‘Climate survey’ is critical of police department management | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘Climate survey’ is critical of police department management

Adam Jensen

Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily TribuneJim Smith, the owner of Nik-N-Willies Pizza, speaks at the South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting on Tuesday. Smith attended the meeting to request a look at the 44-page climate survey of South Lake Tahoe Police Department employees that was conducted in October.

A stinging, 10-page summary of a consultant’s “climate survey” last fall found the South Lake Tahoe Police Department facing considerable internal turmoil.

None of the police department’s sworn employees, management and supervisors who were surveyed reported that they had confidence in the organization’s senior leadership.

The summary, dated Oct. 8, 2007, was written by Riverside-based Taylor-Nelson LLC during the city’s contract negotiations with police officers. City officials have declined to release the consultant’s full 44-page report on the police department, saying that doing so would “serve no public interest.”

Taylor Nelson’s full report has been subpoenaed by the El Dorado County civil grand jury, Police Chief Terry Daniels wrote in an e-mail Monday.

Jim Smith, owner of Nik-N-Willies Pizza, also requested the full report during the public comment period at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

In denying the Tahoe Daily Tribune request for the full report, City Manager David Jinkens said the full report was exempt from disclosure because it still is in “draft form.” In addition, Daniels said the report was paid for through a “donation” and therefore is not a public document.

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“No public funds were used for this training,” Daniels noted in the e-mail. “All costs were paid from a donation.”

Members of the public also would not benefit from knowledge of the document, Jinkens wrote in a letter to the Tribune.

“The data released to date requires validation and interpretation by the consultants,” Jinkens wrote. “To release such partial and preliminary data would be destructive to the police department. As such, the public interest in having a police department with strong positive internal leadership clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure of an incomplete document which may undermine this critically important position.”

Included in the summary are figures indicating most officers were afraid of internal investigation attacks. They also feared reprisal for openly exchanging opinions and have little faith in department management.

“The department is very goal driven, and yet priorities seem to be unclear and many believe that important work is not being done (no investigation of property crimes, not enough relationship building with youth, etc.) There is a clear acceptance that the department cannot do what it would like to do with diminished resources; many feel the goals have become too narrow, namely, pushing patrol units from one end of SLT to the other,” the summary states.

Taylor-Nelson was hired by Daniels to interview and compile survey responses from department employees, 37 of whom subsequently responded to an anonymous, online survey.

The consultant’s mission was “to work with the police department to rebuild the participative management team which, due to turnover within the department, had many new members,” the summary indicated.

Participative management encourages employee involvement in decision-making processes.

The consultants note that data in the summary was gathered during final phases of collective bargaining, but said they “tried to factor in any frustration, anger, impatience and mistrust that typically surround contentious talks.”

And in an “interpretations and implications” section, they say that Daniels is “unfairly blamed” for decisions that caused the loss of faith because “he inherited the liabilities of former Chief Don Muren.”

Muren was not available for comment Wednesday.

During a telephone conversation May 1, Daniels admitted problems in the police department but declined to discuss the summary in detail.

He elaborated in an e-mail on Monday: “The police department favors a high degree of employee participation and recognizes that organizations which self-examine are organizations that have higher customer service and quality results,” Daniels wrote.

“These are internal matters to be examined by the participative management team. The report you reference is the first phase used by the consultants to begin working on our internal issues ” it’s the beginning.

“The information has not been validated, tested, interpreted by the consultants or updated. Now that contract negotiations are complete it is my intent to schedule the consultants to return to begin the training.”

The summary report came to light after a Tribune story in which Daniels identified obstacles to filling vacant officer positions and proposed possible solutions to the challenges.

But sources contacted the Tribune contending Daniels didn’t tell the whole story, at which time a copy of the summary report was provided to the newspaper.

At least one council member also has received the report. City Councilman Bill Crawford said he received a copy of the Taylor-Nelson summary in his City Hall mailbox, sent anonymously in a police department envelope.

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Mike Weber said he has not seen the summary report but would obtain a copy and discuss the findings with the Tribune.

” City Editor Elaine Goodman contributed to this report.