In response to a formal grievance complaint filed in March against University of Houston-Clear Lake Police Chief Michael Herbst by former UHCL police sergeant Kathleen Van Stavern, the grievance panel convened found that there was insufficient evidence to support the accusations of the grievance.
In her formal grievance, obtained by an open records request to university council, Van Stavern accused Herbst of unwarranted and unfair treatment.
The grievance contained numerous instances of conduct by Herbst toward Van Stavern that she believed to be unjust and unfair.
Among Van Stavern's complaints against Herbst were:
1) A 10 day suspension, without pay, for bringing her daughter to work with her out of necessity. The grievance stated other police employees had brought their children to work without discipline.
2) That Herbst continually monitored her work habits and movement.
3) That after informing her that she need not log in every day because of her administrative position, he then questioned her "lack of work" since nothing was listed on her police log.
4) That Herbst removed her from a crucial investigation even though she remained listed on the case as the investigating officer.
5) That she was forbidden to respond to calls from UHCL personnel unless they went through the chief first.
The grievance panel concluded "there was insufficient evidence of retaliation and insufficient evidence that Van Stavern was treated differently from other officers."
"I think the grievance panel did a good job, but it was fighting a corrupt system," Van Stavern said. "I'm bitter. The University betrayed me to protect him [Herbst]. When I went there it was a positive environment and everything was great; it's not like that anymore."
Although Herbst refused to comment on the disciplinary action, he did comment on the violation of policy that resulted in Van Stavern's 10-day suspension. Herbst said that the University Police Department has a standard operating procedure, #T-03, which relates to the transportation of persons in police patrol vehicles.
"This SOP restricts passengers in departmental vehicles to those necessary to the duties being performed by police officers," Herbst said. "When violations of this SOP occur and are reported to me, I investigate and take appropriate action. There is no written policy that prohibits employees from bringing children to work. However, due to the nature of our work, we would not allow children to remain in the department or with officers while they are on duty. SOP #T-08, Code of Conduct, section VIII, refers to officers remaining alert, observant and occupied with police business. They must eliminate distractions during their work hours. The university police do respond to emergency situations for the entire immediate area including Houston, Pasadena, Harris County Constable Precinct 8 and Harris County Sheriff's departments. I am aware that occasionally family members have visited department employees during their meal breaks, which is acceptable. The police department is a 24-hour operation. When violations occur outside of my office hours and are reported to me, I investigate and take action appropriate to the circumstances after consultation with administration."
"The severity of the infraction was considered," said Michelle Dotter, vice president of administration and finance and Herbst's supervisor. "We looked at what it meant to bring a child to work. Van Stavern took the child in the police car while on patrol. I felt comfortable with the decision [Van Stavern's suspension].
With the exception of the 10-day suspension given by Herbst, Van Stavern had no other complaints on record. Her performance evaluations continued to be excellent even after the suspension.
"She [Van Stavern] did everything I asked of her," said former UHCL Police Lt. Richard Hill who testified for Van Stavern at the hearing. "She was a great crutch. I came from a municipal police department in the town of Nassau Bay and was unfamiliar with the college style department, and Kathleen really helped me out."
Hill was laid off by Herbst before completing his 90-day probationary period with the UHCL police department. Hill has retained a lawyer.
Linda Bullock, assistant dean of cultural diversity in the International and Intercultural Student Services Office, also testified at the hearing. Bullock was the person whom Van Staverrn was referring to in her grievance when she said she was "forbidden to answer calls by UHCL personnel" by the chief because Bullock did not go through him first. Bullock verified that Herbst did confront her about an investigation she thought Van Stavern had initiated when Bullock called the police department with her concerns about an assault.
"I was taken aback by his [Herbst's] demeanor when he came to see me concerning some reports of sexual assault that occurred on the campus that were reported to Van Stavern," Bullock said. "He came into my office red in the face because I didn't send the report through him. He [Herbst] left my office saying he would send Sgt. Rogers, another officer, to take the report. Rogers came the next day and took the report. That's all I know, I never heard anything else about the investigation or the results of that report."
Despite the finding of insufficient evidence on the Van Stavern grievance by the panel, consisting of: Gloria Bahm, senior secretary for School of Human Sciences and Humanities; Lynn Glazner-Hughes, staff assistant for the President's Office; Jerry Jones, director of technical services in the University Computer and Technologies Office; JoAnne Laborde, academic support services coordinator in the Provost Office; and Ed Puckett, director of business learning applications in the University Computing and Technologies Office; the panel did recommend that action be taken against Herbst for his actions, "for the current climate of fear, poor communications and low morale within his department."
"Our panel worked very hard to address the complaint while working within the rules of professional staff grievances given us by HR [Human Resources]," said Laborde, who chaired the grievance panel. "We researched the complaint via documentation and written interviews, and discussed for several hours all of the testimony given at the hearing. Ultimately, we could not find in favor of the grievant because she needed to prove that she was treated differently than other officers within the department. Our conclusion, documented in our findings letter to Chief Herbst's supervisor [Dotter], was that Chief Herbst used the same, controlling and intimidating management style with virtually all officers in the department, thus negating the claim of being treated differently."
The panel went on to recommend that Herbst's supervisor, Dotter, take appropriate action with regard to a number of things that the panel witnessed and observed during the grievance proceedings. Some of the panel's observances and concerns about Herbst were expressed in the grievance panel's finding memorandum:
1) "Herbst systematically and continually manipulates and exudes a tyrannical domination over his employees."
2) "We all noticed that his [Herbst's] posture, demeanor and even his tone of voice, exuded arrogance" during the grievance proceedings.
3) "He [Herbst] also attempted to intimidate Katherine Justice, the coordinator of the hearing process. Also, one witness admitted that Herbst can be very intimidating."
4) "There appear to be serious miscommunication issues and there is a definite lack of clearly defined roles" in the police department.
5) "The panel feels that Herbst is destroying the morale within the police department. Witnesses confirm that there is an air of tension and distrust, and they are fearful of the prospect of retaliation from him for unjust causes."
6) "His [Herbst's] arrogant, dictatorial management style have no place at UHCL, even in the police department."
"Things can be intense there," Hill said. "People were given treatment they shouldn't have."
The panel members also made recommendations they said should be taken into consideration by Herbst's supervisor. The panel recommended that:
1) Herbst's supervisor "take appropriate action to hold Herbst accountable for the climate and appropriate management of the police department that is free of intimidating and threatening behavior."
2) Herbst attend training to improve communication and to teach him how to treat people with respect.
3) Herbst be given a written reprimand" to document his evident history of mistreatment" in case a grievance of the aforementioned type is ever filed in the future.
"I have met with Chief Herbst on several occasions to discuss the panel's recommendations," Dotter said. "I have also met with other employees in the department to hear their concerns and their recommendations for improvement in the operations of the department. Most of these have focused on the need for clearer communications and operating procedures within the department. The Chief has established regular meetings with both the supervisory staff and the officer/office staff to address the needs of the department and open lines of communication. I will continue to meet with Chief Herbst on a regular basis and with department personnel as needed."
---The Signal • 2700
Bay Area Blvd • Houston, TX 77058 • (281) 283-2570 • Contact The Signal