Equality and advancement in City government

As a Parks & Rec Commissioner, I was cc’d with this letter (Troublemaker) to Mayor Johnson and the City Council a couple of weeks ago.  Submitted by several obviously disgruntled P&R Department employees, the letter is aimed directly at P&R Director Bonnie Kuester’s back.

The letter is chock full of hyperbole (e.g.”…this case could further divide the citizens of Greensboro and solidify our City’s reputation where civil rights are frowned upon.”) and as bitter and mean spirited (e.g. “..the City of Greensboro must atone for its actions.“) as any I’ve ever read.

Let me be clear that I have no knowledge of any “personnel matters” that may or may not involve the authors except for this, involving signatory Delores Scott, which is a matter of public record.  But what I do know is that an anonymous commenter over at The Troublemaker, who sounds like he/she could be a signatory to the letter, has been in an ivory tower for too long as he/she obviously revels in Director Kuester’s recently announced retirement after 42 years of service…

“… She should have never gotten the Job. …she did not have the educational background for the job..now the Parks & Rec Department has the opportunity to hire someone with the proper degree.”

Give me a friggin’ break.

The letter’s authors make great efforts to point out the virtues of equal opportunity in matters of employment.  What could be more ‘equal’ than promoting people on the weight of their natural abilities to lead rather than their levels of education attained?  I know plenty of highly sheep-skinned folks who wouldn’t have a clue as to which end of a horse to lead to water, much less the interpersonal skills to convince the animal to partake after arriving at the stream.

They, and the commenter, seem to say that high education, resulting in the right to follow one’s name with several capitalized letters as several of the letter’s signers exhibit, somehow guarantees advancement in the workplace.  It does not.

Education certainly helps one gain knowledge, but there are no classes offered in wisdom or common sense, which are requirements for real leadership.  I know first hand that Bonnie Kuester is brimming with both and she will be missed at the helm of Greensboro’s finest department.

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  1. noah
    Posted December 22, 2008 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    You missed the point David. All the employees ask for is the opportunity to apply for a promotion rather than to have the door shut on them. Bonnie failed to allow anyone to apply for dozens of jobs. Just handed them out. If thats the way you wish it to be than stand up on Commission and say it. See how well it is received.

  2. dhoggard
    Posted December 22, 2008 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I guess I did miss that point, Noah. I suppose it got lost in the “how would you feel ifs”.

    I’m not suggesting that the signatories don’t have legitimate beefs… I just didn’t care for the letter. And I really don’t think that one’s education level is necessarily the best indicator of future job performance.

  3. P
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    It’s true that a combination of relevant experience and common sense can and should be of better service to an individual than his or her educational credentials (provided that individual possesses the “minimum” educational degree required for the position that he or she occupies). However, consider what’s written in the text linked to the initial entry to this blog post — that the “signatories” to the letter in question have over 150 years of (combined) experience working for the City of Greensboro. Just as Ms. Kuester’s experience warrants a defense as a solid, job-related qualification, wouldn’t you agree, too, that this large, aggregate period of experience is worthy of credit?

    Regardless of whether or not one (of eight) of the signatories was allegedly involved in reprehensible behavior during her employment with the City, the purported ill-advised promotional practices within the department warrant a close examination. Have upper-level management positions been posted for interested applicants to apply, or have these positions been filled without due consideration of all individuals who might have an interest? If the latter is true, then Ms. Kuester and her leadership team have fostered a culture of unfair promotional practices within the Parks and Recreation Department.

  4. noah
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Again, these employees all have the experience and education needed to apply for the positions they have been denied, based on race and gender.

  5. dhoggard
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I’m slow, Noah, but I eventually get it.

    If there is a job opening, of course every interested person who is qualified should be able to apply for it. You are saying that has not been the case and the letter (and you) suggest that this is due to racial and gender bias.

    Knowing the race and gender make-up of P&R’s top management, as I do, the latter point is difficult to understand from my point of view. (Bonnie K. is quite female, so the gender thing is especially hard for me to grasp, at least on its face, but I suppose it is possible)

    Another point… and I’m not suggesting that this is the case here – but speaking from experience – …over time, a boss gets to know the capabilities of his/her charges and how well personalities mesh within the overall organization.

