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Out Of The Pan Into The Fryer

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Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

Published on: Thursday, September 05, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ROCKVILLE – City officials and residents are finding themselves divided once again after discovering the newly named human resources director’s current employer is facing personnel issues of its own. One former councilmember is even calling the hire a “slap in the face.”

Last week, City Manager Barbara Matthews named Karen Marshall, the current HR director for Fort Worth, Texas, as Rockville’s new HR director.

When she begins her job on Oct. 1, Marshall is tasked with fixing personnel issues in Rockville which became public after five former employees of the city told The Sentinel last year the city management was guilty of discrimination, racism, tampering with employee personnel files and more. The city then hired an outside law firm, Saul Ewing LLP, for $190,000 to conduct an investigation into the allegations.

While the details of that investigation have never been made public, Saul Ewing did recommend sweeping changes to the way Rockville conducts its business with its employees.


According to a published report in June by KXAS Television, the NBC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth, a black city parks employee filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming city staff discriminated against him by cheating him out of a job and calling him racial slurs. Marshall is named as a defendant in the case, along with other city officials.

According to a copy of the lawsuit, Marshall is named in the lawsuit because it is her responsibility to establish, regulate and maintain the city’s merit system for hiring and promoting employees. Marshall said the lawsuit will “not at all” affect her ability to do her job in Rockville.

“We have 7,000 employees (in Fort Worth). We need to put that into perspective first of all,” Marshall said. “Anybody can file a lawsuit…It does not mean any individuals themselves did something wrong.”

Councilman Mark Pierzchala said Mathews needed to hire the person she deemed most capable of the job. It would be inappropriate to assume fault or wrongdoing by an individual involved with a lawsuit, he said until the lawsuit is decided.

“We need someone for the long haul who has years of experience,” Pierzchala said. “We could exclude an entire set of people from consideration because they have been in their careers for many years and have been named in a lawsuit along the way.”

Former Rockville Mayor Steve VanGrack said it is critical for the city to review the lawsuit and find out what the allegations are.

“The last thing Rockville needs is an HR director who has any legitimate claims about her involvement with personnel issues,” VanGrack said.

Matthews said she is aware of the lawsuit, but she chose Marshall because of Marshall’s experience and qualifications. Marshall has more than 23 years of experience working in municipal HR departments, including the last nine at Fort Worth.

“Marshall has effectively worked on many of the issues that Rockville is facing,” Matthews said, “and I look forward to working with her in addressing those matters and in strengthening the Rockville organization.”

The personnel issues in Fort Worth appear to go beyond the lawsuit, however. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in August that a black Fort Worth police officer filed a complaint with the HR department claiming the chief of police and the president of the city’s police officers association misused the internal affairs division to intimidate him. Marshall confirmed the complaint is under investigation.

“Anybody who has been in HR long enough will have had a personnel issue to deal with. The key thing for any HR director is when an issue comes up to deal with it immediately,” said Marshall. “That is something I can give everybody in Rockville, an assurance I will do. That is really all I can say about that.”

Despite Marshall’s assurances, there are still doubters, including former Councilwoman Anne Robbins.

“The mayor and council should have been told about this woman’s background and been able to meet with her,” Robbins said. “This is a slap in the face to the citizens of Rockville, given the recent history of city and what we have been through.”

Whether or not Marshall is actually involved with any issues in Fort Worth, the appearance is not good for Rockville, said Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, because of an inability so far by the city to implement solutions after Saul Ewing completed its report in November. As a result, Marcuccio said she is concerned.

“What is worrying me more than anything is why would we want to even be in the mode of being potentially criticized for having picked up someone who might have been experiencing something similar?” Marcuccio said. “You just don’t put yourself in that kind of jeopardy if you can help it.”

Reader Comments - 3 Total

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Posted By: Ted M. On: 9/12/2013

Title: Say what?

How long will the Mayor and Council put up with employees like Matthews running the city into the ground? What exactly has been done to raise morale in the city? Key managers other than Vargas and several others have left the city, but some of the worst managers are still in office sucking the lifeblood from the city. I often wonder what the remaining managers have over the city? Are they being retained because they know too much and are better controlled if they are still receiving the city paycheck?
Matthews dings city staff by recommending a paltry COLA increase while city executive level managers keep getting a bigger piece of the pie. For a city to be without a city HR director for over a year is a disgrace and embarrassment at best.
Compounding the boondoggle we find out that the person chosen to bring a sense of normalcy back to the city is herself embroiled in controversy.
The Mayor and Council appear to be powerless, and only in office to hire the City Manager, City Attorney and City Clerk. Once in power these people are next to impossible to remove from their jobs.
Imagine how screwed up the city will be if Councilman Mark Pierzchala is elected as Mayor.
Councilman Mark Pierzchala seems to find excused for the under-performing city managers like Ullery and now Matthews.

Posted By: Rockville Voter On: 9/10/2013


Please don't forget--this Mayor And Council hired Barbara Matthews who made this hiring decision. I don't believe I can recall the city being at a lower point than it is now. How depressing.

Posted By: Resident On: 9/7/2013

Title: Bottom of the Barrel

Slap, slap, slap and slap again! When does it end? Didn’t know there was a level below “bottom of the barrel”, but apparently there is and Rockville reached it. When is someone going to have the guts to demand accountability from the controlling managers driving Rockville down the tubes? Why wasn’t the Mayor & Council kept informed about candidates being considered for a director’s position? Who is running this city? Why does the city even need a Mayor & Council if they have no power? Cancel the election of the puppets and save the taxpayer’s money.


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