News 5 Investigates

Apr 24, 2014 7:17 PM by Andy Koen

News 5 Investigates: Fired Woodmen Hills water district employees petition for board recall

EL PASO COUNTY - Former employees of the Woodmen Hills Metropolitan District say they were unfairly forced out of their jobs and now they want to recall two of the water board members.

The petitioners have until June 8 to collect the 300 signatures needed to force a recall election of treasurer Janice Pizzi and director Bryan Mendiola.

The district experienced a spike in employee turnover that followed the resignation of its former parks and recreation director in December. Recall committee leader Amy Schmidt said she was one of six employees who were fired during what she was told was a restructuring. A number of other employees voluntarily left after their hours were cut.

"I would say between 15 and 20 people lost hours or were let go," Schmidt said.

She and the other recall committee members feel they were forced out by the board and district supervisors without explanation.

"The public needs to know that they're doing this," Schmidt said. "I don't know why they're doing it, I don't know why they're cleaning house and taking hours away from people."

She believes that Pizzi was personally involved in the terminations.

"I just feel like Jan, as a board member, has a big part in this."

But Pizzi tells the News 5 Guardians a recall would be expensive and unnecessary.

"I don't think we need a recall," she said "I don't think we need the extra expense that it's going to cost the district."

She says many of those employees quit even before the district posted a job opening for the parks and recreation manager position.

When confronted with a sudden staffing shortage, Pizzi said the board informally asked the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region for help managing the facilities but they declined. She insists there was never a conspiracy to sweep away district employees in order to make way for a YMCA takeover.

"Before our parks and rec manager left, there was no talk about the YMCA coming," Pizzi said. "It wasn't even thought of, we didn't think of that."

As for her personal involvement in employee terminations, Pizzi gave the Guardians a redacted copy of an internal investigation into her actions.

"It was to see if I acted inappropriate to one individual," Pizzi explained. "It was proven I didn't."

Pizzi and Mendiola are the only members of the water board who are not up for re-election in the May 6 Regular Special District Election.

The petition against Mediola criticizes him for not better handling the parks and recreation turmoil even though he was the designated board liaison to the department. News 5 reached out to Mendiola for an interview but he was unavailable for comment.

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