    I have ‘qualified’ employees who can apply for higher positions until they are blue in the face… but if they’ve not performed to my standards… and/or… they lack the inter-personal skills needed for the job, they’re not going to get the job… irrespective of their level of experience or education. I’d just as soon go ahead and put the person in the job that I know can do it within my vision without the charade.

    Call it “cronyism”, but that’s the reality in the private sector. And before you go off… I know that P&R is not the private sector and the rules are different.

  6. Justin
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    “Cronyism” is just another word for the majority’s justification for the status quo. It is a safer word for institutional racisim and gender bias or any other discrimination that we all know is not quite right. As long as people don’t complain it starts to feel like it’s ok. There are really good caring people in P&R but “cronyism” prevails.

  7. dhoggard
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    True enough, Justin… that is if you are talking about the public sector.

    In the private sector, though, “cronyism” is just the way business is done.

    Private businesses hire, promote and fire according to what is best for the company and profits. Governments have a different measuring stick, however.

  8. Justin
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    That being the case…there should be a public outcry for those “signatories” to put their creditials and experience on the line beside those who have benefited by the government cronyism. If all has been fair and equal no one should be afraid of that…right?

  9. dhoggard
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Right. And they should be able to apply for any job they believe they are qualified to perform.

    But my larger point is that just because someone has experience and education (qualifications) doesn’t necessarily make them right for any particular level of leadership.

    Also, too often in the the public sector, when someone not white or male is passed over for promotion, we hear cries of “racism” or “sexism”. The government body is forced to prove a negative in order to exonerate themselves…

    Neither “ism” is as prevalent as some would have us believe. At least not anymore.

  10. noah
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I have worked with at least three private employers from very small to huge. All were diverse in terms of race and gender. The largest had an extensive diversity program that enriched the quality of the employment and was openly supported by the company executives as essential to make it all work. That doesn’t mean you need to run your business that way or that you believe Bonnie needs to either. Its just one perspective.

  11. Justin
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    What I am hearing in this case is that those particular folks (and no one else for that matter) were not allowed to even apply for certain jobs in P&R. Credentials don’t guarentee a particular job…but how would you ever have a comparison among potential applicants if the competitive process is absent. I think that’s the argument here. It’s one thing to preach equality for all but at least give the appearance of fairness with the application process.

  12. P
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Agreed that regardless of credentials and experience, within every organization there are individuals that should not be allowed to lead because they lack the ability (and usually the common sense) that is needed to get the job done. If there is nothing questionable about the Parks and Recreation administration’s promotional practices at the upper management level then:

    1) The manner in which all upper level management positions have come into being and have been filled could be examined without any fear of finding bias;

    2) The credentials (education level, quantity and quality of job-related experience, measured performance within their job, etc.) of the “signatories” of the letter could be examined and compared with those currently holding upper level management positions within the department without any fear of finding unjustified inequities.

    From the claims being made by the eight “signatories”, it certainly leads one to believe that either one or both cases above would not pass the examination of a reasonable person.

    And to the points being made within this blog, as governmental agencies are funded by the taxpayer, they can and should be held to the highest level when it comes to issues of hiring and promotion. All qualified applicants should be given due consideration to fill any position within the agency for which he/she is qualified. This is good for both the growth of the organization and the individual.

  13. mick
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    In my opinion, seven of the eight have jeopardized their credability in this instance by their apparent fanatical loyalty to “inclusiveness”. Seems odd to me.

    I’m sure I dont know the whole story there though.

  14. Justin
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    In my opnion, since the group chose to include that eighth person in question it demonstrates and validates how unfair the hiring process has been for all staff whether they are black, white, green, good or bad. EVERYONE apparently was hurt.

  15. mick
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I would hope that embezzlement might be a detriment to one’s career be it public or private sector.

    Again, I dont really know the details of this incident (accused, convicted, fired, etc)

    But sheeesh!

    “Cronyism” MAY be realistic (I have no idea) but racism and sexism would be hard to prove with my testimony. My brief dealing with P&R included 4 employees: 2 white females, 1 black male and 1 white male. I believe all were upper echelon types. One was BK.

