By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Joe Simonson
Joe Simonson

Lemoore Recreation Director Joe Simonson, placed on administrative leave in early December, continues to be away from his job as December stretched into January, prompting some city officials to speak out, at least one of them calling the city’s official stance on the matter “unprofessional” and “unethical.”

So far Lemoore City Manager Andi Welsh, citing confidentially rules regarding personnel decisions, has declined to explain the city’s position other to say that such a personnel decision “is not a matter for public discussion.”

Personnel issues, unless there is criminal activity, are normally the prerogative of the city administration, not the council or commission. Normally, employees placed on administrative leave may undergo what is called a “Skelley” hearing where the employee is offered an opportunity to respond to any formal or informal charges before an impartial “Skelley Officer,” who is fully cognizant of the “Skelley” process and rules governing disciplinary issues.

City of Lemoore Press Release Regarding Recreation Director

On Tuesday (January 19) the City released a press release addressing the issue. It acknowledges the community’s desire for information regarding the employment status of Simonson, but insists it is following the “appropriate protocols and related policies and procedures during this active investigation. As a result, certain information maintained by the City must remain confidential to protect the privacy rights of our employees…the City will not discuss the specifics or merits of the allegations in public.”

The release stated that Mr. Simonson was placed on paid administrative leave on December 4, 2015 pending an investigation into asserted allegations. “The City takes its duty very seriously as well as the importance of transparency when and where possible.”

Councilman Ray Madrigal supports the stance the city has taken in regards to Simonson. "The council unanimously selected Andi Welsh as our city manager.  I have not seen any reason to doubt her selection, and I'm confident she will continue to handle this matter appropriately," said Madrigal.

"Our city code is very clear that the city manager is solely responsible for personnel management. In keeping with that policy, and in respect to Mr. Simonson's right to privacy, I believe it is inappropriate for me or any other member of city staff to comment further."  

However, Dustin Fuller, who currently chairs the Lemoore Recreation Commission, blasted the city and Welsh during a January 12 commission meeting, for prolonging the Simonson leave and leaving the Commission in the dark.

“It is my belief that the situation surrounding Mr. Simonson is being handled not only unethically but unprofessionally. As a lifelong member of this community and the longest standing member on this commission, I take my role as a public servant seriously,” he said from his chair’s seat.

“That role was undermined on Dec. 4, 2015 when you failed to notify this commission that our director was placed on leave. It took you five days to give us information that I believe the only reason for the notification was that I sent an email to you, this commission, and the city council. Ms. Welsh, let me remind you that this is the vetting body for the city council. Every major program that comes to this board is examined, scrutinized and put to the test before a recommendation is sent to the council.”

He went on to say that if Simonson were accused of embezzlement or murder, the matter would have been taken care of by now. “This is just an absurd amount of time. No other employees have been handled like this.”

Fuller said he’s yielded many phone calls, from newspapers and others asking about the Simonson’s leave. “Let’s be honest. This things going on a lot longer.” You guys have to make a move. You’ve got to fish or cut the bait.”

Contacted Monday by The Leader, Fuller added that there needs to be a resolution. “It’s taken too long, so dragging this on is not fair to the person, and not fair to the taxpayer. Paying him for nothing is wrong too.”

While Fuller does not know the allegations behind Simonson’s leave, he is quick to point out that he feels the Lemoore Recreation Director has been a valuable resource for the community and recreation.

“From my view he’s done a great job at directing that department. He has been the driving force for (many) programs…Joe is a no nonsense guy. He may come off as hard and gruff and tough, but at the end of the day he’s fair.”

The Leader attempted to reach Simonson, but said he could not talk about his predicament. “While I would love to respond to each of your questions in detail, at the advice of my attorney I have no comment at this time,” he stated.

At the Lemoore City Council meeting on January 5, Councilmember Billy Siegel attempted to get city officials to answer his questions about the affair, and was upset that he and other councilmembers haven’t been privy to information concerning Simonson.

“I’ve been getting a lot of calls from people in the community and the newspaper specifically about our parks and rec director,” said Siegel.  “Some of the most recent ones are, and I’m tired of answering ‘I don’t know.’ I’m on the city council and we’re supposed to be in charge of this town and all of its doings, but we don’t have a lot of the answers, and most recently the ones that are really driving me crazy are, pertaining to the investigation that’s taken place and who the investigating company is, if its biased, unbiased, if its random pick, phone book, how did we come about it?”

Siegel directed his angst toward city manager Welsh and the city attorney, both of whom remained silent. He wanted to know who exactly investigating Simonson, how did the hiring come about and when will they (Council) get the results?

“How did we get the right investigator for this type of situation - this type of human resource issue? And I don’t have those answers, so specifically they are… how did it come about? How did we hire somebody? When do we get the results? Are the results going to be made public? Who recommended this company and their background? Was it put out to bid, those type of things.

“I already know the answer is we can’t talk about it … but I’m asking publicly now. The answer is no, we don’t get to know, I don’t get to know, nobody gets to know, then that’s what you have to tell me publicly.”

Councilmember Eddie Neal supports the city’s stance regarding Simonson. “I know she’s doing the right thing,” he said. “I feel we have a great city manager who goes above and beyond for city employees. She’s working hard to improve the city.”

He added that Welsh is the person responsible for personnel issues. “She will address them.”