tompkins after only nine months on the job. She was hired to replace the embattled Andrew Lamberto, who resigned after reporters uncovered his arrest for soliciting prostitution, which was covered up by then-CEO Greg Devereaux. Lamberto resigned amidst the controversy.
Tompkins came to the county from the software supplier Esri. She received a salary of $197,850 per year and was put in charge of personnel management and pro-grams such as employment, benefits and employee relations.
Nearly all facets of the human resources department are of concern to the Sheriff’s Employees’ Benefit Association (SEBA) and Teamsters Local 1932, who together represent more than 70% of all county employees. Most, if not all, employee concerns and complaints must be addressed by the labor unions through the county department of human resources.
SEBA and the Teamsters have both at-tempted to bring various issues to the attention of county administrators and elected leaders. We have pointed out human resources’ inability to deal with staffing levels; the slow hiring process; retention; training components; communication; and most concerning, resistance to ideas surrounding help for the victims of the December 2nd terrorist attack. County human resources leaders have responded defensively, rather than inviting a productive discussion, working towards mutual interests and collaboration.
Our members are frustrated with the lack of responsiveness and a genuine approach to problem-solving.
Tompkins did nothing in her short tenure to address the above concerns. Instead, she stumbled into controversy by hiring her former Esri colleagues. These new-hires came in at the top step of the pay structure and settled into six-figure positions. The real rub was there was no legitimate opportunity for county employees to have promoted into those higher “dual-filled” positions, as they were seemingly reserved for Tompkins’ buddies.
Even if Tompkins’ intentions were not nefarious, the perception is certainly problematic. She resigned under a cloud of suspicion.
The human resources website contains a section titled “Ethics… In Action!” that defines conflicts of interest and warns employees to be “always mindful of the public’s perception when making decisions.”
The lack of ethical management of the human resources department weakens the trust between employee organizations and the county. Although it is unreasonable to paint all human resources employees with a broad brush, it is fair to infer a leader’s ethics – or lack thereof – are endorsed at various levels of the department in the form of mandates and preferred practices.
Human resources oversee labor relations with the county’s various employee associations, including collective bargaining. Negotiations between unions and management are inherently tense. However, “negotiating” with the County of San Bernardino is far from the definition of the word. Rather than participate in a “mutual discussion” or a “settlement of terms,” the county continuously engages in scare tactics and pat-tern bargaining. It routinely tries to pit the labor unions against each other and threatens sanctions if one bargaining group does not fall in line. Questionable tactics are systemic. Given the pattern of disgraced human resources directors, perhaps we now know why.
If San Bernardino County wants to claim it is the “employer of choice,” it needs to focus on bringing its employees’ over-all compensation and benefits on par with those of surrounding counties. It needs to improve its retention of employees and value the skills of its workforce. It also needs to value the voice of its labor organizations and approach disputes with a collaborative problem-solving.
We see this latest hurdle as a chance to right the wrongs of the past. Tompkins was hired while Devereaux was at the helm and it proved to be another costly mistake. With him out and a new leader serving as the Chief Executive Officer, SEBA and Teamsters expect to see discernable changes from the human resources department.
By Laren Leichliter and Randy Korgan