City of Cleveland Announces Sweeping Changes in Department of Public Health Following Scene Report, Internal Investigation

click to enlarge City of Cleveland Announces Sweeping Changes in Department of Public Health Following Scene Report, Internal Investigation (2)
Former Department of Public Health Director Merle Gordon, Photo by Rachel Dissell

The City of Cleveland has announced sweeping organizational changes within its public health department after an internal investigation into a culture of hostility and discrimination.

The department will now be housed under the Office of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunities for Youth and Young Adults, overseen by Chief Tracy Martin-Thompson. The city’s commissioner of the division of environment, Brian Kimball, will step in as interim director.

CDPH’s former director, Merle Gordon, a former city councilwoman, has been reassigned as a special assistant to the Mayor and will assume the title, “Executive Manager of Population Health.”

“This critical role will assist in creating the structures and systems necessary for the City to fully integrate a public health approach and strategy into the region’s recovery,” Gordon said in a prepared statement included alongside the city’s investigatory report…. “I continue to be committed to this community every day and look forward to working with you in this new capacity as we strive towards improving population health in Cleveland.”

Scene reported on an alleged culture of workplace hostility this summer, including multiple discrimination complaints filed by epidemiologist Karen Aluma and two other employees who allege the city retaliated against them when they spoke up about treatment in the department.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission last month found “probable cause” that the city discriminated against Aluma. The city’s internal investigation found “no credible evidence” of discrimination against Aluma but is reassigning Aluma to work with another supervisor.

The city also will also hold pre-disciplinary hearings for Aluma’s supervisor, Katherine Romig, and the Commissioner of Public Health, Heather Persis Sosiak.

The city investigation was led by Martin-Thompson, who will now oversee the department, and Martin Flask, a former safety director and special assistant to the mayor.

The investigation did not “demonstrate intentional or unintentional mistreatment of employees based on a protected class” such as race, age or nationality but instead found that employees of “all races and ethnicities were treated unfairly due the lack of skill in supervising employees.”

Nevertheless, the city is instituting additional anti-discrimination and bias training for the entire department including an “Anti-Racist Toolbox” for supervisors.

“The City did find leadership within CDPH made decisions which were profoundly and severely damaging and counterproductive to workforce trust, respect for others and employee confidence,” according to the report.

Stephanie Pike Moore, who spoke out about discrimination and has a retaliation complaint pending with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, said in an email:

The City of Cleveland has had multiple opportunities to conduct a fair, timely, and appropriate investigation and has failed to hold individuals accountable to a set standard of ethical behavior as laid out in their own policies. They have made it abundantly clear that the City cannot be trusted to protect its employees let alone the health of the population it is supposed to serve...

I will acknowledge that I’m glad they’re shaking things up a bit but what is disappointing is the lack of accountability. This sends the message that it’s okay to subjugate employees to the point where employees leave en masse because all you’ll get a special assignment and a slap on the wrist. 

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