Modesto’s top information technology official faces accusations of disrespecting two female employees by interrupting one as she spoke and telling her in a raised voice as he pointed at her, “look, honey,” and trying to slap the wrist of the other one on one occasion and poking her in the arm on another.
The allegations are laid out in two city investigations of Chief Information Officer John Dickey that were conducted after the women complained. The three incidents took place over the summer in meetings involving Dickey and other information technology employees.
The investigations substantiated the allegations, which means “there is sufficient credible evidence, on a more likely than not basis, that the allegation occurred.” The investigations suggest there are management and morale problems in the Information Technology Department.
And two information technology employees interviewed for the investigations say they had reported similar incidents involving Dickey to acting City Manager Joe Lopez. Lopez said he looked into those incidents and took the appropriate steps to ensure all employees involved were treated fairly.
Dickey denied all of the allegations. He admitted saying, “look, honey” but said it was a slip of the tongue, not said in anger, and came after he had just spoken with his wife regarding a serious family matter that was on his mind. “I have great respect for all of these individuals,” he said in an interview. “But I don’t agree with the characterizations (of his behavior) in the reports. It did not happen.”
But the incidents were witnessed by other employees. For instance, two confirmed Dickey said “look, honey” in a loud voice and that he was frustrated. One said Dickey’s behavior was condescending and dismissive, according to the investigation.
However, the witness accounts were at odds regarding the poking, which allegedly took place during a meeting with one of the female employees who complained, Dickey, and three other employees. According to the investigation, the female employee said Dickey criticized her work and jabbed her in the arm. She claimed Dickey said he was just checking to see if she was asleep.
One employee said Dickey poked the female employee in the arm at least twice. But another employee did not see Dickey poke the female employee, and the third employee did not recall Dickey poking the female employee. Still, the city investigator concluded that on a more likely than not basis, Dickey had poked the employee.
The investigation said the evidence regarding the attempted wrist slapping also was mixed, but the allegation was substantiated. And the investigation suggested that even if the action were in jest it was inappropriate and unwelcome.
Modesto provided The Bee with copies of the investigations in response to a California Public Records Act request. Lopez said the investigations are completed, but the city would not be commenting about them until this matter is concluded within a couple of weeks.
The city deleted the names of the two women and the city employees who witnessed the incidents. But the women confirmed their identifies to the newspaper. The woman who reported that her wrist was nearly slapped and arm poked declined to comment or have her name used.
The other woman is Bev Bekedam, who retired from the city as an information technology manager in late March after 35 years of working for Modesto and Stanislaus and Merced counties.
Bekedam said she is dismayed it took Modesto about eight months to conduct her investigation. She notified Modesto in July, and the investigation was completed in March. She said that without prodding from her and her labor representative, she doubts the city would have conducted an investigation.
Bekedam said she and the labor representative contacted the city several times starting in December after not hearing anything from the city in the preceding months. She said she even researched the city’s own policies of conducting timely investigations and her labor representative notified the city about them.
“I think they swept it under the rug,” Bekedam said. “I don’t think they had any intention of doing an investigation.” (The other employee notified the city in August and September and her report was dated Feb. 28.)
City spokeswoman Amy Vickery said Modesto is responsive when employees raises concerns about the workplace, but she said this investigation was slowed for several reasons, including Modesto’s not having a human resources director from March 2016 until the end of last year.
“We agree that (Bekedam’s) investigation took longer than it should have,” Vickery said in an email. “Scheduling conflicts, multiple ongoing investigations and an extended period of time with no Human Resources director were all contributing factors. Now that the city has an HR Director, processes are moving more quickly.”
The two women filed nearly two dozen complaints against Dickey, including that he would not talk to Bekedam about moving one of the employees she supervised into another office and that he had yelled at the other woman.
The investigations did not substantiate these other complaints. And for the complaints that were substantiated, the investigations did not find Dickey had engaged in gender discrimination or harassment or his behavior was based on gender.
The investigations suggest there are problems in the department and with Dickey. (He actually is a contractor with Modesto-based Datapath, and the city contracts with Datapath at an annual cost of $210,936 for his services. Dickey has been CIO since March 2015.)
One IT employee who witnessed the “look, honey” incident told a city investigator that the employee was aware of other situations in which staff “felt bullied, harassed and found it difficult to work with Mr. Dickey,” according to the investigation.
The other city investigator wrote “there is a strongly divided work environment in the IT Department, and that Mr. Dickey’s actions are viewed with mistrust.” Another employee said the department is divided between those who support the changes Dickey is trying to make and those who do not.
Dickey told an investigator he does not yell or get angry. “I think it’s important to always maintain a demeanor that is constructive that you can have a conversation that is going to have a good outcome,” he said in one of the investigations. “And that doesn’t happen when you get angry, and I just don’t do that.”
Dickey said in an interview that he stepped into a difficult role when he become Modesto’s chief information officer. He said the department has had several CIOs over the past decade.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316