carson

FORNEY, Texas — In letters obtained by inForney.com today, current and former employees detail "systemic, extremely toxic, and poor working conditions" under City of Forney City Manager Anthony "Tony" Carson which, they say, have led to costly employee departures, among other things.

The letters, from the Forney Police Officers Association (FPOA), the Forney Professional Firefighters Association (FPFFA), and the Pekin, Illinois, Professional Firefighters Association, were sent to the Forney City Council as they are set to review a formal grievance against Carson filed by Forney Police Department Chief Mica Lunt at a special-called meeting tonight.

According to the FPOA and FPFFA, Carson's leadership has resulted in costly departures of employees in numerous city departments. The Forney Police Department has seen six officers leave in just the last four months, a number the association says would represent 25% of its patrol division. Additionally, the FPFFA says the Forney Fire Department has seen over 25% of its personnel leave in Carson's time with the city — including the retirement of long-time Chief Rick Townsend.

The Forney Economic Development Cooperation saw the departure of its long-time Director, Warren Ketteman and Economic Coordinator Stewart McGregor, who both left for other economic development opportunities in the metroplex. The City of Forney has since failed to fill the EDC positions for nearly a year now and the associations say their respective departments are seeing the same hiring difficulties.

"Since Mr. Carson has been Forney’s City Manager, we have seen citywide morale drop lower and lower," stated the FPFFA. "This waning confidence has caused many employees to seek opportunities elsewhere and attrition rates to plummet. Likewise, we are now garnering less interest from individuals who are interested in filling these vacancies."

"At one time Forney was a highly sought-after department to work for, in which many people applied for only a single opening," continued the FPFFA. "As of late, we have had one or more openings and only a single digit number of applicants signed up to take the test, some of whom did not even bother to show up on test day."

"In the last four months, we have lost six officers," stated the FPOA. "These losses are costly, representing a departure of 25% of our patrol division. To put the damage into perspective, it takes approximately 11 to 12 months to hire and train one officer. As you well know, these losses place a fiscal strain on the City of Forney when trained, experienced and knowledgeable personnel depart."

"There have been multiple occurrences, Mr. Carson has dished out harsh, uncalled for, and over-the-top criticism of his subordinates," stated the FPFFA. "He struggles to conduct himself as a humble role model and leader, often times is known to be a condescending arbitrator, with little to no regard for the lasting effects of his behavior."

"During instances of disciplinary action and/or verbal counseling involving Mr. Carson, employees have reported feeling hopeless and fearful of retaliation, when simply exercising their rights as employees, as outlined in our city policy manual," stated the FPFFA.

15-year employee previously filed a grievance, others speak out

A former 15-year employee filed a grievance against Carson, Finance Director Deborah Woodham, and Assistant Finance Director Charity Wilson for managements' failure to adhere to the City of Forney's Personnel Policy Manual in their handling of his demotion and eventual termination from the City of Forney. That grievance, obtained by inForney.com, was filed in May 2020 and sent to the members of council at that time, which included Mayor Mary Penn, Mayor Pro-Tem Shaun Myers, and Council members Mike Thomas, Robbie Powers, Kevin Moon, Derald Cooper, and David Johnson.

The employee had requested a fair, honest review and appeal process and, he says, was denied. The employee says he had a perfect record with the city, no personnel actions, outstanding attendance, and was once awarded Employee of the Year.

The council never took formal action on that grievance.

The most recent accusations have not been unique. Following our reporting on the City of Forney's mismanagement of Coronavirus Relief Funds and possible violations of the CARES Act, a number of current and former employees and local business owners contacted inForney.com and took to social media — describing similar treatment including censorship, cronyism in hiring practices, hypocritical decision making, condescending and poor leadership, and barring city employees from doing business with local retailers and restaurants which had conflicts with Carson and/or a former elected official.

"And, the one thing, I know usually you did but, make sure anything we do purchase has to be from the city, in the city itself. If we purchase food, or, make sure ... Stiky Ribz is not in the city," Carson is heard telling city employees in a recently obtained audio recording.

Other employees, contacted by inForney.com, declined to comment for fear of retaliation.

Pekin Professional Firefighters Association details dealings with Carson in letter for Forney City Council

Legal counsel for the IAF-AFFI Local 5254 Pekin Professional Firefighters Association also sent a letter for the council's consideration. The letter outlines, among other things, an insurance grievance the chapter had filed against Carson over a violation of the insurance portion of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Carson was serving as the City Manager of the City of Pekin, Illinois, at the time and argued he did not have to follow that portion of the CBA because he was not employed by the city when the CBA was signed.

"This is, clearly and obviously, not the law in this matter," stated the association's legal counsel.

