VERO BEACH — Two weeks ago, records from a discrimination and harassment investigation at the Vero Beach Power Plant were released and due to complaints of racial slurs, three employees received temporary suspensions without pay.
Vice Mayor Pilar Turner wants to make sure the Power Plant is a safe and healthy working environment for all going forward. Turner has placed on Tuesday night’s agenda an item asking the staff to explain how they arrived at the measures doled out and why they decided not to discipline supervisors at the plant. Details of the suspensions of Relief Operator Robert Mike Phillips, Control Operator Chad McDaniel and Watch Engineer Craig Wellmaker were released to the media prior to the City Council being briefed on the results of the investigation.
This, combined with the fact that council members were not shown the original complaint before it was given to the media prompted complaints from them at the Jan. 4 council meeting.
Many of the 32 Power Plant workers are set to participate in group therapy on Jan. 25 in which the “locker room mentality” – as the investigator calls it – is expected to be addressed.
The initial cost to the city will be between $2,500 and $5,000.
After those sessions, the complainant is scheduled to be sent back to the Power Plant to work. Indian-born Data Analyst Keith Srinivasan has been out on paid administrative leave for his own protection since before Thanksgiving pending the conclusion of the investigation.
Councilman Brian Heady has met numerous times with Interim City Manager Monte Falls instructing Falls to find another job for Srinivasan somewhere in the city.
Heady said Falls told him that due to the employee’s pay level and skills in engineering and finance, there is not a suitable job open for him.
Notwithstanding the fact that personnel matters come under the purview of the City Manager, Heady said this is a matter where the City Council should be involved, in the name of risk management.
“The City Council must intervene to protect the employee and to protect the taxpayers of the City of Vero Beach against having a lawsuit,” Heady said. “We’ve got an opportunity to prevent this and we need to prevent this before we end up in federal court.”
Srinivasan has stated is he “apprehensive” about going back to the Power Plant and has expressed fear for his personal safety if returned to the secure facility where employees live and work around the clock, out of the view and oversight of top managers at City Hall.
Among the complaints made by Srinivasan were that an employee threatened him and told him there was a gun in his locker. Taunting remarks were also allegedly made about Srinivasan’s wife and children.
Though he has consulted an attorney, Srinivasan said he is hesitant to sue the city because, at this time, he’s not seeking a cash settlement.
“All I’m after is being able to have a non-hostile work environment,” Srinivasan told VeroNews.com upon release of the investigation records.
The results of the investigation were not offered or provided to Srinivasan prior to them being released to the media and he found out via online news reports.
The Vero Beach City Council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The meeting will be televised live on Vero Comcast Channel 13.