Sunday, May 27, 2018

Orange Property Appraiser Rick Singh accusers stand firm, but review discredits allegations against him. (Orlando Sentinel)

Orange County Property Appraiser RICHARD SINGH hired international public relations firm Hill + Knowlton for $7500 down and $5000/month to counter allegations.   Notice that Property Appraiser selected investigator, who took "witness statements."

No "witness statements" were taken for the ROPER REPORT, St. Johns County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK's self-serving investigation, whose putrid "investigator" destroyed his notes and took no statements on WANCHICK's sexism and mistreatment of women employees here in St. Johns County.

Orange Property Appraiser Rick Singh accusers stand firm, but review discredits allegations against him

An in-house review discredits claims by two top-level employees of Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, who accused him of breaking rules and laws, mistreating them because they are women and bullying other employees.
Laverne McGee, a former Orlando TV anchor who had been Singh’s communications director, and Aisha Hassan, who served as the property appraiser’s finance director, sent Singh an email last June complaining about their treatment and outlining alleged misdeeds, including that he directed his staff to alter audit and travel documents, used his employees for campaign activities and awarded a public contract to a vendor who had agreed to contribute $55,000 to Singh’s re-election campaign with contract funds.
In the confidential email, provided by Singh’s lawyer, McGee also alleged Singh asked her to pose on social-media sites Facebook and Instagram as a “hot black chick.”
But a 10-month look into the women’s assertions conducted by Belvin Perry, who served as chief judge for Orange and Osceola counties from 2001-2014, sided with Singh.

“After examining the allegations, taking statements and reviewing documents in this matter, the undersigned could not find the existence of a hostile work environment created by Mr. Singh nor illegal activity as alleged,” Perry wrote in the 20-page report dated April 26, obtained this week by the Orlando Sentinel. “The other allegations contained in the complaint email/letter cannot be substantiated by any clear and convincing evidence.”
Singh, a Democrat first elected in 2012, denied the employees’ claims when questioned by Perry, who was hired with taxpayer money at Singh’s direction by the property appraiser’s lawyer, Frank Kruppenbacher.
The property appraiser’s office did not disclose Perry’s fee, promising to do so after it receives his final invoice.
Singh declined an interview but provided a statement, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on personnel matters.
“While unfortunate that this episode occurred, at no time did it interrupt the operations of the office on behalf of the Orange County taxpayers,” the statement read.

In a four-page response, Jill Schwartz, a Winter Park lawyer representing McGee and Hassan, said the women had hoped a “legitimate investigation” would address concerns they raised in a whistleblower complaint.
The response accused Singh of trying to defame and intimidate the two women. It noted they filed charges of gender discrimination and retaliation in March with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations. According to the EEOC’s website, charges take an average of 10 months to investigate. A spokesman for the state human relations panel said it generally takes 180 days to investigate a claim.
McGee declined to comment. Hassan could not be reached for comment.
Both were placed on paid administrative leave June 26, 2017, four days after sending the email that also alleged Singh “extended improper favors to [his] friends/donors in the form of lower property values.”
Lower valuations translate into lower property tax bills.

“We believe that all of the acts and activity described [in the email] and a plethora of additional acts of malfeasance are detrimental to the taxpayers of Orange County,” the two women said in the correspondence. “We had hoped these activities would cease but it has only gotten worse.”
Perry’s report outlines his investigation into allegations that Singh altered documents for a comptroller’s audit and awarded contracts for aerial images of properties and for a computer-assisted mass-appraisal system to bidders in exchange for campaign donations. His investigation, which included interviews with Singh, both women, nine other employees and two vendors, concluded the allegations “were also not supported by the greater weight of the evidence.”
After Singh received Perry’s findings, the women were then shifted to unpaid leave May 11. McGee was paid $88,000 and Hassan $80,772 during their paid leaves. They are still technically employees, but it wasn’t immediately clear how they can return to paid status.
A packet of documents provided this week to the Orlando Sentinel through Hill+Knowlton Strategies — a public-relations firm hired by Singh’s office under a budgeted fee of $7,500 “for the first month of engagement and $5,000 a month after” — included a copy of McGee and Hassan’s email enumerating their complaints against Singh.
The report cited excerpts of testimony taken by Perry but not full transcripts of the interviews.
The documents also included a statement from the property appraiser’s office that Perry “found no evidence Singh had created a hostile work environment and no evidence of any other wrong-doing …”
Neither Kruppenbacher nor Perry, both lawyers with Morgan & Morgan in Orlando, responded to interview requests.
A spokesman for Morgan & Morgan said retired Judge Perry conducted the investigation outside the course and scope of his employment with the law firm.
The spokesman said Morgan & Morgan “did not participate in, and was unaware of, any internal investigation into the Propery Appraiser’s Office. Our firm represents plaintiffs only. We never represent defendants.”
Most of the witness statements, including Singh’s, were taken under oath, but those given by McGee and Hassan were not — a factor Perry considered in weighing the credibility of the testimonies, he noted in his report.
According to the report, when quizzed by Perry, McGee said Singh suggested she portray herself as a “hot black chick” on social media sites to gather information about a suspect caught on video during a burglary at the home of Singh’s daughter.
“I said, how am I supposed to do that? I said, I don’t feel comfortable with that. And as usual, he said just do it … [but] no, I did not do it.”
Perry’s report detailed the views of McGee and Hassan that Singh hired mostly attractive females, and “when his male friends would come to the office, he would show off his female employees like they were his harem.”

Also according to the report, McGee also said Singh “wanted us to be very warm, friendly instead of being serious and how we would normally be with customers or other employees. We were to be extra friendly and again, you know, get coffee and do this and that kind of stuff. Things we ordinarily as professionals, directors, would never do for anybody else.”
Perry offered an opinion that some of the allegations were based on his belief the women and Singh had a “very different view” of what the property appraiser’s best practices, policies and procedures should be.
The more serious allegations, he said, “were not supported by the greater weight of the evidence.” or 407-650-6361.

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