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Originally published May 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 8, 2009 at 11:03 PM

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Streets honcho under fire long before snow fiasco

The transportation manager who presided over Seattle's botched snowstorm response was promoted into his job after the city spent $515,000...

Seattle Times consumer-affairs reporter

Before the storm

Problems in city street department

$515,000 probe into complaints by employees.

8,000-page report found "management issues."

City released a 12-page summary Thursday.

After the storm

Questions of leadership, judgment

Jackson asks to be reassigned to another division.

City won't say what he'll do or if he'll still make $108,000.

Mayor says division's problems must be fixed.

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The transportation manager who presided over Seattle's botched snowstorm response was promoted into his job after the city spent $515,000 on a yearlong investigation that found serious problems with his management style.

The manager — Paul Jackson Jr. — on Tuesday asked to be reassigned from his position as Seattle's street-maintenance director because he had become "a distraction," said city transportation chief Grace Crunican, who promoted him to the job in June.

Jackson is now assigned to the city's traffic-management division. His duties have yet to be defined, and no decision has been made on his $108,000-a-year salary, Crunican said on Thursday.

Jackson's transfer is the only management change within the street-maintenance division, which was the focus of the city's half-million-dollar investigation into complaints of discrimination and favoritism.

The division, under Jackson's leadership, also is under ongoing review by the City Council for the bungled response to December's snow storms.

The Seattle Times filed a public-records request for the workplace report and related documents on March 27. The city said the report was 8,000 pages and it is still processing that request.

On Thursday, Mayor Greg Nickels' office released a 12-page "draft" summary of the report's findings, dated June 4, 2008, a week before Jackson was promoted. Among the "management issues" listed in the report: "Paul Jackson viewed as unsafe, dictatorial, vindictive, unwilling to listen even ... by credible, well-respected witnesses."

Jackson acknowledged his difficulties in communicating with subordinates in a performance review conducted about two weeks after his promotion, according to personnel records obtained by The Times.

Jackson was promoted because he was a "strong and tough manager," Crunican said at a press conference called by the mayor.

She said Jackson helped "clean things up" in the department, but did not offer specifics.

"One person's strong manager is another person's abrasive," she explained, adding, "Paul requested the transfer. I would not have reassigned him."

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis also weighed in, saying, "No one's losing their job over this."

Crunican said she asked for the workplace investigation in June 2007 after hearing "rumblings" that the street-maintenance division was mired in discrimination complaints. Investigators interviewed 114 people and found widespread feelings of discrimination and poor systems for documenting and tracking complaints and discipline.

Nearly a year later, the city's Office for Civil Rights sent Crunican a memo telling her that 15 transportation employees — at least eight of them from street maintenance — had filed 18 discrimination complaints over the previous year. The city was unable to say Thursday how much it paid out on those complaints, some of which were settled or upheld.

In the memo, the civil-rights office said the department failed to respond quickly or adequately to the claims, and there were "serious challenges between staff and management in the street-maintenance division."

At the time, Jackson was managing the maintenance division's street-surface repair. Before that, he managed the signs and markings section and worked as a laborer and truck driver.

When Crunican commissioned the investigative report, the city estimated it would cost $75,000 for "investigative services and legal advice in anticipation of possible litigation against the Department of Transportation," according to a letter confirming the contract.

A year later, the city had shelled out $515,000 to the MFR Law Group, a Mill Creek firm headed by Marcella Fleming Reed that has conducted 14 such investigations for the city since 2005.

Despite the report's findings, no one was disciplined. Crunican said most of the people who created the "unacceptable" culture are no longer with the department.

In a brief appearance at Thursday's news conference, Mayor Greg Nickels said, "The work environment in the street-maintenance division is divisive and unhealthy and it must be fixed." He noted there had been problems in the street-maintenance division "for some time."

He did not stay for questions.

Nickels' office announced that two consultants will be hired to improve the department: one to help improve the department's winter-storm-response plan; the other to identify "improvements" to the street-maintenance division.

Jackson's reassignment comes a week after a City Council report raised questions about the department's "overall level of emergency preparedness" and the internal review of its poor performance in clearing city streets during a series of December snow storms.

The report also questioned the thoroughness of the department's after-action review, which was conducted by senior department staff over three to four weeks and presented to the council in February.

The council's latest report was made in response to a Times story in March detailing problems with the department's snow-control efforts. The story found the city didn't make full use of its 27 plows and directed drivers in such a way that main routes were rarely cleared.

In a review of about 2,000 department records, The Times found that West Seattle, home to Nickels, Crunican and Ceis, received an inordinate amount of attention from snow-removal crews right before Christmas.

Charles Bookman, currently the head of the department's traffic division, will serve as interim head of street maintenance while a national search is conducted for a replacement, the city announced.

Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508; skelleher@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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