In response to their grievance, the association says Carson disregarded the Freedom of Information Act in responding to the association which was attempting to obtain "legally obligated information" in furtherance of the grievance. The association says, Carson additionally ignored correspondence from the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Illinois for the records requested through the Freedom of Information Act.

Pekin police and fire officials reported similar hiring issues faced in Forney, according to news reports and the association, in that Carson attempted to cut minimum manning and staffing requirements and made cuts to the police and fire budgets to bolster the civilian administration staffing — using savings through those cuts and attrition to build new offices while in Pekin.

The firefighters union additionally reported Carson threatened their employment when he was confronted for allowing confidential papers with current and former employees' private information into a dumpster behind their city hall building.

Employees say they were silenced when requested time before council members

Back in Forney, the FPFFA says their attempts to speak publicly about a change to their benefits policy were silenced.

"Our inquiry/request to do so, was met with resistance and criticism by Mr. Carson," stated the letter from FPFFA. "He necessitated the details of what we wanted to say to the council, and we were eventually told that he 'would deny our request if it had anything to do with Holiday Time.'"

"These discriminatory actions effectively silenced our voice and took away our rights as employees," continued the association. "Around this same time, Carson made condescending comments, referring to FPFFA as 'nothing more than a rotary or lions club' and stated 'we are not as important as we think we are.' This behavior is unnecessary, insensitive, and unacceptable."

Other employees, according to the association, have been silenced for fear of retaliation.

"Speaking with co-workers, we have learned these are citywide, systemic issues that encompass all departments," stated the FPFFA. "Most employees who have witnessed or experienced what we’re describing, are too afraid to speak out about it, in fear of retaliation. Mr. Carson has created an extremely toxic environment and poor working conditions throughout the City of Forney."

"Fire, Police, and select other city departments, are already exposed to inherently dangerous situations, regularly," continued the association. "Living and working with the added stress and worries brought on by the above-mentioned toxic environment and poor working conditions further complicates an already dangerous job. This is wholly inexcusable and we will no longer sit idly by, allowing it to happen. We will no longer tolerate intimidation. We will no longer tolerate being bullied. We will stand up for ourselves and we will encourage our co-workers to do the same."

Associations say City of Forney deserves better, plea to city council

The associations say, not only do the employees of the City of Forney deserve better, but the citizens of Forney also deserve better leadership from the top.

"Employees of the City of Forney deserve better, and the citizens of Forney deserve better leadership from the top," stated the FPOA. "In political situations such as the one we are facing today, employees and citizens have no other means of expressing their concerns other than to leave their home or job or reach out to the men and women who have been elected to represent them."

"We are collectively responsible to make the best decisions possible on behalf of the citizens and the employees," continued the FPOA. "You have been elected because your friends and neighbors trust and count on you to represent them."

"Imagine if your wife, husband, daughter, or son were in our position and experiencing what many of our fellow employees and citizens have experienced. Wouldn’t you want someone in a position with the courage and integrity to make the necessary changes and take the appropriate actions to ensure that your loved one is treated with respect and dignity? We believe that you would, and we ask the same for ourselves and your friends and neighbors."

"Our city needs strong courageous leaders that will not waiver in times of adversity and strife," stated the FPOA. "We need leaders who will stand up to do the right thing for the right reasons and make responsible calculated decisions to create a cohesive positive working environment."

Carson, in response to an inForney.com request for comment on previous coverage of this story, stated he was unable to comment because this is a personnel matter.

Letter from legal counsel representing IAFF-AFFI Local 524, the Pekin Professional Firefighters Association:

Dear Brothers and Sisters of Local 4326:

The undersigned is legal counsel for IAFF-AFFI Local 524. The Local is in receipt of your request for information regarding Former Pekin City Manager Tony Carson. Please be advised that during his tenure in Pekin, IL Local 524 had numerous circumstances in which, unfortunately, we were at odds with Mr. Carson over mandatory subjects of bargaining and, also, violations of our collective bargaining agreement.

Please be advised of the following:

1. The Local was required to file an Insurance Grievance over his completely unnecessary violation of the Insurance portion of our CBA. In conjunction with that, the Local was also required to file a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit as Mr. Carson would not release the legally obligated information to the Local in order to properly prosecute the Grievance. This, unfortunately, included Mr. Carson ignoring correspondence from the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Illinois for the requested information from the FOIA request.

2. He made cuts to Police and Fire Department budgets solely to bolster civilian administration staffing and used the saved money to build new offices.

3. Mr. Carson allowed the dumping of confidential papers with employee private information into a dumpster at City Hall. When confronted with this he threatened the employment of members of the Fire Department.

