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.’”
Let’s be clear about one thing here. It is Larry that is playing politics here. He sent a proposal to increase the number of staff in the office that has not been viewed by any Division Chiefs in the office which leaves possible that only the Assistant Assessor and Deputy Assessor were able to discuss/review this proposal. Possibly only two other people had the privilege to deploy this potentially negligent plan of his. The Supervisors and Staff only learned how the work conditions were going to change with no other detail or discussion as to what would be submitted for County approval. The staff shocked by that plan to increase our risk of exposure had sent a formal letter to Larry on August 3rd expressing our concerns and specifically requesting a meeting with staff representatives for an “amicable solution.” This letter for a meeting request is on top of two other instances requesting for a meeting that had been ignored.
This was supposed to be an internal matter. We, the staff tried to keep this matter internal and out of the public, because it is plain distracting. We just want to do our job – safely. During a pandemic. When infection cases spiked. While you walked around the office without a mask. While heeding the health advisory from the Public Health department that you with no medical training, felt they missed something.
Larry being a politician to reinforce a negative stereotype (that doesn’t apply to all) is not motivated to respond as such, so to have our concerns addressed it had to be public. With it being public, his response was appallingly seeded with lies and that infuriated many of us. Outright lies that can be proven as such if anyone decides to compare his statement with reports that you can obtain with a FOIA request. That is Larry’s leadership – throwing us under the bus, “while making you look better than you deserve.”
In response to Jeff Smith’s rejection of Larry’s proposal, which as a leader for Santa Clara County has placed county worker’s health above all, delivered a message to his staff via his Division Chiefs to send everyone home. That is breathtaking for several reasons:
1) This leader, whom we’ve not heard from in any form since at least the beginning of the year except text memos, would not have the decency or respect for his staff to directly address us.
2) The Stones this man-child has to project the onslaught of reactions being political, when he himself has reacted to the rejection by now RESTRICTING everyone save for a few Executive Managers from entering the office. By doing so, revenue from property assessments are at risk at his own doing when staff are not allowed to even DEFEND the county for those scheduled appeals. It’s like cutting off one’s own nose to spite the face. If that isn’t political strong-arming and playing chicken in the political arena, I don’t know what is.
3) The intent from the staff perspective was to reduce the amount of necessary workers in the office to what is needed, not avoid the office 100%. Never has anyone said “we do not want to work in the office at all,” because it is about the health risk. Larry goes “it’s my way or nothing at all.”
4) You’d think that a meeting with our managers about this development was going to be filled with angry reactions as we are now Larry’s political pawns in his battle with everyone in the county with common sense, but it was not. Over 90% of the meeting were discussions on how we can continue to do our job despite being HAMSTRUNG by Larry. The Assessor. Attacking from the inside, like the Postmaster General of the Assessor’s Office. Some things are still possible to do and some simply aren’t – we’re not allowed to enter the office to mail any of the letters we generate. We’re not allowed to enter the office to receive any letters like your Prop 58 claim form to exempt your transfer from reassessment. We’re not allowed to enter the office to send you a Homeowner’s Exemption Claim form or process the one you sent in to reduce your tax liability. We’re not allowed to enter the office to receive your Change of Address form you sent in, so be sure to thank Lawrence E. Stone personally for his terrific leadership as he continues to blame everyone except his own actions in hurting you, us and the revenue the county relies upon for services.
That’s the story here and that’s the insider’s truth. It is tempting to reveal my true name to lend credibility that I am indeed an insider, but Larry has already demonstrated that he is retaliatory, so you’ll just have to trust this random internet comment person. I applaud Mulissa for her diligence in employee communications, bringing truth to the media and that form she sent to all staff to take inventory of what tasks require us to be in office which will be used to for a more surgical approach in doing our jobs effectively-while also staying safe. That’s the kind of thing Larry, the supposedly leader should have done, instead of taking a carpet bomb approach just to have pure numbers and to what goal we still do not understand.
Larry, if you’re reading any of this, we still want that meeting. You’re a terrible leader, but the work must still get done and we’re eager to get back to it before there is a backlog, so man up Mr. Stonewall. You’re an obstruction to our department mission and in breach of your Oath of Office.
Larry’s arguments have shifted somewhat since the last two articles were published. Now it’s not about “We can’t get the work done” (We did) or “My employees are less productive working from home” (We’re more productive). Now it’s just boiled down to “Nobody can tell me how to run my office. I’m the Assessor and I make my own rules”. Really, Larry? Tell that to John Noguez, the LA County Assessor, who was arrested for taking bribes in exchange for assessment reductions. Assessors answer to state criminal law, to the Board of Equalization, and they answer to local health authorities in matters of public and employee safety.
The politician accusing everyone else of playing politics is a classic poltical move. Everyone sees through it, Larry. Nobody here wants to mix politics with our work, even thought taxation is a political issue by nature. We’ve been fighting that tag from day one, but usually from the outside. I never thought that I’d be working somewhere where the boss is openly rooting for you to fail, but here we are.
Larry, your time is up.
You have failed the Office of the Assessor and the hardworking employees, who work for the County and the department. By saying them liars and cheats, you have disgraced the department. It’s shame that you think they work for the Assessor (YOU), and not the COUNTY and its citizen. Your statements and subsequent actions, to tell them GO HOME (not in my office, even if they are willing to come), is to simply satisfy your ballooned egos. You are doing the politics and not the County’s employees. They WORK, not you.
It’s time to move away and give the department to someone, who understands new world and accept the technology advancement. All those who are reading these comments, including you and your puppet David Ginsborg, know that you have lost the confidence of 3/4 of the employees, who work in the Assessor’s department. The writing is on the wall for the next election. The result is already known, if you (or your puppet dares) content the next election for the Assessor.
You have served the county for more than two decades. Thank you for your service.
Board of Equalization meeting – August 19th
I work in the Assessor’s Office. Articles like this one are how I find out what’s going on between Larry Stone and my office. It’s completely demoralizing that he doesn’t think enough of us to talk directly to us.
Larry’s plan for returning to the office was not consistent with basic guidelines issued by the county. The Assessor’s Office staff did not write the guidelines and we shouldn’t have had to defend them.
Larry and his sidekick David Ginsborg must go. Both have overstayed their welcome.
We need someone who wants to treat workers with respect and Jesus safely.
They need stop assessing their own properties or their developer friends with sweetheart deals.
Anthony Phan pulled papers last time and I heard Karina Dominguez (Vice Mayor of Milpitas), Gary Kremen (Santa Clara Valley Water District and founder of Match.Com) and Mike Wasserman (Supervisor being termed out) are talking about running .
Guess who returned to the Assessor’s Office this past week? Covid!