Why We Are Monitoring Arborist Productivity

The article below was published on June 22, 2010, shortly after two city arborists were let go in a budget related downsizing.  Although we did not dispute the need for staff reduction, particularly given the City's budget crisis, we did question why the City let go what we believed were the two more productive of the arborists on staff.  Peter Aman, the City's COO, claimed that his hands were tied as to how the staff was reduced but assured us that arborists who do not do a satisfactory job "can and will be replaced".  Therefore, to prove to Aman that the staff the City had chosen to retain were failing to perform satisfactorily, we began to conduct a productivity analysis of the remaining arborists.

The first productivity analysis was published on August 30, 2010, followed by on-going investigative reports.  In September 2010, David Tachon, one of the two city arborists who were let go in June, was hired back.

All of the reports can be found under Investigative Reports in the Advocacy section of the website.

In June 2010, the City of Atlanta reduced the number of field arborists from 5 to 2. Arborist Janell Bazile resigned and arborists Paul Lewkowicz and David Tachon were RIFed, meaning they were let go by a "Reduction in Force".  While The Tree Next Door recognizes that City employee layoffs are occuring due to budget issues, why did the City chose to keep the two arborists whose records show less professional pride, competence and willingness to enforce the tree ordinance than the two arborists who were let go?

On June 13, Sheldon Schlegman, Chair of The Tree Next Door, sent an open letter to the City's Mayor, COO, and Commissioner of Planing and Community Development, suggesting that the City -- with its decision to eliminate arborists Lewkowicz and Tachon  -- was continuing its support of Ibrahim Maslamani's policy of non-enforcement and accommodation that severely undercuts the Tree Protection Ordinance.  Maslamani is the former Director of the Bureau of Buildings who presided over Tom Coffin's firing, and was recently fired himself, apparently for colluding with his chief of the inspection division (also fired) to sign off on unpermitted work being done on a Great Clips franchise owned by Maslamani's wife.

Peter Aman, Atlanta's COO, responded by email, saying:

"Thank you for your interest in trees and the arborist's efforts. We understand your concern, but with regards to the reduction in force, we have no discretion in how individuals are selected to be eliminated-that is set forth by the City Council in the Code of the city-we must follow this process of selecting individuals-it is city law. Certainly if those individuals that remain do not do a satisfactory job they can and will be replaced."

When Schlegman responded that this answer was "unsatisfactory" and Aman was simply "passing the issue back to the City Council", Aman replied:

"We certainly are not "passing the buck," just explaining that we have to follow the law like everyone else. Please note the last line of my explanation. No recent administration has held both senior and junior employees more accountable than Mayor Reed's. Indeed, we have developed a very strong reputation of holding individuals accountable for job performance and will continue to do so. Please pass on specific examples of poor performance of arborists to Commissioner Shelby."

To which Schlegman responded:

"The City Council was supposed to do an audit of the arborists. Why has that not happened? I also wonder why it is my job to unearth the lack of performance of city employees. I thought that was your job."

Aman did not reply.  The audit that Schlegman refers to was approved by unanimous vote of the Community Development/Human Resources committee of the City Council on August 26, 2008.  To our knowledge, no audit ever occurred.

Therefore, The Tree Next Door assumes that the City will not perform any meaningful or trustworthy productivity analysis of the Arborist Division, despite what City Council has requested them to do.  Thus, we are initiating an independent analysis and have requested the relevant records for the first and second quarter of 2010.  Analysis of these two quarters of data will be interesting in themselves and will provide a baseline for further analysis over time.  We plan to publish the results of this analysis on this Website.

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