Opinion: How Kerry is being treated is horrific

By Tony O’Rourke

On Feb. 8, 2018, the Tahoe Daily Tribune, based on seven anonymous sources, destroyed City Manager Nancy Kerry’s reputation. As the former city manager prior to Nancy Kerry, I know the challenges, rewards, and pitfalls of managing cities. Given the average tenure of a city manager is three to five years, it is not uncommon for city managers and city councils to amicably part ways.

What is not common is how Nancy Kerry has been treated or better yet, mistreated and personally defamed in an effort to summarily terminate her without due process and fair compensation as called for in her contract with the city.

Tony O’Rourke

First, when do seven anonymous people get to define Nancy Kerry? A fair and reasonable person would examine and weigh her exceptional 10-year tenure with the city; in particular the past 5.5 years as city manager. Nancy’s annual evaluations during her tenure have all been outstanding. In her most recent June 2017 performance evaluation, conducted on behalf of the City Council by nationally recognized City Manager Ted Gaebler, Nancy was rated between outstanding and excellent. Mr. Gaebler personally stated in his review, “I rarely have seen this among city managers.”

As a result of Nancy’s June 2017 evaluation, then-Mayor Austin Sass and the City Council awarded Nancy a 5 percent pay raise and restored a $600 monthly car allowance.

In October 2017, the City Council, covertly via the city attorney, hired Mary Egan of Municipal Resource Group, to conduct an organizational climate survey for $10,000. Organizational climate surveys are an excellent method to identify organizational strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement. During my tenure with South Lake Tahoe we retained Bill Chiatt of the Alta Mesa Group to conduct two annual organizational assessments in 2010 and 2011. Unlike the current City Council’s secretive Mary Egan study, the 2010 and 2011 organizational assessment reports were shared with the City Council, city employees, the public and media.

The organizational assessments were important because to eliminate a $5.2 million deficit in 2010, as well as, a projected five-year financial shortfall of $25 million, I had to recommend the elimination of 25 percent of the city workforce, and 40 percent of its senior management. The City Council unanimously endorsed these “right sizing” initiatives to ensure the financial health and sustainability of the city. Four California municipalities; Stockton, Vallejo, San Bernardino and Mammoth Lakes all filed for bankruptcy during this time period.

As a result of these tough decisions, I was frequently a lightning rod for criticism. As a city manager you learn to accept this as an agent of change and progress. What you don’t expect or accept are unfounded anonymous allegations that result in defamation and your dismissal. If someone has a valid complaint and evidence of wrong doing, they should publicly share it; for as Justice Louis Brandies so eloquently stated, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

The difference in my and Nancy’s situation is the covert and anonymous character of her critics. She has been found guilty of creating a “toxic” work environment, in the absence of any due process or public evidence. She has been personally and professionally defamed based on mere allegations. What happened to the right to face your accusers? Where is there public evidence of these allegations? This matter is a political hatchet job perpetuated by a few.

Of the seven anonymous sources attacking Nancy, three are currently city employees. This represents 1.5 percent of all city employees. The other four are former city employees. Given there are hundreds of former city employees, they too represent a tiny fraction of former city employees.

In summary, Nancy Kerry has been unfairly criticized and defamed in a rush to judgment based on seven anonymous individuals in a city organization of 200 and a community of 21,000. She has not been afforded any due process, provided any evidence to support allegations against her or been provided the right to face her accusers. Nancy’s witch hunt and defamation is abhorrent to the America our constitutional and individual liberties are founded upon, and our military bravely defends and fights for. South Lake Tahoe needs to stand up to and defeat this modern day digital and covert McCarthyism, or others in the community will be next.

Tony O’Rourke was the city manager of South Lake Tahoe before Nancy Kerry.

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    Comments (2)
    1. Scott Ramirez says - Posted: February 11, 2018

      I have to say I completely agree with this assessment. Both Nancy Kerry and the public at large need clean air to understand the actions of the City Council. The Tribune and others have flamed Ms Kerry without full information or any due process. Whatever you think of Ms Kerry, she deserves a chance to face her accusers and a chance to answer any questions there may be. Unless there are legal issues, there is no excuse for the kind of treatment both the City Council and our local media have put on Ms Kerry.

      To be clear, there are many things happening in our City I disagree with. Regardless of my views, every employee, including our City Manager, should be presented any grievance and given a chance to answer to accusations through a defined process. Secret evaluations which are paid for with public funds yet not shared with the public are unacceptable and possibly illegal. Both the City Council and the local media have already seemingly judged Ms Kerry. The City Council, by removing her and giving no reason, have left Ms Kerry to the imaginings of the local Community and the local media who are all looking for blood.

      We all need to sit tight and ask for both a clear process and a full explanation of the City’s actions. The local media has come to numerous conclusions as to Ms Kerry’s guilt with neither full evidence nor complete facts. Let’s all leave our imaginations at the door and deal in facts. The City Council has one opportunity to correct their actions, the coming meeting to discuss her termination. If they do not provide a clear rationale, you can be certain that the City will once more be sued and the local tax payers will be left to pay for these shinanigans.

    2. The Irish Wahini says - Posted: February 12, 2018

      AMEN to Scott Ramirez! I totally agree. The public pays and for and deserves the right to know! The Council’s actions led by the TEMPORARY City Attorney, is nothing less than unprofessional and embarassing.