Leslie Knight
Leslie Knight

RICHMOND -- A city employee and union representatives Tuesday night called for Assistant City Manager Leslie Knight to be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into whether she misused public resources and mistreated employees.

Accompanied at the City Council meeting by more than a dozen people toting signs calling for an end to "corruption," library Finance Manager Stacie Plummer said Knight must be placed on leave to limit the chance for "persecution" of whistle-blowers who work under Knight.

"Lower level employees have been put on leave before for accusations nowhere near this serious," said Millie Cleveland, a spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1021, which represents nearly 400 city employees.

The city has hired a Sacramento-based law firm to investigate Plummer's accusations, which include charges that Knight used public employees and facilities to enrich herself with a trinket business operated on city property and used a city car and gas card for personal use.

Plummer's complaint also alleges that Knight, who oversees the city's Human Resources Department, used intimidation and reprisals to squelch complaints about her activities.

Plummer, 43, a city employee for more than two decades, prompted the investigation by circulating a 59-page complaint, including photographs, to top city officials and county, state and federal investigators.

The council and City Manager Bill Lindsay did not address the charges Tuesday nor the calls to put Knight on leave.

In a statement released last week, Knight's attorney, Thomas F. Bertrand of the law firm of Bertrand, Fox & Elliot, said, "We are confident that the city's independent review will exonerate Ms. Knight and establish that she acted at all times with honesty, integrity and in the best interests of the city." Bertrand added that Knight was honored with the Assistant City Manager of the Year award by the California League of Cities in 2010.

Lindsay has said it is important to allow the investigation to proceed without weighing in on the merits of the charges. The city has contracted Van Dermyden Allison Law to conduct the investigation. The $30,000 contract runs from Sept. 1 to June 30.

Plummer's complaint has not only triggered an internal probe but also drawn the attention of the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office and prompted the Federal National Telecommunications and Information Administration to open a review of the city's handling of a $400,000 federal stimulus grant.

Plummer alleges that she alerted Lindsay in August about tens of thousands of missing dollars in grant funds and was then threatened with discipline by another library official. The grant is aimed at increasing broadband use in low-income communities. The investigation began in October, Plummer said, and is ongoing.

Knight was one of Lindsay's first hires when he took the city manager position in 2005. Knight, 57, quit her post as Contra Costa County's Human Resources director to take over the top personnel post in Richmond.

Knight's base salary last year was $220,000, with total compensation of $281,507, according to this newspaper's public employee salary database.

Knight has received high praise from Lindsay, and the city has enjoyed improved fiscal health and a newfound reputation for professional management, a far cry from the crisis and corruption of the early 2000s. Knight also has a reputation as a strong negotiator on behalf of the city during contract talks with employee unions.

Cleveland said SEIU Local 1021 is in negotiations with the city for a new labor contract but that supporting Plummer and calling for Knight to be placed on leave had no bearing on the negotiations.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 and rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers.