As more information trickles out, it appears that the allegations leveled by employees of the Madison Water Utility are circling the drain.
Madison's Department of Civil Rights has released to Isthmus six bias complaints filed against city officials by Water Utility workers (see "Allegations Fly at Madison Water Utility," 12/18/08).
All were dismissed, most for not alleging conduct that constitutes actual discrimination. DCR is still looking into at least one other complaint. Meanwhile the office of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has completed its own probe, on which it plans to release more information late this week.
But don't expect the complaint subjects, prominently including City Engineer Larry Nelson, to end up in hot water. Indeed, the city seems more inclined to make an example of the complainants.
While it redacted their names from the released complaints, the city said it plans to release copies with names included, unless the workers sue to prevent this.
"In light of recent history, the public has a heightened interest in knowing and understanding whether the Water Utility is being properly managed," DCR director Lucia Nuñez wrote the complainants. "It also has a heightened interest in assessing the credibility of those who may be using our complaint process for inappropriate purposes."
Nuñez's letters say the complainants have lost protection because their names and concerns were disclosed to members of the public. (This was done, in some cases, by people other than the complainants.)
Most of the complaints seem conspicuously threadbare. One claims discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation "because I am a family man and a hetersexual [sic]." The only "discrimination" cited: requiring more forms for sick leave than in the past. Another complainant was bent out of shape because Nelson made an inquiry as to his whereabouts.
The most serious complaint alleges, as does an email sent in November to the Water Utility Board, that Nelson and Human Resources director Brad Wirtz openly discussed whether two Water Utility workers were having sexual relations. (According to the email, Nelson "literally yelled" about this.) But neither complainant heard this firsthand, and the DCR says the person who filed the rejected complaint refused to reveal who had.
Perhaps a certain level of fear is in order. One of the two workers had said she was abruptly reassigned after complaints were lodged. She is now working at city engineering, under Nelson, and is facing what some believe to be trumped-up disciplinary charges.
Nelson, in a response included with the dismissed complainants, says plans to reassign this worker were made well in advance and for valid reasons. But Dennis Cawley, the employee's supervisor at the Water Utility, tells Isthmus: "I didn't know about it [the reassignment] until after it happened."
Elsewhere, Nelson denies he discussed personnel relationships with anyone except Human Resources, as was appropriate. He also defends his inquiry into the other employee's whereabouts, saying this person was observed parked illegally in front of city property.
Janet Piraino, the mayor's chief of staff, says her review did find "one fairly minor issue" of concern, which she declines to discuss until her two-page report is released, along with supplemental responses from Nelson and Wirtz.