  16. william k
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    That is typical with discrimination cases. Companies do thier best to give the appearance that nothing is wrong upon 1st examination. Then, when you peel back the top layer you find something completely different. The City and P&R have been good at doing that for a long time. Remember, the staff at P&R consists of perhaps hundreds of people, not just the four you believe represent the proper makeup of race and gender. Despite the fact that one of those individuals is black and one or more women doesn’t mean by any stretch that a pattern and practice of discrimination can’t be proven. In other words, promoting one black male to a division manager position in 16 years out of hundreds of black employees when you promote dozens of whites without competition may cause you to think otherwise.

  17. joan
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I bet you will probably find that the majority of the black employees work in the divisions or areas led by the black manager.

  18. Justin
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Did you notice that any group is missing from that P&R upper echelon group you just happened to interface with? Discrimination is hard to prove but come on…patterns and practices over 16 plus years must mean something. In my opnion one black male in that many years dosen’t quite make the quota.

  19. mick
    Posted December 27, 2008 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I do admit I havent studied the hiring and promotion practices and patterns of P&R over the past 16 years. I do not know the make up of P&R management. I suppose there was good reason but, as far as Im concerned, publishing this letter at the time of BK’s retirement announcement was bad form and puts one foot in the grave.

    I note no one here has addressed the Scott issue.

    Regardless, whatever mess there is to clean up…. Im all for it.

  20. Douglas
    Posted December 27, 2008 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Mick. Clean it up. The charges have been out there for over a year and really the City Manager is to blame for not fixing it. No wonder these individuals have grown impatient with City and Council. Look at all the people in the Rhino saying, “We don’t know anything about this.”
    Scott did what she did, and it is now up to her to decide where to go from here. My guess is that she is having to pick up the pieces, presumably having lost a 30 year pension over a misdemeanor.

  21. Douglas
    Posted December 27, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Did you consider that perhaps Ms. Kuester announced her retirement as a result of hearing that this was going public?

  22. Douglas
    Posted December 27, 2008 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    One more time,
    Have you noticed a pattern with City leaders for dissapearing when the going gets tough?
    Linda Miles retired when right before this story broke last fall.
    Teeters one upped his retirement when the muscle showed up at Council. Then Ben Brown, now BK. Looks like it could be a clean house by the time its over if they don’t get on the same page.

  23. Joan
    Posted December 27, 2008 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    You would do well to clarify your statement about “publishing the letter and putting one foot in the grave”. You don’t want anyone to perceive that as a threat, the SBI may come knocking.

  24. Terrance
    Posted December 27, 2008 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    It is damning evidence against Park & Rec and the City to have a Parks & Recreation Chairperson speaking in strong favor of Cronyism. A Commissioner should be showing great concern for what has occurred in this department above and beyond any single person. It really reinforces what the employees are saying about the environment in which they have to work. In these posts, Mr. Hoggard and others seem to be mostly worried about another company leader who didn’t make good decisions. Why is anyone surprised when a person in power fails? It happens everyday it seems.

  25. Posted December 28, 2008 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    “It is damning evidence against Park & Rec and the City to have a Parks & Recreation Chairperson speaking in strong favor of Cronyism.”

    Terrance has a bit of trouble with reading comprehension, I’d say. I made clear distinctions between the acceptability of the practice of cronyism within the public and private sectors.

    Still… evidence of the practice within the Department has not yet been presented. Anecdotes from anonymous commenters are hardly evidence.

    Some here would have us believe that P&R’s management is a bunch of unqualified, brown nosed, hacks. That is just not the case. The professionalism and effectiveness of management is exceptional.

  26. Justin
    Posted December 28, 2008 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    You should be able to see from being up close and personal with the P&R management that something is missing. You interface with those people. Have you noticed that the leadership is not reflective of the community. It looks like a competetive process has been missing for a long time. Just ask the folks that you claim to be professional and effective if any of them actually had to apply for thos jobs.

  27. mick
    Posted December 29, 2008 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Justin, Do you believe some sort of quota? Again, not saying there are not problems (there do appear to be from info here) but talk like yours (I presume black females are your ref or gays…. dont know and dont care)scares me. Do you want merit based promotions or promotion that are “reflective of the community”. Putting folks in positions because of their ethnicity, sex, sexula preference, etc to me is same/same with apparent status quo (only opposite, sort of ish).

