DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune
A surprised Rebecca Martinez, the longtime elected County Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters, at a tableful of flowers she received Wednesday from grateful residents and women who said they appreciated her courage and her speaking out on their behalf, and against alleged bullying and harassment by Madera County Chief Administrative Officer Eric Fleming.
County officials scolded for ignoring CAO’s temperament
A small group of residents spoke during public comment before the Madera County Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening meeting to express their anger and disappointment that Chief Administrative Officer Eric J. Fleming still had his CAO job with salary and benefits of more than $300,000 after a recent investigation revealed behavior the residents called shocking, bullying and abusive came to light.
Fleming had released a letter on Dec. 6th listing his accomplishments but stating his intent to resign sometime in 2020, after vulgar, erratic and threatening texts from Fleming to a Fresno woman had come to light. In part, the texts were sent from Fleming’s county-issued cell phone to a young woman whom he met and briefly attempted to date online, and who subsequently rejected him. and was subsequently rejected by.
Residents questioned whether Fleming had the judgment, qualifications and integrity to run the county.One of the more graphic texts was read into the public record. They also blamed Fleming, well known for his temper, for creating a pervasive climate of widespread fear of retaliation in the county organization.
But the most powerful moment was when County Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters Rebecca Martinez, Madera’s longest-serving elected official, stepped to the podium and spoke from her experience and heart, and describing her own dismay and disappointment.
“Today I am here to speak not only for myself,” Martinez said, “but also for anyone that fears repercussion for speaking out. Despite the fact that Mr. Fleming and I have had a good working relationship for the last three years, I have to say that I am disappointed and dismayed over the allegations presented. This issue takes me back to the 2012-2013 Grand Jury report. That report addresses the very core of the issues at hand (with Fleming) — like bullying, intimidation, threatening subordinates, demonstrating retaliation, sending threatening and intimidating emails, in this case text messages, and lastly engaging in angry, verbal tirades.” she said.
Stunned and downcast faces lined the supervisors’ dais and as Martinez spoke, she held the rapt attention of the audience of about 30 or so people who had gathered for the public meeting.
“In addition to the discordant exchanges and publicly demonstrating animosity with the two longest serving female elected officials (by Fleming), this board (of supervisors) consciously refused to support not only the two female elected officials but rejected the findings of the Grand Jury,” Martinez said.
“Absolutely nothing was done to protect us or me, for that matter. Instead we were labeled trouble makers,” she said.
“Today, we (again) find ourselves in familiar territory. We’ve heard similar allegations, this time from a private female citizen, but have had other female citizens who have complained, that happened to be county employees, one of which was paid $10,000 to go away. At some point, you (supervisors) knew there were issues and you elected to turn a blind eye. You, as a board, own this,” said Martinez. “And if you allow this to continue and allow Mr. Fleming to continue on as CAO thru 2020, you will be sending a message to all female employees that they will not be supported or protected.
“You cannot hereafter tout that you are building a culture of excellence when by the CAO’s own words, he has stated in his letter of resignation, that he doesn’t have the energy or ability to lead this organization. This board has an obligation to protect women in this organization. At a time when leaders, at all levels, are going to great lengths to protect women in the workplace, it saddens me, that after giving 46 years of my life to Madera County, that women still don’t have a safe environment in which to work,” Martinez said fighting back emotion.
“In closing, this board has supported and trusted this CAO for years to the detriment of his accusers. Frankly, I don’t know how we will have the ability to rightfully discipline employees, when they have violated county policy, if you continue to allow the person holding one of the highest positions of trust in the county to violate without consequence.
Employees have lived in a hostile work environment long enough. Show them you are taking this matter seriously and give them their voice back. Let them be allowed to complain or speak freely, without fear. You have to own this and do the right thing for the people you serve. This is your chance to right the wrongs,” she said, as the room broke into applause.
The board of supervisors and Fleming then went into closed session. Fleming was seen about an hour later leaving by the back door, according to witnesses, and did not return to his seat on the dais for the evening’s second scheduled public meeting, with a deputy CAO assuming Fleming’s position.
“He was also not in his office on Wednesday or Thursday, fueling speculation of his immediate or forced resignation. Madera County officials declined to comment on the situation, stating only that it was a personnel matter.
A special closed session meeting of the Madera County Board of Supervisors has been announced for Friday at 11 a.m.
Two standard items are listed for closed session discussion: Conference with legal counsel — Anticipated Litigation and Public Employee and Discipline/Dismissal/Release.
To contact or leave a message for a Madera County Supervisor, please call the Office of Madera County Supervisors at 675-7700.