I suppose I will offer one more year in review style wrap-up for 2011. Our focus today will be the OEM (Office of Emergency Management)/911 Call Center operations.
Earlier this year I submitted an OPRA request for a list of all of the attorneys that were involved in the county’s defense of the several EEOC complaints filed against the OEM/911 Call Center. The county ignored the request, even refusing to acknowledge they received it. However, since that request was submitted in the same envelope as other requests the county answered, it is clear that this is a blatant refusal to follow NJ State law, and a cover-up on the part of certain individuals within the county. There is no other explanation.
The 911 Call center attracted my attention back in August. It was then that I pointed out the bizarre county policy of only requiring senior salaried employees to clock in, not to clock out. I have received numerous reports of management level employees clocking in, then immediately leaving to say, take day trips to Cow Town or to take the family down the shore for the day.
On top of that, I received numerous reports of hourly employees that had the habit of arriving late, or leaving early and not clocking in or out, and having their supervisors manually fill out time cards, crediting them with a full day’s work. This impropriety was brought to the attention of the prosecutor, who cited “conflict of interest” and refused to investigate.
The time card fiasco came to light when it made the newspapers that departments under Bob Balicki’s oversight were caught engaging in the same sort of fraud we had reported just two weeks earlier. Coincidence? Of course I could write pages on the overtime abuse at the county jail. But today we will focus on the OEM/911 Call Center.
On September 8, I broke the story about the four EEOC complaints filed against the OEM/911 Call Center. The first employee to file a complaint was fired for doing so. This silenced the other three employees for about a year, until life became so unbearable for them that they decided it was better to risk their job then to deal with ulcers and other medical conditions induced by the Hostile Work Environment.
I later revealed that it was Bill Whelan who proposed the motion to hire James Matlock for the position of Department Head. Afterward, all sorts of information came to me, most of which I have not publicized on this site, due to the extremely sensitive and personal nature. Here is part of what I learned, that I felt comfortable posting:
I did some research to find out who ran the Call Center. The director is James Matlcok, appointed by – imagine this – Bill Whelan and approved unanimously by Lou Magazzu’s band of puppet Freeholders.
Under his watch, four EEOC complaints have been filed against the department. Of course, nobody knows what is contained in these complaints, as they involve an open investigation. Nobody even knows who filed these complaints, that won’t be known until the investigations are complete. For all we know, they might all be frivolous and baseless. But that would be stretching the bounds of the imagination, don’t you think? What we do know is that the county has hired several law firms for the defense in these complaints. This is money that might likely never have had to be spent had the department been run properly and openly. Time will tell.
The other rumors – and as of this time they are rumors and hearsay – are the allegations that the Call Center is regularly undermanned during holidays and other times where the number of calls and stress levels peek. The employees, I am told, use personal and sick time to avoid what they say is a “hostile work environment”.
What happens during these days is that call overflow is forwarded to Gloucester County Call Center – burdening them. Gloucester County then calls and complains, asking “what the ‘f’ is up, why can’t the Cumberland Call Center handle their job?” Allegedly, complaints are then filed with O.E.T.S. in Trenton concerning the Cumberland Call center performance. Hopefully an OPRA will provide me with confirmation, or rebuttal of these allegations. Either way, I will try to find the truth.
I revealed that the freeholder board then appointed John Redkoles, a friend of Matlock, a man who was not even a county resident, for the position of 911 Call Center Director. Sam Fiocchi posited a question, asking why we were considering hiring a non-resident when we had other qualified candidates? This hiring of a non-county resident coincided with a job fair where 3,000 people showed up seeking low-paying jobs. Oh, and to kick Cumberland County taxpayers in the teeth even more, Redkoles was given a $5,000 sign-on bonus. Under Redkoles, OT at the 911 call Center is out of control.
It seems that we see a department totally out of control. Federal lawsuits, and the county REFUSES to acknowledge or to obey NJ State law and release the identities f the attorneys, being paid for with taxpayer dollars, to defend the county from lawsuits that could have been foreseen, and avoided. Overtime is still rampant, and people are hired through nepotism rather than qualifications. Employees that work for the call center fear for their jobs every day. I have heard rumors of sexual harassment. One employee was reportedly fired because her mother had an illicit affair with the person in charge, and his wife demanded that he remove her from her job. It was further reported that she was bribed with reinstatement if she would refuse to cooperate with the federal investigation.
In short, the OEM/911 Call Center is a quagmire. If the Republican leadership wants to make any impact, I suggest they begin by scrutinizing the entire operations from the top down. After all, this isn’t a matter of a book-mobile – this is a matter of Cumberland County public safety. Lives actually depend on these departments operating smoothly and efficiently.