    Of course, if higher ups cannot be trusted then steps must be taken.

    Joan, that’s kind of a big stretch, just plain silly and rather paranoid but to soothe your fears… I was referring to their credibility with me. No more no less.

  28. Noah
    Posted December 29, 2008 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I doubt most people support rigid quotas. However, the City does support Affirmative Action, as shown in the Council Resolution. Even if Af. Action is used it doesn’t eliminate the need to interview for the best qualified candidates from whatever class that needs to be better represented. The thing Ms. Kuester has missed completely is that by interveiwing all interested candidates she may have learned so much more about her staff and what they could contribute. It would be good for morale too.
    That said, if you are going to hand pick ‘dozens’ of people for promotions, and ignore the personnel policy, it would make sense to choose a balanced number of people from each class to avoid a discrimination lawsuit like the one in NYC Parks & Recreation.

  29. Justin
    Posted December 29, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I actually oppose quotas because that can still eliminate THE BEST people. Fair is fair and the one black male manager and recent female manager were probably an attempt at a quota of sorts. But the question remains. Are they even the best of the best? And are the other white male managers the best of the best? Without an actual competitive process some person’s idea of THE BEST is completely subjective.

  30. mick
    Posted December 29, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Understood. Muni Gubmnet is in a mess at many levels and in many areas. Good luck to the incoming bosses, etc. But fix it, please.

  31. P
    Posted December 31, 2008 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    Agree with Justin’s point that “without an actual competitive [hiring] process some person’s idea of the BEST is completely subjective”. This matter isn’t about the perceived professionalism and effectiveness of the current management in parks and recreation; it is about fairness in hiring and promotional practices, which from the statements presented appears to be non-existent for upper level management positions. I maintain that if there is no fear of finding bias, then the manner in which all upper level management positions within the department have come into being and have been filled could be examined without any worry.

  32. Number Cruncher
    Posted December 31, 2008 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    No African American has ever worked for P&R during Ms. Kueser’s time and been able to make a salary of $ 60,000 yr. while reporting to a white supervisor. Only 2 and maybe 3 have managed to find positions reporting to the African American division head and made $ 60,000. So far I have found approximately 2 dozen white employees have reached that mark since 1992. In basketball if the score is 24-2 it is considered a blowout and you change the channel.

  33. mick
    Posted December 31, 2008 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Does seem out of proportion. Out of curiosities, what is the ratio of b to w employees at that near $60,000 level. And why pick that number?

  34. Justin
    Posted December 31, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    My question is…did the African American staff who hit the $60,000 mark have to apply and compete with others for their positions? The real disparity seems to be on one hand positions were handed out while other staff were forced to jump through hoops. I guess $60,000 is probably the magic “middle management” number. According to the Rhino annual figures I belive the upper management staff start at mid $70′s and move to $90′s and up. Most people would love to retire with that. But as David said “cronyism” is only rewarded with that.

  35. Green Olive
    Posted December 31, 2008 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Well. The Director gets to walk, legal expenses paid, sip martinis in tahiti, and enjoy pension and retirment on a warm beach. The rest of the City staff gets to mop up the mess for however long it takes no matter which side they are on. They will take whatever pills needed just to get to work in hopes of making it through another day. Some will be fired, others chastised, labeled and stigmatized. Some will survive with scars. The taxpayers will bare the burden of another set of lawsuits and the City will continue down the road to nowhere good. Council sits on the dias and talks about what a great City Greensboro is. I see urban decay with a glimmer of hope: not greatness, not unity.
    I hope Obama has the power to change the world.

  36. George
    Posted December 31, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Well said “Green Olive.” It seems that if the citizens of this great city do not stand up soon and say “enough” it will conitnue to go downhill. The wrongs that have been done in P&R are not just recent. It seems these are the patterns and practices that have occured over time. And we the citizens will be forced to pay again and again for the poor leadership in this city if something does not change soon. America took a BIG chance with “change.” Greensboro should too.

