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Union wants Probation Chief Fitzgerald out now

Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

Local union reps are leaning on criminal district and county judges to put Bexar County Probation Chief Bill “On the Fritz” Fitzgerald on administrative leave rather than allow the target of several federal lawsuits to serve out his time before a planned January retirement.

Fitzgerald, the target of multiple state and federal lawsuits, resigned under pressure this summer. But his effective retirement date is not until January 1, 2010.

“The judges job is either to hire him or fire him,” said Linda Chavez-Thompson, a consultant for the Adult Probation Local 9528, which is affiliated with the United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO. “But there’s nothing in the rules that say they can’t have some sort of investigation regarding this, and they have not done that.”

Allegations against Fitzgerald run the gamut, from improper termination of employees to sexual harassment to the intimidation of union employees.

The Local 9528 filed their letter with the judges this week in response to the firing of a union member on Tuesday.

“This is what we warned them was going to happen,” said Chavez-Thompson. “We said, ‘Hey, once [Fitzgerald] is forced out, he’s going to try to take a few people with him.”

The letter urges judges to:

“… place Bill Fitzgerald on paid Administrative leave, pending an investigation on the many lawsuits that he has pending against him and the department, because of his administrative actions and inactions. Also, to investigate the many claims that Fitzgerald has: (1) violated worker rights; (2) denied the civil rights of employees under his authority; (3) repeatedly denied employees their freedom of association under the law; and, (4) allowed other improper activities by his Executive Staff.”


You may recall, Fitzgerald was forced onto the ropes after misdemeanor judges voted back in August not to retain him as the chief probation officer. Had a similar vote followed on the felony court side, he would have been toast. However, an attempt by 379th District Judge Ron Rangel* to call for a performance review of Fitz was unexpectedly pulled from their agenda after the retirement notice was proffered.

Union reps warned that leaving Fitzgerald in office for five more months would put more staff at risk of retaliation.

“I’ve been trying to meet with them and tell them, ‘Look, this is what’s going on, this is what’s happening, and this is how the employees feel,” said Chavez-Thompson. “Some of them just won’t return my phone calls.”

We know the feeling.

While union organizer Sheri Simonelli’s wrongful termination was recently dismissed, she said she has plans an appeal to the Fifth Circuit. “I’m upset a little bit that mine got dismissed, but I respect the judge, what the judge said. But I know I’m right. I’m going  to stand and keep fighting it.”

Still, other Simonelli complaints have been rolled into another federal case set to be heard in January. Just in time for Fitzgerald’s retirement party.

---

Judge Rangel got back with me shortly after this blog went up.

Here's what he had to say on the union letter:

"I think what was in the letter was about right. You want somebody who is there full-time. The taxpayers are paying somebody, you want somebody who's going to go full steam ... If some of the other judges get on board, I think that'd be great. It's been in the talks, I know that there's been some movement. But I don't know how successful we'll be."

On finding Fitzgerald's replacement:

"I know we're taking applications, but I don't know if anything's been done in terms of interviewing anybody yet."

Posted by gharman on 11/5/2009 2:45:49 PM
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