Hamilton commission disciplines city employee

Nadine Hill plans legal action after receiving 5-day suspension.

Nadine Hill, Hamilton’s director of civil service and personnel, will receive a five-day, in-work suspension after her bosses on the Civil Service Commission deliberated Tuesday over a complaint filed against her by City Manager Joshua Smith.

A six-page letter the commission wrote June 3 to Hill summarized job performance issues that city administrators claimed against Hill, including failure to update civil-service rules; failure to adequately implement testing in a timely manner for police and fire personnel; failure to implement a program known as NEOGOV; and failure to investigate an internal complaint of harassment in a timely manner.

Hill plans to exercise her legal rights in the matter because she does not want to have a dark mark on her otherwise unblemished record, her attorney, Mark Hardig, said afterward.

The commission, after meeting behind closed doors to discuss testimony it heard in July and documents it had read since that hearing, voted 3-0 to find there had been problems in the four areas cited in the June 3 letter.

Members of the all-volunteer Civil Service Commission “considered the nature of the offense, degree, severity, the length of Ms. Hill’s service,” as well as the time period between the alleged issues, as well as the fact there had been “no prior offenses,” said its chairwoman, Mag Baker.

The in-service suspension means Hill is suspended but still has to work and still gets paid with benefits. State law makes a provision for such a suspension that will go into Hill’s employment record. She will lose neither pay, nor credit for time worked toward retirement, nor benefits, according to Baker.

The commission will also implement a performance-improvement plan for Hill, “which includes a job coach that the city has offered to pay for,” Baker said.

Hardig, in July told the commissioners Hill, who is paid $117,404 per year, has been director 18 years, and a city employee 27 years. In those 27 years, she had never been disciplined, nor warned or threatened with discipline, he said.

“Director Hill strongly disagrees with the action taken by the Civil Service Commission, and she will actively pursue any and all legal remedies available to her,” Hardig said Tuesday.”She feels she conducted herself in a proficient manner at all times.”

Also, “Director Hill specifically requested a public hearing, as is her right under Ohio law. The commission violated both Ohio’s Sunshine Laws and the city’s own pre-disciplinary procedures by failing to conduct a public hearing, and by failing to record the hearing,” Harding said.

“Instead,” Hardig added, “the commission conducted their deliberations in executive session, in secrecy, and free of public scrutiny in violation of Ohio law.”

Gary Becker, an outside lawyer hired to represent the commission in the matter (because Hill is the commission’s employee) disagreed with Hardig.

The section of state law cited by Hardig “does not apply to this situation,” Becker argued, mentioning a 1980 Ohio Supreme Court ruling, and calling Tuesday’s session a “quasi-judicial proceeding.”

Robert Knight, a member of the African-American community who attended the meeting in support of Hill, said he had a problem with the commission disciplining Hill when Hill hadn’t received a review of her work performance since 2002.

“They have not evaluated her,” Knight said. “They have not done their job. The city needs to evaluate the commission, and say, ‘You haven’t evaluated this person since 2002? No, changes need to be made.’”

Knight said he believes minority representation in Hamilton public institutions has been sparse. When the commission held a late-afternoon pre-disciplinary hearing for Hill in July, the gathering was standing-room-only, filled mostly with black residents. Tuesday’s 1:30 p.m. hearing was attended by a few.

Hardig also has said Hill’s staff has experienced deep cuts, making it difficult for those remaining to do all the work facing them.

When asked whether Hill would be reviewed in the future, commission member Bill Groth said: “That’ll be part of this performance-improvement plan.”

Becker has five business days to write a letter outlining the commission’s finding of discipline, which will go into Hill’s record. The suspension is to begin after that.

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