RICHMOND -- Union protesters assembled at City Hall on Tuesday to demand that the city's second-ranking administrator be fired after an investigation found that she misused public resources and ordered a whistle-blower's emails searched.
More than 20 people, many from SEIU Local 1021, joined whistle-blower Stacie Plummer to demand that City Manager Bill Lindsay fire Leslie Knight, the city's Human Resources director.
"This is absurd," said Charles Smith, a Richmond resident. "Knight needs to go, and if Bill (Lindsay) isn't willing to do it, he needs to go, too."
An independent investigation revealed earlier this month that Knight improperly received at least $400 monthly in car allowance while also using a city vehicle; used paid city staff to make trinkets; and ordered a subordinate to access Plummer's emails after Plummer lodged a complaint against her.
The investigation found that the trinket making on city time was for free gifts for other employees, not for profit. Plummer alleges that Knight ran a small trinket business called "Little Luxuries by Leslie Knight," made a profit and used the city's address and phone number for the business.
Plummer said she was assured by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles that they would introduce a resolution in April urging Lindsay to remove Knight from her position, if he has not done so by then. Per the city charter, the city manager retains sole power to hire and fire department heads.
Lindsay has said that he will determine how much Knight improperly received from the city and devise a payment plan for her to pay back the city. He has declined to say what, if any, discipline Knight will face, citing public employee personnel privacy, but has said that she will not be fired.
On Wednesday, Lindsay said he had not determined how much Knight owes the city.
Knight was not put on leave during the investigation, which lasted at City Hall for several months and included dozens of interviews with staff members. The investigation, conducted by a Sacramento-based law firm, cost the city $30,000.
Plummer, who works as a finance director for the city, estimates that Knight owes Richmond at least $600,000 in car allowances and misused staff time.
Plummer said Knight "bullied" her in part by repeatedly transferring her to different departments when she objected to what she saw as misuse of city funds, allegations that were not sustained by the investigation.
"(Knight) moved me around the city like a pingpong ball for four years," Plummer said.
Knight and Lindsay came to the city in 2006. Lindsay has been praised for his fiscal management of the city during his tenure.
But the protesters Tuesday were critical of Lindsay for both not stopping Knight sooner and for not meting out discipline.
"If this was any other worker, they'd be out of a job," said Andres Soto, a Plummer supporter.
Plummer said Lindsay "turned a blind eye" to Knight's activities.
Knight issued a statement last week through her attorney, Thomas Bertrand of the firm Bertrand, Fox & Elliot in San Francisco. Bertrand noted that "the bulk of the numerous allegations made against Ms. Knight have not been sustained."
"To the extent that any such allegation was sustained against Ms. Knight, she acknowledges that she did make certain mistakes, she has apologized for them, and she will take corrective action," the statement said, adding that Knight looks forward to moving on and serving the residents of Richmond.
The protest occurred before Tuesday's City Council meeting, and organizers later flooded the public comment period with calls for Knight's dismissal.