There are two competing visions for what kind of man is former Chandler Benefits Administrator Glyn Soehner. One is of a whistle-blower struggling against incompetent and dismissive city managers who are frittering away hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars through their inaction. The other, according to a city-funded investigation into Soehner's allegations, is of a volatile, paranoid and defiant man who fellow employees felt might be "capable of harming himself or others."
There are two competing visions for what kind of man is former Chandler Benefits Administrator Glyn Soehner.
One is of a whistle-blower struggling against incompetent and dismissive city managers who are frittering away hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars through their inaction.
The other, according to a city-funded investigation into Soehner's allegations, is of a volatile, paranoid and defiant man who fellow employees felt might be "capable of harming himself or others."
The Merit Systems Board, a panel of citizens appointed by the City Council, will decide which of those two descriptions best suits him in early June. In the meantime, Soehner, 58, is out of a job he's had for nine years in a down economy with few openings.
Soehner claims he was fired in retaliation for going over the head of his supervisor, Human Resources Director Debbie Stapleton, who refused to give any of his money-saving ideas serious consideration. Many people's eyes glaze over when he begins to talk about employee benefits, he said, and Stapleton wasn't an expert.
"One of her weaknesses was that she didn't understand benefits. She made errors," Soehner said. "I was offering these cost containment ideas, and they were stopping at the HR director level."
He said he had proposed several relatively painless measures to keep costs down and minimize the city's risk, and that he became frustrated that nothing was being done as money was wasted.
"I could have kept my mouth shut, said nothing, and collected my $90,000 paycheck," Soehner said. After all, he was only six years to retirement.
But even though city officials are not doing anything illegal, he said he would feel complicit if he didn't speak out against what he perceived as waste at a time when the city is facing a $21.5 million budget deficit next year and is slashing its work force, he said.
"It will save them money, and it will save the taxpayers money," Soehner said. "Someone is just letting someone else's money run through their fingers and flow down the toilet."
Among his proposals is an audit to purge the roles of people who shouldn't be receiving employee benefits, such as spouses who have become divorced from city employees, he said.
"We already found four or five ineligible spouses in there," he said.
Another was to give employees a monthly stipend if they get off the city's benefits plan and use an alternative insurance policy. For instance, a city employee whose spouse receives health benefits through another organization could choose to use the spouse's insurance, Soehner said.
A third was to eliminate adult orthodontics, which Soehner said people rarely asked about, and use the savings to give employees an extra dental cleaning per year, which employees often asked about.
But these ideas failed to get proper consideration because of Stapleton, Soehner said. So, he went over her head and asked City Manager Mark Pentz for a meeting.
Almost immediately after that request, Stapleton handed him a lengthy reprimand describing him as incompetent, unprofessional and emotionally unstable, Soehner said. And during his meeting with Pentz, the city manager gave him the cold shoulder, he said. Soehner admits that he became a little emotional.
"Mark said virtually nothing. I increasingly became nervous, thinking, 'My goose is really cooked,'" Soehner said. "They sat there and just stared at me."
Soehner said he was able to meet with City Council members Bob Caccamo and Matt Orlando about his proposals before City Attorney Mary Wade warned the council against speaking with him because he had become the subject of a personnel dispute.
"I was asking to meet with them to say, 'We can talk about these ideas,'" Soehner said. "I put my job on the line."
Caccamo said his previous contact with Soehner was limited to asking him for help with medical benefits when Caccamo's wife was undergoing cancer treatment last year. She later passed away.
"He was the person I was put in touch with, and he was very knowledgeable, helpful and customer-service oriented," Caccamo said. "He really did go above and beyond in trying to help me."
Soehner said he believes it's not a coincidence that Stapleton gave him a reprimand so soon after his request to meet with Pentz. In January, he was put on administrative leave, pending a city-funded investigation by the private law firm Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll.
Soehner was fired March 25.
"I felt that I was being retaliated against," he said.
THE BASKET CASE
The lawyers' investigation tells a different story, though. According to their report, Soehner's allegations could not be corroborated by any witnesses. Instead, the picture that emerged was of an obsessive man who overreacts, becomes agitated and raises his voice.
Several witnesses said they were concerned for his welfare. Pentz and Rich Dlugas, an assistant city manager, said that during their meeting with Soehner, his behavior made them concerned for their own personal safety, the report states.
"The only witness who stated that Glyn was anything other than an average to below-average employee admitted that he had little work involvement with Glyn," according to the report.
The investigation concluded that Soehner had long-standing issues with his job performance and that he pushed his proposals long after they had been shot down.
"In reality Glyn's suggestions were considered but rejected," the investigation states.
Requests for comment from Pentz, Stapleton and Wade were returned by the city's public relations department.
Jane Poston, a city spokeswoman, said Soehner wasn't fired by Stapleton in retaliation for going outside the chain of command. Rather, he was put on paid administrative leave because of a letter he had written to city administrators claiming Stapleton had made his position in the HR department intolerable and requesting that he be moved over to risk management.
When the investigation found problems with Soehner's work and his behavior, he was fired, Poston said.
Soehner said he wasn't obsessed.
"I don't care if you dismiss my ideas. I just want the top level of people to review these ideas," he said. "My financial life is at stake."