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Inquiry clears manager of claims.

Byline: JOE MOSLEY The Register-Guard

A city investigation found no merit to anonymous allegations of a "hostile work environment" against one of the city's top managers, those who directed the internal review said Tuesday.

The subject of the inquiry - Angel Jones, executive director of Eugene's Library, Recreation and Cultural Services Department - said she intends to look at the upsetting episode as a learning experience.

"My style is to learn and move on," Jones said. "Everything that happens to me, I try to learn a lesson from that and move on."

Acting City Manager Jim Carlson said city officials believe the unsigned letter making the accusations came from "a disgruntled employee that felt he wasn't heard or something."

But the city looked into the matter out of "due diligence," he said, because the nature of the allegations - if accurate - could have left the city open to litigation.

The city typically doesn't investigate anonymous claims involving personnel matters, and instead wants employees to address complaints about supervisors through a formal, four-step procedure, Human Resources Director Lauren Chouinard said.

"There were processes that could have been followed and they weren't followed, so we were left with this," said Chouinard, who conducted the Jones inquiry.

"We found nothing substantiable in here," he said, holding a copy of the anonymous mailing. "We were glad to find that, and we hoped to find that."

The investigation, begun more than a month ago after someone sent an eight-page packet of material anonymously to the homes of each city councilor, determined that the allegations against Jones were largely generalized and consisted of opinions not shared by others who work beneath her. The writer identified himself only as "a seasoned manager" in the department.

Chouinard said the investigation included interviews with 10 midlevel managers who serve beneath Jones.

Some of the midlevel managers did point out that Jones is at times more direct and demanding than others who have served in her position, he said.

"We found that Angel has a different style than some of the past managers over there," Chouinard said. "She's a hard-driver. She pushes people to perform, and they like that."

Jones said many of her subordinates simply weren't accustomed to working with someone with her background when she was hired three years ago to head the 150-person department. She'd been a lifelong East Coast resident and was a former captain in the U.S. Army.

"I must say, coming into this community, I knew there would be some challenges for me," she said.

In addition to the two-page, type-written letter, the anonymous packet sent to councilors last month included a cover sheet with the scrawled message "Please Help Us," a four-page informational document from Womenspace on domestic abuse and a final hand-written page that apparently sought to explain the symbolism of the Womenspace material: "When someone tells you that they are being abused, believe them."

The letter itself describes Jones as "demeaning, threatening, intimidating, discourteous and abusive," and maintains that her entire staff is afraid of her. "There is no happiness or pleasure in working in this pervasively fearful place," the writer claimed.

Eugene officials denied The Register-Guard's initial request to inspect the letter, but produced copies Tuesday after declaring the internal investigation complete.

Chouinard said there were some indications of who may have written the letter, but no conclusive evidence. That part of the inquiry was considered unimportant and eventually dropped, he said.

He declined to directly answer when asked if the recent departure of a midlevel manager in the department had anything to do with the letter. "There is a person who was on (employment) probation who is no longer with us," he said. "But this is not the reason he is no longer with us."

The manager has no listed telephone number and couldn't be contacted for comment.

The anonymous letter was first sent to Carlson in April during the height of tense budget deliberations in which Jones took some heat from residents over her decision to cut funding for a popular outdoor recreation program.

But Carlson said the criticism of Jones wasn't necessarily disproportionate to that directed at other department managers during the contentious budget process.

"She's probably had more change in her department, and there's been more angst about that," he said.

Jones said she urged an internal review after the same letter resurfaced three months later, and Carlson agreed it was a "joint decision" by himself, Chouinard and Jones that prompted the investigation.

Carlson also acknowledged that the situation was particularly sensitive - and a high priority to clear up - because Jones is the highest-ranking person of color on the city's staff.

Jones, an African American, said she believes her race played a role in the incident - particularly in how it was handled by local news media. She was critical of The Register-Guard's decision to publish her photograph along with the newspaper's initial story about the letter and subsequent investigation.

"I definitely think me being an African American has something to do with it," she said. "No, I don't think I was dealt with fairly, especially with the media."

Jim Godbold, the newspaper's executive editor, said the use of Jones' photo "was a news decision of the most fundamental type," and had nothing to do with her race.

"We run pictures in just about every category of story we do where the person is a focal point of the story and we have a photograph," Godbold said.

Jones said she will be more aware in the future of her image within the department, but she doesn't think the incident will necessarily have an effect on her management style.

"I will continue to look at how I approach staff in the department," she said. "I am more aware of how they perceive certain actions. But the bottom line is, I will continue to be a manager that holds people accountable."
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Title Annotation:Eugene: Officials believe the unfounded allegations were made by a disgruntled employee.; Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 28, 2002
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