SAN ANTONIO – In a memo recently uncovered by the KSAT 12 Defenders, Bexar County Manager David Smith directed members of the budget department to receive absolution at Mission San José, a directive that offended multiple employees.
The letter was among records handed over to the Defenders, supporting accusations Smith and his assistant county manager, Tina Smith-Dean, acted inappropriately.
The December 2016 memo, bearing Smith’s signature and the county’s official seal, admonishes county staff for misusing county time and resources.
Included with the memo was a picture of a staff member from the county manager’s office posing inside a recreation of the historic rose window at the 300-year-old mission.
“As you are aware, the county has worked very hard over a period of years to achieve World Heritage status for our historic Spanish Missions, and the attached document will no doubt call that designation into question at UNESCO,” wrote Smith, referencing the picture.
The memo, however, was written a year after the missions were already added to the World Heritage list.
“I am also directing that all employees of the Budget and Finance division, at the earliest possible date and time, attend Mass at San José and receive absolution for the production and dissemination of the attached image (if such absolution is possible under canonical laws)," wrote Smith.
Absolution is the ritual by which a person is released from sin by a priest.
Smith did not respond to repeated requests from the Defenders over the past month to discuss the memo, and instead released a written statement late Friday afternoon.
He was not present at commissioners court last week and a county spokeswoman blamed his absence on an injury that forced him to leave work the day before.
“You are mocking Catholicism. You’re making it to be a joke,” said budget analyst Alexandria Millan, who became aware of the memo shortly after being hired by the county in early 2017.
Two county employees who asked that they not be named in this article referred to the memo as religiously intolerant.
The Defenders requested a copy of the memo and other related records from the county under the Texas Public Information Act.
The District Attorney’s Office, which represents the county in civil matters, last month sought to withhold a copy of the memo by asking for a ruling from the Office of the Attorney General.
State law requires the DA’s office to disclose the reasons why it believes records should not be made public.
To date, however, DA officials have failed to provide the specific sections of the government code they believe allow them to withhold the record, despite being required to by state law.
Multiple county employees had already provided the Defenders a copy of it prior to the Defenders formally requesting it.
On Friday, an official with the DA’s office confirmed that it had withdrawn its request to withhold the document since the Defenders were in possession of it.
Employees outline complaints against senior staff
Last fall, Millan filed two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints against the county.
The first complaint outlined unfair treatment at work, specifically that Assistant County Manager Tina Smith-Dean requires Millan to clock in and out while coworkers in the same department are allowed to arrive at work and leave without having to do so.
Millan then filed a second complaint alleging retaliation after she says Smith-Dean and a second supervisor wrote her up shortly after the first complaint was filed.
“I don’t appreciate the fact that they keep trying to make me seem as if I don’t know how to do my job, because if I didn’t then you should have let me go. I shouldn’t be here three years later,” said Millan, during an interview at her attorney’s office.
Millan’s complaints remain pending.
“If the top is the one that’s driving it, as you have some of these memorandum and things of that nature, then the problem is that you really don’t have an open door policy,” said Millan’s attorney, Jason J. Jakob.
County staffers who have spoken with the Defenders the past two months have painted a work environment where the same set of rules does not apply to all employees.
Multiple sources said late last year a human resources employee was told she would be disciplined for leaving out a beverage on a desk.
The Defenders requested records pertaining to the employee’s discipline.
Like with the Smith memo, however, DA officials asked the attorney general’s office to allow them to withhold records pertaining to her discipline.
Employees have mocked management’s decision to discipline the woman, especially in light of two budget employees not being disciplined after they were caught in April 2018 giving the middle finger to a camera in a county interactive kiosk outside the Bexar County Justice Center.
The employees, identified by multiple sources as Tanya Gaitan and Jasmine Leon, can be seen posing with coworkers in one photo before flashing their middle fingers in a second photo.
The photo was forwarded from the kiosk to a staff member in the county manager’s office, who then forwarded it to Smith-Dean and members of the budget office, according to email records obtained by the Defenders.
Smith-Dean eventually responded, “Was this Friday at lunch?”
“I was hoping she would say ‘this is something that is inappropriate,’” said Millan, who appeared in the first photo but says she moved off camera when she saw her coworkers preparing to make the obscene gesture.
County officials confirm neither Gaitan or Leon was ever disciplined for the incident.
After being shown the photos last week, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff responded, “It’s very inappropriate, I’ll tell you that. Very inappropriate.”
Wolff repeatedly insisted that any complaints filed by county employees would be taken seriously.
A spokeswoman said last week the middle finger incident was not investigated because no one filed a complaint about it.
Smith, however, said Friday in a written statement that the incident was addressed internally.
Multiple employees have also said they are offended by Smith-Dean referring to a portable hard drive in her office as “the maxi pad,” apparently comparing it to a female sanitary napkin because of its red color.
Two sources have also provided the Defenders a 2011 email titled “Angel in a Box” that was purportedly forwarded by Smith-Dean to five county employees.
Readers of the email at first see a picture of a sleeping baby, but after scrolling down see a picture of a naked, obese man stuffed inside of a box.
The image appears similar to the cover of an alternative rock band album.
County officials refused to discuss the email because they claim they were unable to authenticate it and that it no longer appears on the county’s email server.
Smith-Dean declined a request to be interviewed for this story.
Kelmar Global Investigations
Late last year, a longtime female employee filed an internal complaint accusing Smith-Dean specifically of harassment and bullying.
Due to Smith-Dean’s high-ranking position, according to multiple sources, the decision was made to bring in an outside firm named Kelmar Global Investigations to handle the investigation.
A representative of Kelmar involved in the investigation declined to comment on it when reached by the Defenders last week.
Sources say more than 20 employees have already been interviewed by Kelmar representatives.
Millan said she was among the people interviewed so far.
Her attorney, Jakob, told the Defenders an entity as large as Bexar County should have policies and procedures in place to better stay in compliance with EEOC and state employment laws.
“If you’re going to make demeaning jokes or you’re going to put yourself in a situation where you’re literally making fun of a religious class, that’s demeaning. So it is going to effect the culture of the entire organization,” said Jakob.
At last check, the investigations are ongoing and there have been no determinations regarding Bexar County’s compliance with EEOC and state employment laws.
Late Friday afternoon, Smith released the following written statement through a county spokeswoman:
"I appreciate you bringing these items to my attention. However, Bexar County is home to over 5,000 dedicated and hardworking employees and the individuals referenced in this story are loyal, long term employees who are dedicated to public service.
The April 2018 incident you reference, has been addressed internally and I am satisfied that is has been addressed appropriately.
The December 2016 document you reference as a “memo”, was not an official communication and shared only with a few individuals. Furthermore, none of the suggestions were meant to be taken seriously. As for the communications from 2011, to date, February 2020, no complaints or concerns have been filed or relayed to any immediate supervisor, department head, the Human Resources Department, my office, or the District Attorney’s office, as is the correct and appropriate procedure for such matters.
In regards to any pending personnel claims, matters or actions, it would not be appropriate to comment at this time."