VALLEJO – The city of Vallejo’s citywide staffing shortage has left it with nearly a third of more than 650 positions empty, with most of the staff shortages in the police, water and fire departments, according to city data obtained via a public records request.
The city had 193 vacant positions as of April 8, according to a vacancy report provided by the city. That’s up from January, when Vallejo spokesperson Christina Lee said the city had about 150 vacancies.
The city's three largest departments — police, water and fire — account for more than half of the vacancies, with 70 of 201, or about 35% positions in the police department vacant, 38 of 120 in the water department and 26 of 109 in the fire department.
Proportionally, the housing department was the most short-staffed, with 6 of its 15 positions – or about 40% — vacant as of April 8.
Vallejo city officials did not respond to an interview request.
The Vallejo Police Officers Association, the union that represents officers, has largely blamed Vallejo police Chief Shawny Williams for attrition in the department, accusing him of a lack of respect for officers and a failure to recruit. But the data shows that every city agency is facing severe staffing challenges.
The city government faced an exodus of departing employees in 2021, as nearly 60 employees left the city during the second and third quarters that year. More than 20 employees left during the first quarter of last year as well.
According to exit interview data released by the city earlier this year, low pay and heavy workload were the most frequently cited reasons for the departures. Police also cited Williams’ leadership and a “lack of internal and external support.”
Williams was hired in 2020 to lead reform efforts following the departure of former police Chief Andrew Bidou amid a series of scandals involving the police department, including the fatal shooting of Willie McCoy, who was found unresponsive in a Taco Bell drive-thru allegedly with a gun on his lap.
Poor leadership was also cited as a reason for departures in the Housing and Community Development division, where “every separating employee said explicitly that their departure would have been prevented had their issues with Housing management not remained unaddressed,” a report by the city stated.
The housing division was in turmoil last year as its handling of the statewide Project RoomKey program, which provided housing for vulnerable people suffering homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, led to filthy conditions and inadequate services.
Emails show that then-housing and community development program manager Judy Shepard-Hall knew of an extensive mold infestation in a motel used by the Project RoomKey program and took no action for months. When participants were moved, the city did not provide adequate janitorial services, despite repeated requests by the city’s contracted program provider. Five people died in the program, three of whom were not found for days.
Water director Mike Malone was promoted to the latest permanent city manager last month and made several other leadership positions that had been filled on an interim basis permanent in the first days following his appointment. Malone said that retention and recruitment were top priorities.
“We can't begin to refine and deliver the best service for the community without staff, so we are starting there,” Malone said in a statement in April.
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