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Training fallout hits City Hall

Friday, May 15, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though he started the day seated on the dais, before the end of Thursday’s City Council meeting, Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes had been placed on administrative leave.

The move comes after news broke that Snipes had organized a controversial training session designed to help staff cope with a female-majority Council. Though City Manager Marc Ott said that the content of the presentation had surprised Snipes, his opening comments at the session as well as a memo inviting staff to attend indicate Snipes’ familiarity with its topic.

The Austin Monitor has obtained the memo in which Snipes invited City of Austin Affinity Groups and Employee Networks to the event. Snipes sent it out Feb. 27.

In the memo, Snipes explained that the session will “focus on our attitudes, abilities, and willingness to innovate and present strategies and best practices that complement leadership perspectives and styles of women holding public office, all while fostering an unbiased culture of acceptance and professionalism.

“Mr. (Jonathan) Allen and Dr. (Miya) Burt-Stewart will speak to the topics of The Changing Dynamics in Governance; Women Leading in Local Government. They will lead us in a session seeking to set precedence and outline methods, which create for optimal productivity when working with a City Council whereby women are a ‘majority,’ wrote Snipes. “City executive leadership teams and support staff will be encouraged to inventory their beliefs and ensure that there is alignment with the city’s mission.”

Earlier in the day, Allen, former city manager of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, and Burt-Stewart, a business development consultant, released a statement about the brouhaha.

That statement, which is below, steers away from an apology for the content of the presentation. It does offer an apology for misinterpretations, saying, “Any notion that our presentation sought to outwardly present or show a disregard for minorities or any other groups that are affiliated with the City of Austin is a clear misnomer and not representative of who we are as presenters and professionals. If our overall intent and message was not clear during the presentation, we sincerely apologize for any miscommunication.”

The statement also asserts that Lily Rockwell’s Austin American-Statesman story took “many of their comments out of context.” The statement is not clear about what context they should be put in to be better understood, but the video, which is still available here, shows the presentation described by Rockwell.

Ott’s memo about Snipes’ leave, sent to the mayor and City Council, reads as follows:

“As stated in my memo to you yesterday, the remarks made in the referenced training are not reflective in any way of our culture, philosophy, or approach toward managing this organization, nor our approach toward partnering with the City Council. I also promised to work toward addressing this issue swiftly and directly. To that end, I have already begun an investigation into how this training was implemented without the appropriate vetting.

“As we do in any evaluation of a serious personal issue, I have put Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes on Administrative Leave pending the outcome of this investigation. In the interim Human Resource Director Mark Washington will be the Acting Assistant City Manager.”

It appears that placing Snipes on leave is only one of the measures city management is taking to mitigate damage.

Department directors and assistant department directors received a memo from Chief of Staff Ray Baray on Thursday afternoon saying that they might need to adjust their calendars Monday morning.

The memo directs them to attend a meeting at 10:30 a.m. Monday in Council chambers. It reads, “On the agenda will be an open discussion on the city’s PRIDE values and organizational culture, especially as they relate to our principles regarding diversity in the workplace.” PRIDE is an acronym for the value of public service, responsibility, innovation, diversity and ethics.

The directors and assistant directors who got the memo will likely have to hear about how the city should value women, but many of those required to attend the meeting will be women. That means there should be many questions.

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