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Originally published Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle councilman questions promotion of "unsafe" manager

Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata called on Mayor Greg Nickels and his transportation chief Friday to explain why a manager with documented problems related to his management style was promoted, and why a $515,000 investigation into workplace issues at the department produced no noticeable change a year later.

Seattle Times consumer affairs reporter

Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata called on Mayor Greg Nickels and his transportation chief Friday to explain why a manager with documented problems related to his management style was promoted, and why a $515,000 investigation into workplace issues at the department produced no noticeable change a year later.

Taxpayers are owed that, Licata said.

"If you don't have a department operating efficiently when there's not a crisis, how can you expect it to operate efficiently when there is a crisis?" said Licata, who oversees civil-rights issues for the council.

Licata said he invited the director of the city's Office of Civil Rights to address his committee on Wednesday, and he also said he would ask Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis and transportation chief Grace Crunican to testify.

The councilman said he was surprised by news reports Friday that Paul Jackson Jr., the transportation manager who presided over Seattle's botched snowstorm response this winter, was promoted to street-maintenance director last year even after the half-million-dollar investigation found serious problems with his management style.

Jackson asked to be transferred earlier this week. He is now manager of traffic maintenance in the department's traffic-management division. Information about his job duties and whether his $108,000 salary would be reduced was not available from either the mayor's office or the transportation department Thursday or Friday.

In his position as director, Jackson was responsible for snow removal, pothole repairs, street sweeping and chip sealing, among other things. Crunican told reporters this week that Jackson requested a transfer because he felt he had become "a distraction."

A 12-page "draft" summary of the workplace investigation released by the mayor's office Thursday included "management issues" related to Jackson. It said he was "viewed as unsafe, dictatorial, vindictive, unwilling to listen even ... by credible, well-respected witnesses."

Nickels called the work environment at the street-maintenance division "divisive and unhealthy."

The draft summary is dated June 4, 2008, a week before Jackson was promoted. A performance review shortly after his promotion also focused on his communication problems with subordinates, and it noted that Crunican had discussed those issues with him "MANY times," according to personnel records obtained by The Times.

The records also contained notes of appreciation and a glowing review from 2005, in which his supervisor at the time said he increased employee attendance and "brought increased equity and discipline" to the signs-and-markings shop where he was a manager.

Crunican said Thursday that she promoted Jackson to street-maintenance director because he was "a strong and tough manager" who could help "clean things up." Jackson could not be reached late Friday.

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The Times filed a public-records request for the full 8,000-page investigative report on March 27. That request is pending. The mayor's public-disclosure officer did not respond to a voice mail or e-mail Friday to explain why the report is not ready for release. The investigation was done by a Mill Creek law firm, MFR Law Group.

Licata said he has requested the summary, as well as the 18 discrimination complaints filed by transportation employees and described in a memo last year by the city's civil-rights office.

"If the report said the person was unsafe to work with, and they kept him in that position, there's some explaining to do," Licata said.

Other council members contacted by The Times on Friday deferred questions about Jackson to the mayor's office.

Council President Richard Conlin said: "These are personnel issues that are not decisions made by the council, so I don't think my responding to the questions would be appropriate."

Councilmember Sally Clark echoed that sentiment, saying, "That's a personnel thing for the mayor and SDOT to answer. We don't have any role in hiring/firing/promotions in the departments."

Councilmember Jean Godden said she had not been following the issue and therefore had no opinion as to whether Jackson should have been promoted or if his salary level is appropriate. "I think this is something we are going to have to investigate and find out," Godden said.

The other council members could not be reached for comment Friday.

Reporter Lynda V. Mapes contributed to this report.

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

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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