RICHMOND -- The city has hired a Sacramento-based law firm to investigate a city employee's allegations that the second-in-command at City Hall used public employees and facilities to enrich herself with a trinket business operated on city property.

The complaint also alleges that Leslie Knight, assistant city manager, who oversees the city's Human Resources Department, used intimidation and reprisals to squelch complaints about her activities.

Stacie Plummer, 43, a city employee for more than two decades, prompted the investigation by circulating a 59-page complaint, including photographs, to top city officials and county, state and federal investigators.

In the complaint, Plummer also alleges that Knight uses her city-issued car and gas card for personal use.

"Leslie Knight uses five Human Resources staff members during city time, within city offices, using city resources and compensated with city funds," the complaint reads, "to manufacture baby shower favors and her jewelry business marketing materials for use in the sale of said products to the outside public during and after city business hours."

The complaint includes photos of what appear to be city offices filled with ornately wrapped merchandise and an October 2008 email from Knight to Plummer and another employee suggesting that they "redo the spacing" on a flier advertising "Little Luxuries by Leslie Knight," a trinket business she ran.


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An independent website for the jewelry distributor, calicojunodesigns.com, lists Knight's Little Luxuries business address as Richmond's Civic Center Plaza and includes the direct line to the Human Resources office.

Bonnie Riconda, the New York-based owner of Calico Juno Designs, said by phone Thursday that she hasn't shipped any products to Knight since last year, and when she did, it was for orders amounting to a few hundred dollars.

"It was intermittent; she wasn't doing a whole lot of business," Riconda said.

Riconda said she had no records of shipping products to the Civic Center Plaza address.

Reached by phone last week, Knight declined to comment, citing rules precluding her from speaking on personnel matters and the ongoing investigation.

Knight's base salary last year was $220,000, with total compensation of $281,507, according to this newspaper's public employee salary database.

According to documents obtained from the City Attorney's Office, Richmond is paying Van Dermyden Allison Law $30,000 to conduct an "independent investigation" into Plummer's claims; the contract runs from Sept. 1 to June 30. Investigators are conducting interviews with city employees and other witnesses regularly, including interviews with Knight and Plummer on Thursday, sources within City Hall say.

Plummer, listed in the complaint as a finance manager in the Library and Cultural Services Department, said in an interview this week she observed violations from 2005 to last year. Asked why she didn't report wrongdoing sooner, Plummer said she was afraid of repercussions and that misuse of public resources was pervasive in City Hall.

"Everybody knew," Plummer said. "It's hard to step out and say this wrong."

City Manager Bill Lindsay, Knight's direct supervisor, said in an interview late last week that he received Plummer's complaint several months ago and that it was best to contract an outside firm to investigate.

"I am (Leslie's) supervisor, and I feel that it's appropriate that the investigation is done at arm's length," Lindsay said.

A graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Law, Knight was one of Lindsay's first hires when he took the city manager position in 2005. Knight, 57, quit her post as Contra Costa County's Human Resources director to take over the top personnel post in Richmond.

Knight said at the time that she was drawn to the new job by Lindsay's vision and the prospect of helping turn Richmond around. Knight and Lindsay began work on the same day in February of 2005.

Knight has received high praise from Lindsay, and the city has enjoyed improved fiscal health and a newfound reputation for professional management, a far cry from the crisis and corruption of the early 2000s.

Plummer said she met for more than two hours Friday morning with a District Attorney's Office investigator in Martinez. She said the investigator seemed most interested in the allegations that Knight misused a city car and used public office space and employees to help a private business.

The District Attorney's Office did not respond to calls for comment this week.

Plummer said she does not plan to sue the city but filed her complaint to stop what she described as the "corrupt, retaliatory atmosphere" in some city departments.

Both Plummer and Knight continue to work normal schedules with the city.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com, and follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.

ONLINE
To read a copy of the complaint by Stacie Plummer, go to ContraCostaTimes.com