4. Attempted to cut minimum Manning and staffing requirements within the Fire Department.

5. He attempted to circumvent the requirements of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and told Local 524 that as he wasn’t employed at the time it was signed he was not required to follow it. This is, clearly and obviously, not the law in this matter.

In short, Local 524 found serious deficiencies in the way Mr. Carson handled himself regarding City business. Local 524 truly likes the employer, the City of Pekin. This is not a “labor vs. management” scenario. Local 524 has always had a good, fair and mutually beneficial relationship with their employer which was reestablished after the departure of Mr. Carson. We wish you the best of luck in your dealings with him and should you have any further questions or concerns please contact President Tom Veatch.

Letter from the Forney Professional Firefighters Association"

Dear Honorable Mayor Penn, and members of the Forney City Council:

Forney Professional Firefighters Association (FPFFA), is writing this letter in support of Chief Lunt and Chief Briggs; and to offer additional insight regarding some of the issues that were mentioned in their letters to you earlier this week in relation to the winter storm and emergency services that were provided. Additionally, we want to make you aware of certain interactions with Mr. Carson where Fire Department personnel have been belittled and dismissed, as if we were ignorant and not worth his time. From the time his employment began with the City of Forney, we have, directly or indirectly, had a strained relationship with him.

Chief Lunt, Forney’s Emergency Management Coordinator, and Chief Briggs, along with other trained City staff involved in coordinating our emergency response, made the educated and informed decision to request that Public Works treat the parking lots of Kroger, Brookshire’s, and Wal-Mart, for ice accumulation: said treatment would have made those areas considerably safer for both foot and vehicular traffic. This course of action had the potential to make our job safer as well, by reducing additional call outs to those locations. Due to Mr. Carson’s arrogance and feelings of superiority, he was unwilling to listen to or ask for additional information, which resulted in this highly ill-informed decision. The effect of his actions/inactions had a twofold effect. It put the public at greater risk, and it severely undermined the integrity and authority of Chief Lunt, Chief Briggs, and the rest of the staff who were responsible for analyzing the available data and initiating a response.

Since Mr. Carson has been Forney’s City Manager, we have seen citywide morale drop lower and lower. This waning confidence has caused many employees to seek opportunities elsewhere and attrition rates to plummet. Likewise, we are now garnering less interest from individuals who are interested in filling these vacancies. In the past two and a half years (since Mr. Carson has been here), the Fire Department has had over 25% of its personnel leave: most of whom left seeking a better work environment and greater opportunity elsewhere. At one time Forney was a highly sought-after department to work for, in which many people applied for only a single opening. As of late, we have had one or more openings and only a single digit number of applicants signed up to take the test, some of whom did not even bother to show up on test day. The Police Department is experiencing a similar trend.

There have been multiple occurrences, Mr. Carson has dished out harsh, uncalled for, and over-the-top criticism of his subordinates. He struggles to conduct himself as a humble role model and leader, often times is known to be a condescending arbitrator, with little to no regard for the lasting effects of his behavior. During instances of disciplinary action and/or verbal counseling involving Mr. Carson, employees have reported feeling hopeless and fearful of retaliation, when simply exercising their rights as employees, as outlined in our city policy manual.

The City of Forney and immediately surrounding area, has seen explosive growth over the past several years. As a result, Forney has undergone many changes consistent with rapid growth and attempting to keep up with the added demand placed on its employees and resources. There have been changes to many of our policies, procedures, and processes along the way: not the least of which was a change to one of our benefits specifically, that was a major, department wide concern. We, eventually sought the opportunity to speak publicly at a council meeting and have our voice heard. Our inquiry/request to do so, was met with resistance and criticism by Mr. Carson. He necessitated the details of what we wanted to say to the council, and we were eventually told that he “would deny our request if it had anything to do with Holiday Time”. These discriminatory actions effectively silenced our voice and took away our rights as employees. Around this same time, Carson made condescending comments, referring to FPFFA as “nothing more than a rotary or lions club” and stated “we are not as important as we think we are”. This behavior is unnecessary, insensitive, and unacceptable.

What we are describing in this letter is not isolated to Fire and Police. Speaking with co-workers, we have learned these are citywide, systemic issues that encompass all departments. Most employees who have witnessed or experienced what we’re describing, are too afraid to speak out about it, in fear of retaliation. Mr. Carson has created an extremely toxic environment and poor working conditions throughout the City of Forney. Fire, Police, and select other city departments, are already exposed to inherently dangerous situations, regularly. Living and working with the added stress and worries brought on by the above-mentioned toxic environment and poor working conditions further complicates an already dangerous job. This is wholly inexcusable and we will no longer sit idly by, allowing it to happen. We will no longer tolerate intimidation. We will no longer tolerate being bullied. We will stand up for ourselves and we will encourage our co-workers to do the same.

