Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson has fired Gloria China Fortson, the city’s longtime domestic violence victims’ advocate.
In turn, Fortson has filed suit against the city, challenging a hearing examiner’s ruling last month that upheld city findings that Fortson broke ethics rules by helping a client leave the state with her children, in violation of a court order. (We wrote extensively about Fortson’s ethics case here.)
“We made the determination that termination was in fact necessary,” Anderson told me today.
Fortson was notified by mail of the decision on Aug. 27, Anderson said. She will be terminated effective at the end of business today, he added.
Along with the city’s ethics findings, and the hearing examiner’s ruling to uphold them, Anderson said he also considered other “concerns about (Fortson’s) judgment” when deciding her employment fate. He elaborated such concerns included Fortson’s direct contradictions between previous statements she made about her actions and more recent testimony she gave during her appeal case in July.
“There were the original issues raised and also the concerns about judgment,” Anderson said.
Neither Fortson nor Steve Downing, her attorney, could be reached for immediate comment today.
The firing of Fortson, who helped launch the city’s Domestic Violence Program, has implications for the way services are handled for DV victims in a city deeply scarred by the issue. Since joining the city fulltime 12 years ago, Fortson has advocated for thousands of people seeking help from abuse.
The city, which works cooperatively with the YWCA-Pierce County and Crystal Judson Family Justice Center to provide victims advocacy services, will at least temporarily refer victims seeking help to the other agencies, Anderson said.
Fortson’s legal petition, filed in Pierce County Superior Court on Aug. 30, contends Hearing Examiner Rodney Kerslake‘s ruling to deny her appeal of the city’s ethics findings “was inappropriate and not based on law.”
Among other things, Fortson’s court petition describes the city’s investigation as flawed and claims Fortson was “denied fair and objective review” and “never notified of her right to an independent investigator.”
Fortson, 54, the city’s lone fulltime DV victims advocate since 1998, had remained in her $61,000 per year job while she appealed the city’s ethics findings about her actions in advocating for client Keisha Jackson.
Fortson worked as an advocate for the Puyallup woman after Jackson leveled abuse allegations in 2006 against her husband, Kelvin Jackson, during a tangled legal separation and custody dispute. Kelvin Jackson consistently has denied the allegations; a judge found that domestic violence did not apply in the civil case.
City investigator Tracy Storwick later found Fortson had violated the city’s ethics code by inappropriately using city funds in her position to rent a van for Keisha Jackson in 2007. Jackson used the van to flee the state with her kids for months, directly violating a judge’s order and her ex-husband’s child visitation rights. Keisha Jackson later was arrested in Florida and returned to Washington, where she ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor contempt of court charge.
During her appeals hearing in July, Fortson contradicted her previous statements, claiming she rented the van for Jackson not to go to Florida, but only for temporary local use. Despite a Budget-Rent-A-Car receipt that indicated the van was rented in SeaTac to be dropped off in Florida, Fortson and Keisha Jackson each testified that Jackson changed the rental paperwork over into her father’s name before taking it out-of-state.
Caling Fortson’s explanations “implausible,” Kerslake later upheld the city’s conclusions.
Reached by phone today, Kelvin Jackson said he was “very pleased” to hear Fortson had been fired.
“It’s about time,” said Jackson, who received $29,000 from the city to settle a claim he filed this year based on Fortson’s actions. “It was justified, but I think the city manager also needs to take the next step — to clean up that department and put some checks and balances in place.”
Whether the city will replace Fortson’s position remains unclear. Anderson said he will leave the decision to Merritt Long, the city’s interim director of the Department of Human Rights and Human Services. Recently tapped to replace longtime director John Briehl, who retires today after a 36 year career, Long has yet to officially begin work, Anderson said.
“He is probably not in a position to make that determination,” Anderson said. “He hasn’t even taken the reigns yet.”