City moving to fire streets workers
The City of Tucson on Tuesday told several Transportation Department workers that it intends to fire them, officials said. While details are sketchy, the move to fire five or six employees stems from a nearly year-long investigation into allegations of materials and equipment theft.
The Tucson Police Department began investigating those accusations last fall. Workers in the department's Streets and Traffic Maintenance Division are suspected of doing side jobs for personal gain using city equipment and materials such as asphalt and fill dirt.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, City Manager Richard Miranda and new Director of Transportation Daryl Cole announced the move to fire the workers at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, but refused to offer many details.
Rothschild and City Attorney Mike Rankin cited civil service laws for staying mum. Those served with notices have seven days to defend their jobs in "pre-discharge meetings."
Those meetings are to be held early next week, said city spokesman Michael Graham.
Rothschild said the firings are the result of Miranda's "commitment to protect public funds and ensure the responsible management of the city."
"Mr. Miranda and I agree that the hallmark of our administration will be accountability and responsiveness. It's a new day," Rothschild said in prepared remarks.
None of the city officials at the press conference would offer precise information on:
Sources with knowledge of the investigation said five or six employees were served notices. City streets administrator Kurt Hough, who was placed on leave last November, is likely one of those being fired, sources said.
Rankin would not confirm an exact number, saying "about a half-dozen" workers were notified that the city wants to terminate their employment.
Perhaps a dozen others may be subject to discipline while maintaining their jobs, Rankin said. Those employees may be suspended or demoted, Miranda said in a memo to the mayor and City Council.
Rankin said he didn't have information on what the cost of the investigation was, and that he didn't know what the financial impact of the alleged wrongdoing.
Six transportation employees have been on imposed leave for months, and been paid over $140,000 total during the course of the investigation, Graham said.
Since being put on leave last Oct. 14, Hough has been paid $65,000, he said.
Graham declined to name the other employees placed on leave, saying "We're respecting their rights under the civil service process."
Those employees—one was put on leave on April 8, three on May 18 and one of May 21—have been paid a total of $79,000, Graham said.
Graham would not confirm that the employees placed on leave were those who were served with firing notices.
Rothschild said that although outside agencies worked with the city on the investigation, those agencies requested that their involvement not be confirmed until the process is complete.
A separate investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in the department's Engineering Division is ongoing, Miranda said in the memo.
Complete info on those being fired will be released next week, after the pre-discharge meetings and final disciplinary decisions, Graham said.
Rothschild and Graham noted that the press was notified of the impending terminations to avoid the appearance of a cover-up.
Even though officials hands are tied on giving out specific information at this point, Rothschild said he wanted to be "up-front and open" about the situation.
Graham said city officials knew they'd get press inquiries as word of the termination moves spread to reporters.
Correction: An earlier draft of this story misspelled Hough’s first name.