Fort Worth City Hall is like a soap opera that never gets cancelled. The latest episode might be the strangest yet.
The episode also features Code Enforcement Director Brandon Bennett, the city’s golden boy whose duties have expanded to include other city areas as well. And rounding out the top-tier of the cast is Kenneth Battle, a long time city code enforcement officer who sued the city last year charging a hostile work environment based on his race. Battle is African-American.
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The episode begins when Battle complains that two city employees, not married to one another, are having an affair in the office, according to court papers he filed. He says it’s disruptive. Battle is transferred to another city job in code enforcement.
In his new job, Battle says he is the target of negative attention from his bosses. As part of that, he says, he is forced to write an explanation about why he missed work to attend a dental appointment (he says he had permission). When he hands in his report, his supervisor mocks Battle’s writing style by using old-time shuckin’ and jivin’ language. Battle is pissed. “I don’t talk like that,” he says he told his boss. “So if you’re trying to insinuate that I sound like a slave or something, that’s not how I speak.”
Coming on top of other work-related problems, Battle, pictured below, goes ahead and files his lawsuit in federal court.
After that, his supervisor keeps an even closer eye on Battle. So much so that Battle believes the supervisor sits in his dark office across the work room and uses binoculars to read what’s on Battle’s computer screen. When the supervisor sees legal papers regarding Battle’s lawsuit on Battle’s PC (emailed to his city email account by his lawyer), the supervisor rushes out to yell at Battle for not doing his work.
But the supervisor brings Henry the dog with him. Henry, although cared for by agency head Bennett who has unofficially adopted Henry and uses him for city PR purposes (“Help save dogs like Henry”), sometimes stays with other supervisors in their offices. On this particular day, Henry is hanging with Battle’s supervisor.
The supervisor angrily rushes toward Battle’s desk. He begins to yell at Battle. Henry, sensing something is wrong, tries to jump on Battle’s lap, Battle tells me. Battle pushes Henry away from him, but his left hand gets caught in Henry’s collar.
“Get that dog away from me!” Battle shouts.
Battle’s hand hurts the next day. Now, several months later, he has been diagnosed with two broken bones. Hand surgery is scheduled for early February. A pin will be put in his thumb, too. Battle has been off work ever since. He complains of constant pain. (Watchdog Nation reviewed Battle’s medical records for verification.)
Battle’s lawyer, Rob Ghio of Arlington, comes out with a good line: the Fort Worth code supervisor who rushed to Battle’s desk with a dog is from the “Bull Connor school of management.”
Connor was the Birmingham, Alabama police chief who ordered the use of fire hoses and police dogs against peaceful civil rights demonstrators in 1963, disgusting a nation and changing the course of civil rights in America forever.
“I don’t care if it’s Lassie or Rin Tin Tin,” Battle’s lawyer says, “You don’t have a dog with you when you yell at an employee you don’t like. That’s just an invitation for trouble. And in the context of an existing race discrimination complaint, it’s insanity.”
Pete Talleos, president of the North Texas Association of Public Employees Local 9527 which represents city workers, says: “This dog was used as intimidation to a particular employee who happens to be of color.”
Battle says he has nothing against Henry. “I would just see him at picnics, the city functions. I didn’t want the dog jumping on me. I didn’t know the dog’s intentions. It kinda caught me off guard.”
The city’s Human Resources department is finishing up an internal investigation into allegations of a hostile work environment in the division’s West Broadway Street building. Bennett, the division head, says he asked for it to clear things up.
The supervisor who angrily brought the dog to Battle’s desk, code enforcement superintendent Keane Menefee, declined comment to Watchdog Nation. A city spokesman also declined to speak about this.
Bennett, pictured below, told me, “Henry has never bitten, attacked, etc. an employee or citizen. He does not bark or even act aggressive towards people or other animals. Not in his personality. We did have an employee that strained their hand when they pushed Henry away from them.”
And Henry, who was the subject of a recent much gentler column by me in the Star-Telegram (here’s the link – “Henry seems to get preferential treatment as a city fundraiser” – while the link is still up), is getting a taste of what it really means to be a Fort Worth City Hall employee.
He’s a dog, yes, but even he’s not immune to the continuing City Hall soap opera that never ends.
The author, Dave Lieber, is founder of the national-award winning Watchdog Nation. WDN shows you how to protect yourself and fight back — and also exposes government and business wrongdoing. Share this story, which you won’t find anywhere else, with your friends. Please comment and tell us what you think.