Wharton making personnel moves

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has found a new director of Human Resources and is re-nominating three more division directors until an in-depth study of city government operations can be completed.

Wharton is nominating Quinton Robinson, a former Commercial Appeal employee, as director of Human Resources, a city division that has been plagued by controversy in recent years.

Wharton is also re-nominating Public Services and Neighborhoods director Janet Hooks, Community Enhancement director Ernest Dobbins and Parks director Cindy Buchanan.

The City Council will vote on the nominations Tuesday.

Robinson, who served most recently as senior strategy manager for Wal-Mart Customer Care Shared Service organization, where he crafted HR strategy for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer, will be tasked with getting the Human Resources division in order.

Almost immediately after taking office Wharton and his transition team focused a lot of time and energy reviewing the city's HR office.

The transition team suggested a complete overhaul of Human Resources and urged Wharton to hire a full-time consultant to revamp the division. The transition team also suggested reviewing the qualifications of every employee in the division.

The transition team said HR had not completely implemented a costly software system the city purchased years ago, and it would be crucial for HR to effectively use the technology it has at its disposal.

Robinson will replace interim HR director Rhoda Gillespie, who has been running the office since Wharton terminated former director Lorene Essex.

There were long-standing questions about Essex's residency. Division directors are required to live in the city and Essex, who was responsible for overseeing the city's residency requirement, said for years that she lived in an apartment on Mud Island, apart from her husband, who lived in the couple's $400,000 home in Collierville.

In 2008, the HR department came under scrutiny after a summer pool worker with a violent criminal history allegedly raped a teenage girl and exposed her to HIV. After that incident, the division began running background checks on temporary employees.

More recently, HR has been criticized by City Council members for the slow pace of police hiring and previously by then-Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery for paying many of its temporary workers $20 an hour, far more than the majority of temporary workers in other city divisions. HR also approved of allowing the relatives of powerful city workers to work in the same division of their relatives.

Wharton did not originally re-nominate Hooks, Dobbins and Buchanan because he wanted to look for efficiencies in their divisions, which have some functions that overlap.

However, Wharton decided recently to go ahead and re-nominate the three directors until a panel appointed by Wharton can complete a review of city government operations and make recommendations for increasing efficiency and eliminating redundancy.

The Council will also vote to approve Desi Franklin as Wharton's new executive director of the Workforce Investment Network.

Franklin, a former partner at the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, will fill the post effective May 15, replacing James Russell, who retired March 31.

The taxpayer-financed WIN uses public money to train people for jobs and help employers find workers, including a summer youth employment program and a local career center.

Under former Mayor Willie Herenton the WIN was a source of embarrassment and state officials even considered placing its operations under the control of a non-profit to improve its effectiveness.

In December, the state said it would release $11million it had withheld from the WIN since 2008 but that the city could lose $3.7 million for the WIN's summer jobs program because of sloppy record-keeping.


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