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County Discrimination Trial, Part 3

Garcia’s Coworkers Criticize Her Competence


Monday, August 30, 2010

In her lawsuit against the County of Santa Barbara, former executive Heidi Garcia alleges she was fired in July 2007 because of discrimination on the part of her supervisors. However, as the trial continued last week, a barrage of Garcia’s former colleagues stepped up to testify to her incompetence as an administrator.

Garcia, the former assistant director of programs for the mental health side of the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Department (ADMHS), claimed she was bullied, demoted, and fired because her superiors — former director Dr. James Broderick and interim director Dr. Doug Barton — held prejudices against her sex and religion as a Jewish woman. However, Broderick, with whom she worked with for almost five years, appeared before the court Wednesday to challenge her claims.

Although Garcia had previously recalled a conversation with Broderick during which he reportedly said he had never supervised a woman before her, Broderick told the court how he had hired and worked with female colleagues both at the county and at his previous job. In fact, he said, he had a hand in nearly every executive woman hire during his tenure as director of ADMHS. He denied that he ever mistreated Garcia because of her sex, and said that for a while he “was Heidi’s biggest supporter.”

Dr. Mark Kofler, a psychiatrist with ADMHS, defended Broderick. He admitted he was not a fan of Broderick and did not agree with his philosophy on how the department should be run. However, Kofler, who is Jewish, said Broderick was neither an anti-Semite nor a sexist.

Broderick also said the reason why he did not include Garcia in union collective bargaining meetings — an act Garcia had previously cited as an example of her exclusion from important departmental matters — was because of her “aggressive” attitude at such meetings. He requested she not attend specifically so they could move forward with negotiations more easily.

Sara Scofield, a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) representative, said Garcia’s presence at these collective bargaining meetings was “an impediment to discussion for both sides.” The main issue with Garcia, Scofield said, was the idea of an alternative work schedule, in which employees work longer hours for four days a week and take a day off. She said Garcia was stuck in her position on the matter and would often act condescendingly. SEIU field representative George Green said because of her problem with the prospect of an alternative work schedule in her department, and because of her behavior at meetings, “we asked that she not be involved.”

Laura Zeitz, a psychiatric nursing supervisor for the ADMHS Psychiatric Health Facility, said there were other problems with Garcia’s behavior and philosophy in the department. Zeitz said Garcia and Broderick’s model of allowing anyone with mental health issues into programs — rather than just the state-mandated “target population” of those with serious mental illnesses — put a huge strain on their resources. At the same time, she recalled how there was an excessive emphasis put on generating revenue in the department.

Zeitz and Scofield said there were “Revenue Ranger” badges for people who were successful in generating cash for the department. Scofield said the goals set for revenue were too high, and that the badges — with a picture of a pig as the Revenue Ranger emblem — were demoralizing and offensive. Although she could not specifically point to Garcia as the mind behind all things Revenue Ranger, she said she believed Garcia was involved in the practice.

Both Scofield and Zeitz recalled a departmental event concerning the approximately $5 million hole in the budget in 2006. Both said Garcia apologized for the situation the department was in and took full responsibility for the budget shortfall. Garcia has previously testified she felt responsible as a member of the executive team, but that the other executives were just as much at fault.

Annmarie Cameron, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County, recounted how Garcia’s financial mishandlings extended beyond the department. She said Garcia told her in 2006 that a contractor they hired had underspent, and that money could be rolled over for a housing project the MHA was working on.

Cameron said although they were reluctant to apply for funds at the county because of regulations, they needed the money for this project. She said at the time she did not know about the financial situation of the department, and they went on spending and incurring more debt without receiving the money promised by Garcia. Cameron said the MHA eventually got some money a while later, but only after persistent work.

Once Garcia’s job was swapped with Al Rodriguez’s, who was previously the head of the Alcohol and Drug programs at the ADMHS, retired Superior Court Commissioner in Drug Treatment/Mental Health Court Deborah Talmage said she was “glad to see Mr. Rodriguez moved to mental health.” Talmage said Garcia had always made excuses, while Rodriguez was more involved. She said the alcohol and drug side of the department under Rodriguez had always been a “well-oiled engine,” but once Garcia took over in 2007, it began to flounder.

Zeitz said that under Garcia, there was a culture in the department in which “you did not want to appear vulnerable.” She said it was the kind of place where you did not want to speak out against the badges, or the philosophy of maximizing billing, or even the two-day, “new-agey” Capacitar training where the managers were required to do tapping exercises and such. In fact, Zeitz herself was ordered by her supervisor, Rob Walton, who reported to Garcia, to attend counseling because of her discontent. Matthew Clarke, Garcia’s attorney, questioned Zeitz about the nature of that environment in which complaining could allegedly result in consequences.

“You know that’s why we’re here today?” he asked Zeitz.

“No, that’s why I’m here today,” she responded. “My fear was of her.”

Jagwar Ma

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