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Springfield firing casts out a valuable employee.

Byline: Bill Morrisette For The Register-Guard

As mayor of Springfield for 10 years, I am appalled by the city's firing of Thelma Barone, who was hired in 2003 to build trust between the city and the Latino community. Her job was to do outreach and encourage Latinos to become part of the social and economic life of Springfield. I invited her to appear before the Springfield City Club, and also invited the new chief of police, Tim Doney, to be part of the program.

Slides were projected during the presentation, and Barone told me afterwards that the chief eliminated the slide containing the Springfield Council Goals. She told me it was important to show that slide to highlight the fact that her outreach work was at the direction of the City Council. Other slides Doney eliminated contained references to the fact that the Springfield Police Department welcomes and encourages feedback in community members' own language.

Barone added that the ongoing culture of the department was that it did not want to hear complaints about profiling and seems to blame her for encouraging Latinos to complain, whereas it was her job to simply forward the complaints to her supervisors.

About a week after the City Club meeting, she was put on leave for almost six months, with full pay and benefits.

Question: How could the city afford to continue paying her for not working? Answer: Because the city had no legitimate reason to fire her.

This seems to have worsened after the hiring of Doney, who made it clear that he didn't want to hear her reports about charges of profiling made by members of the Latino community. This attitude by the police department adds to the "redneck" image of Springfield I worked hard to overcome when I was mayor.

By the way, a number of employees have successfully sued the city of Springfield over stupid decisions regarding their employment. Read the Aug. 18 Register-Guard article, "Racial profiling an issue in suit," and be amazed at how much money these decisions are costing Springfield taxpayers.

When Barone was hired, she was encouraged by Police Chief Jerry Smith's commitment to the Latino community. "When I first went around doing presentations, in people's homes or at public gatherings, I always had Chief Smith as an ally," she says. "He came to the meetings and shook hands with folks, even though he could not speak the language. When we had a picnic for the celebration of the Day of the Child, Jerry sent officers in squad cars down to meet everyone."

In the 10 years she worked for the Springfield police, Barone said she's seen tremendous improvement in the relationship between the department and the Latino community. "I see a lot more trust, a willingness to help with investigation of cases, to be witnesses, to report crimes," she says. "And these are changes that make the whole community more safe."

In her role as liaison, Barone has done everything from translating legal documents to driving women to get restraining orders and accompanying them to the courtroom so they'll feel safe when testifying against their alleged abusers. She also created safety plans for children in case their parents are deported, and she teaches classes in crime prevention and healthy relationships.

Barone can identify with the challenges of navigating a complex system in an unfamiliar language. When she arrived in Los Angeles from Mexico, she did not speak a word of English. She became a U.S. citizen, enrolled at UCLA to study English and earned a degree in geography and environmental science - she is one tough lady!

Barone worries about the media portrayals of immigrants as drug dealers and other types of criminals, echoing Donald Trump. "But the people who come here, many of them are marginalized and desperate," she says."They are hard workers, and very moral, ethical people who just work hard and care for their families."

It is my opinion that Thelma Barone did absolutely nothing wrong to warrant being put on "leave" for six months with full pay and benefits, and was subsequently fired because she would not agree to go along with being given a "second chance," which implies her guilt. From all indications and for the two years that I have known her, she has integrity and high moral and ethical standards.

The ultimate irony is that on the day she was placed on leave, she received the Springfield Alliance for Equality and Respect Human Rights Leadership Award. Her being fired without cause is contrary to what this award stands for.

Bill Morrisette, mayor of Springfield from 1989 to 1999, served on the Springfield School Board, on the Springfield City Council and in the Oregon Legislature.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 26, 2015
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