Mary LaMont’s life will never be the same. In many ways, everything she’d worked hard for, everything she’d went to school for, everything she sacrificed her family’s time and attention for, is out the window.
LaMont may recover in some ways, financially and otherwise, but she says she’ll never get back what she suddenly has lost – her career.
And she just may be right.
Lamont is the newly ousted city of Albany human resources director. For her plight, there are about tens of thousands of people to blame – those who cast ballots for the corrupt Albany mayor and City Commission, who in turn hired and continue to refuse their inept and rogue city manager, Alfred Lott, who has run another emerging career in the ground. For nearly five years, the mayor and commission have known what they’ve gotten Albany taxpayers and municipal employees into, yet they cowardly and/or ignorantly refuse to reverse their decision, as did voters when they re-elected Mayor Willie Adams and Commissioner Tommie Postell knowing full well the monster they had created.
What’s painfully wrong in this story is that LaMont no longer works for the city not because she did something wrong, but because she did everything right. Indeed, if she had not stood up to Lott and insisted that he follow the law and the tenets of his profession as a public administrator, she’d still be in her $80,000-a-year job. But her integrity simply didn’t allow her to do that. She knew that if she sat idly and watched the city manager discriminate, retaliate and mismanage, she would be a willing part to a disgusting series of crimes and other preventable calamities. It’s something she wouldn’t be able to live with. So, with a spotless personnel record, she resigned. And the tyrant who put her squarely in the position of breaking the law remains on the job, shamelessly taking an annual salary-and-benefits package of $175,000-plus to the bank.
LaMont was directly victimized through intimidation, a retaliatory technique Lott has employed with the City Commission’s encouragement since he violated codes of conduct, decency and rights of due process in firing former Civic Center Director Matty Goddard and Finance Director Shirley Smith. Indeed, when Smith sought another job, Lott vengefully told a prospective employer that Smith was a criminal – and then, under oath, he lied about it. And if justice is served and Smith wins her retaliation suit against the city for Lott’s actions, those actions likely will cost Albany taxpayers a tremendous amount of money,
Lott’s running roughshod over Smith, Goddard and standard human resources management practices occurred within his first months on the job in 2005 and early 2006. From there, Lott and a few of his bosses – with the remaining commissioners’ pusillanimous complicity — steadily ran the organization and the community’s spirit and hopes into the ground. Truly, the damage of the villainous political and administrative city leadership is colossal – and certainly the misdeeds weren’t limited to retaliation. And now Lott is a lame duck assured by the City Commission of a clean personnel record if he goes quietly in the night.
Fear of retaliation for speaking up about ethical violations in the workplace does much more harm than affecting whether workers are willing to report wrongdoing to management – which is bad enough. It also drives the level of misconduct itself, according to a study released Monday by the Ethics Resource Center.
Indeed, employees who report misconduct in an organization with zero tolerance for retaliation experience it at a strikingly lower rate than workers at companies with weak ethical environments (4 percent versus 25 percent), the study found. And victims of retaliation trust the company’s leaders less, feel less optimistic about the company’s financial future, tend to think the head of the company is overpaid and look to quit the company sooner.
Likewise, where workers feel pressured to compromise company standards, policy or the law, those who report misconduct are much more likely to experience retaliation (59 percent) than those who report but do not feel pressure (6 percent).
“This report demonstrates just how toxic the fear of retaliation can be in an organization,” said Ann Wootton, president and general manager of SAI Global Compliance Americas, which sponsored publication of the report. “Companies that make zero tolerance their goal are doing their employees and themselves a big favor. Retaliation brings a lot of baggage with it that can truly damage an enterprise.”
The free report – “Retaliation: The Cost to Your Company and Its Employees” – is based on data gathered by ERC’s 2009 National Business Ethics Survey. We suggest the report as mandatory reading material for the City Commission members who have the capacity to read and comprehend — and the decency to do the right thing. Better yet, we encourage prospective City Council members – including our next mayor – to spend some quality time with the report.
Retaliation undermines employees’ commitment. And let us not forget that the perpetrators and those being poisoned by retaliation all work for us – the taxpayers. Thus, in addition to human beings lives being unfairly damaged, there is a tremendous price to pay, such as with the handsome settlement or judgment that LaMont will deservingly receive.
As the ERC study concludes, there is an antidote for revengeful organizations: the establishment of an ethical culture in which employees feel that whistle-blowing and otherwise doing the right thing is not only tolerated, but welcome.
Unless additional indictments are forthcoming at city hall, that remedy becomes realistically attainable again in November 2011, when four City Commission seats – including the mayor’s – are up for grabs.
Perhaps, Albany can then begin the weighty process of becoming a City of Excellence and City of Ethics – monikers bestowed on the community by the Georgia Municipal Association before the 2004 elections — once again.
By Kevin Hogencamp