Should any doubt arise, relating to any statement or claim made by FPFFA, we strongly encourage a complete, thorough, transparent, and unbiased investigation into these matters, by Forney Mayor, Forney City Council, and Forney City Attorney. It is all of your duty, to oversee and protect the well-being of Forney, its employees, and its residents.

In summary, Tony Carson has an extensive history of narcissistic behavior and exhibiting conduct unbecoming of a city official, and his continued employment with the City of Forney should, at minimum, be re-evaluated.

Respectfully,

Forney Professional Firefighters Association

Local 4326

Letter from the Forney Police Officers Association:

We, the members of the Forney Police Association, express our thanks to the City Council for approving the reinstatement of the employee raises and steps. This action benefits not only our members, but all of the hard-working and dedicated employee’s city-wide. You decision will positively impact our ability to retain and hire qualified and dedicated employees to serve the citizens of Forney.

We, as an association, are concerned about the current situation regarding the grievance filed by Chief Lunt and the City Manager’s response. We believe that it is necessary, to provide the City Council with a statement regarding our support of Chief Mica Lunt. As Council is aware, the police department has experienced turmoil in the last several years at the hands of previous police leadership and current city leadership. This turmoil created a scar in the department which continues to have lasting effects. As police employees, we are still healing, and we will be for some time. In the last four months, we have lost six officers. These losses are costly, representing a departure of 25% of our patrol division. To put the damage into perspective, it takes approximately 11 to 12 months to hire and train one officer. As you well know, these losses place a fiscal strain on the City of Forney when trained, experienced and knowledgeable personnel depart. Hopefully, this explanation provides the Council with some historical context and provides an accurate true picture of our current situation and how we got here.

However, we need to make you aware that the losses we have suffered lately are no reflection of Chief Lunt’s leadership. Quite the opposite is true, and we are beginning to heal under his leadership. If you look across all departments in the city, there is a very high percentage of attrition and lack of employee retention. Positions, such as the Director of Economic Development, have remained open and unfilled for long periods of time. Additionally, we are aware of the resignations of several fire fighters in recent months. The majority of these city-wide issues we attribute to leadership from the top, starting with the City Manager. We have witnessed Tony Carson demean employees in meetings, make snide comments to both individuals and groups, and he is routinely adversarial towards employees. These actions create a hostile work environment that is not healthy for employees. This situation hurts the overall morale for everyone involved and pushes good employees to look for employment elsewhere. People want to be respected, and treated professionally, fairly, and equitably which is not happening in Forney. These issues do not just impact Police and Fire, but rather every facet of the City of Forney and overall operations of the city.

Employees of the City of Forney deserve better, and the citizens of Forney deserve better leadership from the top. In political situations such as the one we are facing today, employees and citizens have no other means of expressing their concerns other than to leave their home or job or reach out to the men and women who have been elected to represent them. We are collectively responsible to make the best decisions possible on behalf of the citizens and the employees. You have been elected because your friends and neighbors trust and count on you to represent them. Imagine if your wife, husband, daughter, or son were in our position and experiencing what many of our fellow employees and citizens have experienced. Wouldn’t you want someone in a position with the courage and integrity to make the necessary changes and take the appropriate actions to ensure that your loved one is treated with respect and dignity? We believe that you would, and we ask the same for ourselves and your friends and neighbors.

Chief Lunt is a true leader that is unifying the police department, while simultaneously providing the citizens of Forney the excellence in police service, even when he faces adversity and struggles in areas that he cannot control. Since his first day on the job, Chief Lunt has led with integrity, honesty, transparency, and high ethical standards. He acts in the best interest of the citizens of Forney. The leadership and stability that Chief Lunt provides the police department is paramount to the overall success and continued positive growth of the Police Department. Chief Lunt is dedicated, and we have seen him work long hours, even sleeping in his office, in order to help the employees and the citizens of our city in times of need. Chief Lunt is a true servant leader and has quickly earned the respect of all the employees at the police department and throughout the city. Other local leaders and city leaders have recognized Chief Lunt’s leadership and dedication. Chief Lunt is a fair, respectful, and honest leader that is always putting others before himself. Our city needs strong courageous leaders that will not waiver in times of adversity and strife. We need leaders who will stand up to do the right thing for the right reasons and make responsible calculated decisions to create a cohesive positive working environment.

We as an association would please ask that you consider these words when making decisions that affect the future of our city and our employees.

Thank you for your time.

Respectfully,

The Forney Police Officers Association