Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Tuesday, 22 August 2023 09:29

Kim Puts Cronyism over Competency in Filling Important City Position

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics
Kim Puts Cronyism over Competency in Filling Important City Position
When Tina Carton left her position as the Saratoga Springs Administrator of Parks, Open lands, and Historic Preservation, she left a large hole in the city as she did an outstanding job securing and managing grants and shepherding through to completion many programs meant to enhance the quality of life in the city such as the Downtown Connector project.
Regrettably, Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim, to whom this position reports, has cynically abused the Civil Service process to promote his executive assistant, Jeannette Dunn to fill Tina Carton's position. As far as I can tell from reading her resume, Dunn has minimal qualifications for this position. The only full-time employment Jeannette Dunn has had for more than two years since 2000 was as a self-employed beekeeper.
Worse, Ms. Dunn's application for the position was a shocking mess. Poorly hand written, her application is peppered with contradictory entries. It was obviously simply thrown together with little concern for accuracy.
The position is one of the most important in the city. Carton secured grants meant to enhance the city's recreation resources and sustainability.
The grants the city seeks are highly competitive. They require rigorous research and scrupulous crafting. Any errors in grant applications jeopardize their award. The slipshod application submitted by Dunn was so bad it should have eliminated her from consideration. Kim's selection of Ms. Dunn is an example of cronyism overriding the good of the city.
An Attempt To Dumb Down the Requirements of the Position Right Out of the Gate
The city's Civil Service position of Administrator of Parks, Open Lands, and Historic Preservation was posted on January 6, 2023. The first meeting of the Civil Service Commission following this announcement was on January 25, 2023, a mere 19 days later. Mayor Kim sent his deputy, Angella Rella, to request that the job requirements be amended.
She requested that the Civil Service Commission amend the work experience requirement from its current master's degree with four years of full-time employment. Instead, Rella asked that the length of employment be dropped from four years of full employment to just one. She also asked that the language be changed so that the applicant would be eligible if they had acquired enough part time employment over an undetermined amount of time to equal the "equivalency" of the one year of full time employment.
Civil Service Commission Balks At Request
At their January meeting, the Civil Service Commission members pushed back. Rella had argued that the reductions in qualifications she was asking for were necessary because they were not getting responses from qualified applicants to their position posting. Commission members observed that little time had elapsed since the announcement of the vacancy. They were also concerned about the lack of promotion for the position. They observed that in the age of the web, there were many opportunities to reach a larger pool of candidates, and just posting it as a civil service notice was short-sighted.
The Commission did agree to change the requirement from just full-time to full-time equivalency but for four years, not one.
Mayor Kim Personally Pushes the Commission to Reduce Job Requirements
At the following meeting of the Civil Service Commission in February Mayor Kim along with Rella appeared asking again that the four year or now its part time equivalent be reduced to one year or that part time equivalent.
Unfortunately, the audio record of the meeting was so poor that both the reasoning offered by Kim and the response by the members of the Commission can not be heard.
As I understand it, Kim argued that the city was suffering due to the position's vacancy and asserted the Commission needed to grant the proposed drop in the employment requirements immediately so the position could be filled
Regrettably, this time the Commission agreed to his request.
The Fix Was In
It is disturbingly obvious that Kim wanted to promote his executive assistant to this position. The changes were designed to make Jeanette Dunn eligible.
A Review of Dunn's Application
There are a number of irregularities in Ms. Dunn's application for the position of Administrator of Parks, Open lands, and Historic Preservation.
1.    For whatever reason, Dunn uses two different names in the application. In the box where the applicant enters their name, she has put "Jeannette Mungas." On the other hand, she has signed the application as "Jeannette Dunn (Mungas)."
2.    A little background. Past Mayor Meg Kelly appointed Dunn to the Civil Service Commission a few years ago. She interviewed Dunn, assuming that was her name. Persons appointed to the Civil Service Commission are required to sign an oath. When the document came across Kelly's desk, it was signed "Jeannette Mungas." The Mayor asked Dunn to come to her office and asked her what her legal name was. She was told, "Dunn." The Mayor explained to her that you must use your legal name when you sign an oath. In light of the events, Kelly asked her to resign, which she did. One would have thought that this incident would have sensitized Dunn on the perils of using multiple names. Judging by the application, it didn't.
3.    In the boxes in which Dunn said she worked for the U.S. State Department, Dunn failed to enter the dates of that employment.
4.    Dunn attached not just one additional resume to the application but two. The application and the two resumes contain numerous examples of conflicting information.
5.    According to the application, she worked part-time for Frog Hollow from August 2018 to July 2022. On the other hand, according to one of the attached resumes she worked from October 2018 to July 2022. On another printed resume, she wrote that she was employed there from 2018 to 2020. So she ascribed three different dates of employment for the same position. This is particularly important because the dates she ascribed in the written application were used to calculate her "equivalent" employment requirement.
