While everyone makes minor mistakes, public officials must be above reproach. That's why Leslie Knight, Richmond's assistant city manager and human resources manager, had to go.
Her offenses were serious:
For many workers, such transgressions might warrant reprimand and a warning that repetition would lead to firing. But for the city HR director, there were no good excuses.
Knight finally announced her retirement last month, eight months after allegations first surfaced and three months after a city-hired investigator substantiated wrongdoing. But questions remain about why she wasn't fired and the secrecy surrounding the process.
We recognize this was a delicate investigation. As HR director since 2005 in a city that made staff cuts to weather the Great Recession, Knight made difficult decisions sure to earn her enemies.
Hence, city leaders had to determine whether accusations against her were substantive. The decision to call in an outside investigator was smart. But when the findings came back in February, she should have been swiftly fired.
Instead, City Manager Bill Lindsay effectively put her on probation with a warning that she would be dismissed for any recurrence. Lindsay wrote to her that he opted not to fire her because of her positive contributions to the city and hard work.
While we have great respect for Lindsay's leadership, we strongly disagree with his decision in this case. Some have called for his firing. That would be a serious overreaction.
Lindsay has brought stability and professionalism to a city previously plagued by inept management. We accept his apologies that he might have dropped the ball along the way and we note that, in the end, whether or not by Lindsay's design, Knight is gone.
We're more troubled by behavior of City Attorney Bruce Reed Goodmiller, who stonewalled, trying to block public access to documents about the case. He claimed that this was a personnel matter and that it was also protected by attorney-client privilege.
He's wrong on both counts. Documents are not protected from disclosure when public employee wrongdoing is found. And hiring an attorney, rather than an investigator, to conduct the inquiry does not dismiss the agency from responsibility to disclose.
It's only after we brought in our attorney that documents were released. No member of the public should have to hire a lawyer to gain access to records to which they are entitled. We expect better transparency in the future.