Eden fired, says he will sue Delano

Served as city public works director for six years

The city of Delano, Tuesday, Dec. 3, terminated the employment of Public Works Director Ernie Eden, and he is not going away quietly.

Eden said Monday, Dec. 9, that his attorney Adriana Shannon, who practices labor law, is filing a lawsuit against the city in federal court. Delano City Administrator Phil Kern confirmed this information, saying, “We are aware of his intent to sue the city.”

The 12-page lawsuit brings up issues relating to sexual discrimination and gender bias, as well as the circumstances surrounding his termination, Eden said.

“This is not the only lawsuit that is likely to come out of this,” he said.

The parents of the two alleged victims of discrimination and gender bias are consulting an attorney about a potential suit. In brief, Eden said he stood up for two teenage girls who were summer public works employees and someone didn’t like it. Meanwhile, Kern wrote a three-page memo dated Dec. 3 to City Attorney Mark Johnson. The memo describes in detail alleged inadequacies in Eden’s performance as public works director.

The situation surrounding Eden’s employment with the city came to a head on Dec. 3 during a closed study session of the Delano City Council. The topic of the meeting was evaluation of his performance. The regular city council meeting was gavelled to order after the study session was adjourned. City Attorney Johnson gave a summary of the closed session and asked the council to affirm that it was a fair summary of Eden’s evaluation. Councilor Betsy Stolfa moved to affirm the accuracy of the summary, and Russek seconded the motion, which then was approved.

Attorney Johnson’s summary and Kern’s memo brought up similar points. Johnson said participants in the closed meeting decided to end Eden’s leave of absence with pay and terminate his employment immediately. The decision was made on a number of grounds, including inadequate management of personnel, inadequate knowledge of the duties of his position and inadequate responsiveness to city public works needs. Other grounds were lack of ability to work with and respond to supervision, lack of responsiveness to council concerns and insufficient response to emergencies.

“There was concern about Mr. Eden making complaints about other employees that were not made in good faith,” Johnson said. “There’s a lack of confidence that the department could run efficiently under his supervision. There was a sense that the job description should be altered and the department take a new direction under new leadership and the position essentially be terminated — the position itself.”

After the two meetings, Eden said, “The point is, I’m righting a wrong. I really think the council doesn’t know the full story.”

He said that laws have been violated and personal rights have been violated. Nothing has been done, so now he is doing something about it, he said.

“It’s not about me against them, David against Goliath. This is about what’s right and what’s wrong,” Eden said.

He described, from his point of view, what brought the situation to this point. It revolved around two teenage girls who had been doing maintenance on the high school ball fields for several years. One of them is a former high school varsity ball player who has five years of experience in maintaining the field. Eden considered her to be an expert in this work.

One day the girls came to see Eden. “They were visibly upset, crying and shaking,” he said. He was told that a new baseball coach did not want them working on the field. He talked with the coach by email and in person and was told to get the girls off the field.

“He didn’t think the girls could do the job,” Eden said.

After he reported the situation to city officials, nothing happened. The situation escalated to the point where the two girls were afraid to report to work when Eden was not around to protect them.

Eden said that more than one incidence of retaliation against him took place. One of them involved breaking into his personal property located on city property.

According to Eden, negotiations took place between his attorney and the city attorney. The city offered Eden a choice of taking early retirement or resigning. (Eden is 60, and public employees can retire early at age 55.) He said he was told he would receive a performance evaluation if he did not accept the offer. He refused the offer, and the performance evaluation took place on Dec. 3. No one gave him a report of the performance evaluation, and he said the City Council should have talked with him.

“If it’s a performance issue, first you have to let the person know,” he said. “I’ve never been made aware of it.”

Eden said he is “very proud” of the performance reviews he has had during his six-year stint with the city of Delano. As recently as March, Mayor Dale Graunke was giving him “kudos” for the good job he was doing. Then suddenly, after he stood up for his two employees, things changed.

He also is proud of his 30-year career in public works.

He said the situation with the two girls has been going on for two to three years and “now is coming to a head. To have this go on, to have it reported and have nothing done … I can’t imagine how they must feel,” Eden said.

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at [email protected]