  37. Deacon
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    A citizen in the News & Record today is asking for your resignation from the P&R Commission based on the pool bond strategy you supported. Based on your comments about Cronyism on this blog I’m guessing a lot of P&R employees would support your departure by resignation from Commission as well. Give it some thought for the greater good.

  38. dhoggard
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I saw that, Deacon. And will post on it shortly.

    The writer is misinformed. It was the City Council who placed the swim center in the mix that was offered on the ballot. And they did it against the recommendations of what the Commission wanted on the ballot.

    As for my comments about cronyism (why does everyone keep capitalizing the word?). You don’t read much better than the last commenter who accused me of favoring it in the public sector. It is just not true and I challenge you to point to where I said anything other than that.

    As for my resignation from the Commission: My term expired several months ago but I offered to serve until Council appoints and seats a replacement. I will leave at that time.

  39. Deacon
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Do you believe Ms. Kuester’s decisions were nothing more than cronyism and that they couldn’t have been race or gender related? Of course, you are entitled to any belief you want. People in general are glad that you are willing to discuss these issues in a public forum.
    I have noticed that you don’t ever call into question the statistics presented here and at Troublemaker that suggest racial discrimination. They are difficult to refute.
    I asked a man today what he thought about the 2 or 3 posts on this website and on Troublemaker that discuss statistical data. I said, “As a reasonable human, what would you say about those very unbalanced numbers?” He replied, “In P&R, it pays to be white.”

  40. dhoggard
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for giving me at least a little credit for opening this up and recognizing my willingness and desire to “discuss these issues in a public forum”.

    I don’t call the statistics into question because I don’t have evidence to refute them. But neither do I have evidence to know they are accurate.

    While they sound credible (and thus, damning), they are coming anonymously, so I’ll just let let others do the parsing.

  41. George
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I agree that David did always “justify” Cronyism in the private sector only in his blogs. He did say that this practice was not acceptable in the public sector or government however basically in the private sector it was status quo. But…and there is always a but…is Cronyism truly justifiable in any sector. Is this attitude one of many that keeps perpetuating inequality in the work place and in the world in general. And yes…capitalizing it demonstrates the truth about it. It is wrong in caps or lower case.

  42. dhoggard
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for that, George.

  43. George
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Based on your blogs and your letters to the editor in the News and Record you appear to speak up for the rights and wrongs of what you believe no matter what the issue. Many times there may not be current valid evidence on the issues. People like you just have a “feel” for justice (or injustice) and speak to it. In this case however your comments are staying on the fringes perhaps because you know the truth but don’t want to hurt BK and crew. Remember these commissions are “for the people” not the staff.

  44. dhoggard
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    You are correct, George. I do have a feel for justice but I truly don’t know the “truth” of this matter.

    Right now, my “feeling” is that the truth lies somewhere between the opposing poles, meaning: Bonnie Kuester is an excellent director and certainly not the devil incarnate as some here would have us believe… and…. the signatories to the letter (and others here) have legitimate concerns and have the best interests of PR Department at heart.

  45. Terrance
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    What makes an excellent Director? Do we need a critical analysis of parks/programs/leadership/vision?
    According to BK Greensboro has the best department in the country, same as the Greensboro Fire Dept, and Police Dept.
    Like you David, I believe the truth lies between the poles on that one.
    I do not think BK is the devil at all. She doesn’t apply herself hard enough to anything to reach the top. She has done some devilish things though.

  46. dhoggard
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Well, no, Terrance… not just according to BK do we have (one of) the best.

    Several national awards over the years as well as national accreditation affirm her contention… and mine… that Greensboro has one of the best P&R Departments in the country.

    I think you just threw in the references to Fire and Police to be contrary and to create some kind of guilt by association.

    But it is not working with me.

    I think the people in our Fire and Police Depts. are pretty good at what they do.

  47. Justin
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    “What makes an excellent Director?” That is a good question. Another good question is, What makes a good Division Manager? It remains subjective because none of them had to apply for their positions. Right? Isn’t that what I’m hearing from these blogs? One thing about Director BK, I believe she had to apply and interview for her position. She just failed after the fact to use good judgment by following the city’s own Affirmative Action plan and sound hiring practices.