After a very public fight over whether or not Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone was unnecessarily “forcing” employees to return to work during COVID-19, the Assessor did a complete reversal and sent all employees home on Friday, Aug. 14. Stone says the change had nothing to do with a message sent earlier on Friday telling employees that a co-worker had recently tested positive for COVID-19. He says the change is related to the county rejecting his plan to bring 40 people back to the office.
“We learned on Friday that the County Executive had rejected our plan to bring 40 people back into the office,” said Stone. “So, I said then, ‘Okay. Everybody until further notice work from home.’”
Stone says an employee took a COVID-19 test on July 27 but did not receive the positive results of the test until Aug. 12. That employee tested negative for COVID-19 on Aug. 9 and Aug. 10. Employees were notified about that positive test nearly two days later, around 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 14. Stone says his office followed proper protocol.
“Whenever anything like that happens, we immediately contact the Public Health Department and basically they provide full directions to us,” said Stone. “We let the Public Health Department know of people who have or potentially have come in contact with somebody and they provide full direction.”
Mullissa Willette, the SEIU local 521 Vice President and an employee within the Assessor’s Office, says she didn’t hear about the positive COVID-19 test from Assessor’s Office management or Public Health, she heard about it from a co-worker. On the evening of Thursday, Aug. 13, she started calling co-workers who might have come into contact with the employee to let them know.
“I wanted to make sure that they were aware and could have everything, all the information they needed, to do what’s best for themselves,” said Willette. “I don’t believe the Assessor’s Office actually notified any worker that they were in close contact, although I was able to identify more than one. So, I told those workers to get tests, etc.”
The Weekly reached out to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department to find out why the initial positive test result took so long to receive and to find out why employees at the Assessor’s Office were not contacted immediately but did not receive a response in time for publication.
When asked why he sent all employees home on Friday instead of continuing with the current system of having some employees in the office and some at home, Stone was adamant.
“I can’t have the County Executive telling me how to how to deploy my staff,” said Stone.
He thinks this all boils down to politics.
“I think he’s being pressured. The union was applying pressure somewhere. It’s about politics,” said Stone.
Willette says many employees in the office believe it is about politics, but not in the way Stone describes it. They think it’s about Stone’s aversion to teleworking. Many believe he’s sabotaging their work by sending everyone home during the assessment appeals process that started this week.
“We’ve always said, let’s work together from the union and management. Let’s figure out how can we get the work done with a minimum number of people in the office,” said Willette. “Maybe it means somebody who doesn’t normally open envelopes and open mail has to open mail, but I don’t care. I want it to be done effectively. I do know that there’s work that has to be done physically in the office.”
Willette says she’s working with other people in the office to come up with a plan that will get things done the most effectively.
Stone says his workers are the best at what they do, but he’s the Assessor and he knows how to do his job.
“They’re trying to run this office. If I tell the County Executive, he can’t run my office, I’m sure in hell going to say the same thing,” said Stone. “There’s certain processes and deadlines and they’re different. So, that’s what I do. I decide how everybody, how all pieces of this process, come together and when they come together. They’re saying, ‘No, we should be able to tell Larry, the Assessor, how this works.’”