6.    In one of her printed resumes, she reported she was employed by Beyond My Battle from 2020 to the present. The hand written application does not include this, and during that time she was employed, among other jobs, as the full time executive assistant to Kim.
7.    In the application, she recorded that she was employed as both the part time office manager and part time chef for The Lilly and The Rose from May 2018 to April 2022. On the other hand, in one of her printed resumes, she states she was employed there as just the office manager from 2021 to the present.
Mungas'/Dunn's application is included at the end of this post.
Did Dunn Meet The Employment Requirements?
Once the Civil Service Commission determines the requirements for a job it is up to the Civil Service Department to determine if applicants meet these requirements.
The job requirement for this position in part reads: "Graduation from a regionally accredited college or university...and one year of full time paid experience (or its part time paid equivalence) in planning and administrating parks, open lands, or historic preservation programs or environmental conservation or sustainability programs."
In this case the Civil Service Department determined that Dunn met the work experience requirement for the job based on her self employed work as a bee keeper and on her employment with Frog Hollow.
According to the Frog Hollow website, they are:
"Financial advisory & entrepreneurial strategy consulting firm dedicated to helping clients create growth strategies that lead to capital acquisition."
Frog Hollow home page
There is nothing on their site to suggest anything about the environment or sustainability. Their pitch is that they can help startup and regular companies make money.
Dunn entered the following description of her duties at Frog Hollow:
Worked closely with Lettucegrow, a UK based vertical farm tech company in U.S. manufacturing & operations launch strategy; administered grant applications process for research scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific & industrial research organization in Fields of environmental conservation and biomedical engineering.
Dunn describing her work for Frog Hollow
In the box titled "Hours worked /wk. [week]" she wrote "varied 5-20."
It appears, according to notes beside this employment entry that Civil Service granted her three years and eleven months of equivalency toward the work experience requirement based on her dates of employment (as stated on her hand written application and in conflict with the two resumes she attached) from August of 2018 to July of 2022. As the company does not routinely work on environmental-related projects, it is hard to ascertain how many equivalent hours she worked on such projects during the almost four years there.
Don't Blame Civil Service
Corissa Salvo is an outstanding Civil Service Coordinator. She has a wealth of knowledge, she is a good listener, and she is conscientious in her work. Unfortunately, the Civil Service Commission staff is made up of only her and a part-time employee. Ms. Salvo is responsible for, at a minimum, the city, the school system, and the city center.
While I might disagree with her about the relevance of Ms. Dunn's employment history, the requirements are sufficiently vague such that people of good will can disagree.
The three Commissioners are all dedicated volunteers. Again, while I disagree with the wisdom of reducing the required employment time of four years full time relevant work, it is again an issue in which people of good will can disagree.
In the end once the standards were set and a list of the applicants who were determined to have met those standards compiled it was up to Mayor Kim to determine who was the best candidate to hire from the list.
Ms. Dunn may or may not have technically met the work experience requirements for the job even once Kim was successful in lowering them. What is clear is that her failure alone to craft a proper application for the job should have disqualified her. There were fifteen applications [see an example at the end of this blog]. All, with the exception of Dunn and one other were clearly more qualified than Dunn, but Kim chose Dunn.
A Need For Reform
People may find this shocking but the city's hiring procedures do not require that the education and employment history of the selected candidate for a job be verified. Civil Service does not have the staff resources to do this. The city relies on an affidavit signed by the applicant affirming the truthfulness of the information they provide.
There are also no requirements that the city do any promotion for the position beyond posting it. The city should require that the process include a written plan as to how best to publicize the job using the web or reaching out to professional associations where appropriate.
The Civil Service Commission lacks the resources to implement these kinds of reforms. Structurally, it should probably be handled by the Human Resources Department. To carry this out, though, would probably require the city to expend additional money for new positions. The cost of this would be offset by the value of finding the right applicant to fill important positions. This City Council has been very liberal in approving new administrative positions in Accounts and Finance and the Mayor's office of dubious value to the city. This Council would do better to determine where additional employees would make the city function more efficiently and effectively rather than just allocating funds to dubious positions in their fellow Commissioners' offices.
The Civil Service system was created over 100 years ago to try to ensure that public employees were hired based on their qualifications for the job, not on their political connections. Mayor Kim in this case has maneuvered the system to allow him to put cronyism over professionalism and choosing the best person to serve the city.
Jeannette Mungas/Dunn's Application
The following page was attached to the application.
I assume that this was an old resume which for whatever reason, the applicant included without noticing that it conflicted with the application.
An Example Of A More Qualified Candidate
This is an example of a quality resume from a clearly qualified candidate.
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