Johnny Ford just didn’t know when to quit

We’re going to try and make this short (well, short for us) since we don’t particularly feel like repeating anything David Siders has already said. If you want a summary of the report, check out his article, or just read the thing yourself (.pdf warning). It’s only 14 pages long. Don’t worry, we’ll wait.

Back already? Ok, so if you read it like we did there are a few majorish points in it. Let’s dive in.

The biggest sticking point shows up early on in the report. Namley, absolutely zero evidence of discrimination was found. Not racial, not sexual, not religious, nothing. None of those factors played any role in Johnny Ford’s firing. Ford didn’t even bring up race in his interview. We’re not sure who was the first to play the race card, but whoever did can take it back now. That means Ralph Lee White and Bobby Bivens can go home now. Their grandstanding services are no longer required. Not that that will stop them from claiming otherwise at the next City Council meeting (Right Mike Fitzgerald?).

Considering this entire ad hoc committee was formed to determine whether former City Manager Gordon Palmer was within his legal right to fire Ford, the report should theoretically end there. Ford was an at-will employee and could be fired for no reason at all (but we’ll get to that). Of course, this being Stockton, it can’t be that simple. They spent all that time (and money we can ill-afford to spend) finding out the reason Ford got shitcanned, might as well tell everybody why in the report so we can get some closure.

Naturally the report provided anything but closure. The entire thing pretty much devolves into a game of “he said, she said” and, overall, is fairly gossipy. As David Siders points out, the entire thing revolves around a since recanted signed statement by Stockton Arena Manager Chuck Kemp that stated he felt uncomfortable giving Johnny Ford comped/zero-value/whatever tickets but “had to do what I had to do”. Kemp insisted to the panel that investigator Steven Hunt (guy who penned the statement) rushed him to sign it and he didn’t read it before he signed it. Which is always a smart choice.

Hunt on the other hand swears up and down that not only did Kemp read the statement, but he read it twice and even edited it. And the one unredacted paragraph from that letter seems to indicate that somebody made at least one handwritten edit to the document. Like we said, basic he said, she said. But who’s right?

Well, we’ll probably never know for sure, so the following is just speculation (Oh the relaxed rules of blogging) but we tend to look at what both parties had to gain from lying. The results are kind of lopsided. Let’s look at investigator Steven Hunt first.

Hunt works for City Attorney Ren Nosky and was called in to investigate Ford after Noksy and Palmer realized they hadn’t done their due diligence in discovering the veracity of the initial rumor that Kemp felt uncomfortable giving Ford tickets. He initially wrote a report that did not include language said Kemp was made to feel uncomfortable by Ford’s requests. It was also written in the third person. Palmer and Nosky asked him to rewrite the statement in the first person and have Hunt sign it. Hunt recreated the statement from memory (he had thrown away his notes) and this time it included the paragraph linked to earlier (it’s the part not covered in black marker).

The rub from Ford supporters is that Palmer and Nosky made Hunt add this paragraph in so they could fire Ford with the implication being he would be fired if he didn’t. This doesn’t make sense for many reasons. The biggest being that Palmer and Nosky didn’t need to go through all that to fire Ford.

As an at-will employee they could have just said “You’re done” and he’d be done. Ford even said in his interview that if Palmer had neglected to give a reason and just let him go he would have accepted it and left. So throw the idea of some malicious plot to undermine Johnny Ford out the window. They had no reason to undermine Johnny Ford, in fact, they were doing the exact opposite.

Palmer and Ford gave Ford every opportunity to save face. They offered him the option of resigning so his termination wouldn’t adversely affect his ongoing job search. Ford declined since he felt he didn’t do anything wrong (we’ll get to that too) and even after that Ford chose to fire him based on his at-will employment basis so the ethically questionable practice of accepting tickets from IFG (which is what they thought Ford had done at the time) wouldn’t hurt his ability to get hired on somewhere else.

Palmer didn’t need to give a reason to Ford, and the fact that he did pretty much spurred this entire investigation. Ford couldn’t accept that he was getting fired for accepting a shit ton of tickets which may have been in violation of recently amended Fair Political Practices Commission regulations. These regulations were the ones the eventually caused the city to end its ticket distribution policy. Not to mention City Charter Section 1000 which deals with conflict of interests and is the section that the committee did find that Ford violated (but with a caveat, and yes, we’ll get to this too).

On the other hand, Chuck Kemp had plenty to lose. As Chuck Kemp points out in his interview, he and Johnny Ford are friends. Not the kind of friends you meet in your job and then conveniently form a conflict of interesty friendship with, but old school friends. I believe the quote was “We were in Ohio together”. He also says that they looked out for each other and wouldn’t do things to get each other in trouble.

To us, this is very telling. It’s not unreasonable to think that Chuck Kemp didn’t realize what he was getting into when he initially gave his statements to Hunt. In other words, he might not have  known what he was said was going to get Johnny Ford fired. His story changed, (well, if it changed) after he realized the consequences of his candor.

We also have to look at what IFG as a company had to lose with this. Basically, it makes them look pretty bad. Ford was the guy attempting to renegotiate their contract with the city, him being fired without cause being given causes people to draw their own conclusions (kind of like we’re doing now) and it’s safe to say most people’s conclusions would be that he couldn’t get IFG to budge on the contract renegotiations. It was in IFG’s best interests for Johnny Ford to keep his job to help everybody save face. Not to mention it fucks up whatever progress they may have already made.

Plus, another one of Ford’s responsibilities was seeing if Mike Fitzgerald’s horrible idea of buying the Thunder and Lightening was a viable option. Both teams are currently owned by Michael Reinsdorf, who is also a managing partner of IFG. We’re not sure what, if anything, Ford had found out about buying the teams. But the fact that he hadn’t announced anything theoretically meant Stockton was still a player in the Thunder’s purchase. A player that could be used to leverage the still undisclosed price up for other potential buyers.

Obviously all of this is wild-eyed speculation and should be taken with a hefty boulder of salt, but to say Palmer, Nosky, and Hunt had more reason to fabricate facts than Kemp and IFG is short sighted. Firing Ford may have hurt our side of whatever ongoing negotiations we had, but it probably hurt IFG’s side more.

But to us, all of this is a moot point. Besides the at-will thing, the receiving of those tickets from promoters he met while performing his duties as Deputy City Manager was enough of a conflict of interest to warrant his firing in our minds. The ad hoc committee claims the City Charter Section Ford violated was too broad and needed its focus to be narrowed (hey, where have we heard that before?), but it’s broad for a reason.

We’ve said before that the passing out of tickets for city venues to city employees was at worst an ethical grey area. We’ve also said that what is and what isn’t ethical is up to the individual applying those ethics. That application works for us because we’re just average working joes. When you work for the government that changes. There is no grey area, it’s very much black and white. And Ford’s taking of those tickets, while not a violation of the city’s ticket policy, still looks really bad. Just ask Mike Fitzgerald.

Ford’s ticket taking from promoters like Fred Godinez while probably innocent, opens him and the city up to allegations of ethics violations. Palmer and Nosky were just trying to protect the City from those allegations. Unfortunately, Ford decided if he was going down, he was going to bring everyone down with him. Now he’s basically unhireable. Because no matter how you feel about his ticket-taking ethics, any potential employer is going to look at this situation and realize Johnny Ford’s more trouble than he’s worth.

Palmer and Nosky did everything they could to protect Ford from this shit getting out, and now it’s out. Hope he saved some money.

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~ by Slick Diaz on October 8, 2009.

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