Records: Calley manager forced out of Oakland post

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
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Lansing — Former Oakland County economic development leader Matthew Gibb was asked to resign by Executive L. Brooks Patterson five days after allegedly yelling at an employee and being called a “bully” by another, according to documents obtained by The Detroit News.

Gibb, who is now gubernatorial campaign manager for Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, insists his resignation was planned and unrelated to an internal investigation of a Jan. 24 staff meeting. He announced he was stepping down as deputy executive on Jan. 30.

Records disclosed to The News under a Freedom of Information Act request show Patterson had solicited Gibb’s resignation a day earlier after determining it was “in the county’s best interest” to “terminate” his employment.

The move followed an internal inquiry into a heated confrontation between Gibb with marketing and communications supervisor Paula Harrington, whom he accused of insubordination in an exchange she described as “intimidating and embarrassing.”

Gibb accepted a $15,493 severance agreement that released the county from any liability resulting from his employment. The payout was equivalent to a little more than one month in salary for Gibb, who was set to earn $161,611 a year after a raise in the fall of 2017.

The requested resignation appears to be a rare move by Patterson, the long-running county executive whose 26-year tenure has been marked by administrative stability. He appointed Gibb to the post in 2011.

Reached by phone Monday, Gibb said he had already intended to resign in early 2018 and called the split from Patterson a “very amicable and mutual decision.” Severance agreement clauses suggesting otherwise are “legalese,” he said.

Colleagues, who provided written statements about the Jan. 24 exchange to Human Resources Director Jordie Kramer, said Gibb had called the meeting to discuss a website redesign and social media strategy for the economic development team.

Irene Spanos, an economic development and community affairs director who was not in the meeting, later told a colleague she was not surprised Gibb “blew up” at a co-worker.

“Matt can be a bully... and that is not acceptable... Staff have told me they don’t ever want to meet with MATT alone…. Because they are afraid… It’s our job to control that,” Spanos wrote a day after the meeting in an email to Daniel Hunter, deputy director of economic planning and community affairs.

Gibb on Monday called the bullying accusations “wholly untrue.”

“In the course over several years of leading economic development, there’s always times when leaders have strong viewpoints on direction,” Gibb said. “I certainly stand by everything we accomplished in Oakland County.”

Patterson’s office declined to discuss Gibb’s departure.

“I have no comment, and neither does Brooks,” said media communications officer Bill Mullan. “It’s an employment issue, and we don’t comment on those.”

Gibb joined the Calley campaign Feb. 13, three days before a county attorney signed and finalized the severance agreement on Feb. 16. He later turned down a contract to act as an economic development adviser in Flint, citing “critical attention” because of his new role on the Calley campaign.

“Matt had a distinguished and hugely successful career while at Oakland County,” Calley campaign spokesman Michael Schrimpf said late Monday. “His leadership brought billions of new investment to the region, and his initiatives in training, government efficiency and connected mobility are well-regarded nationally. On the campaign, Matt has been a consummate professional and has helped put the campaign in position to win the election.”

The campaign didn’t indicate whether it previously knew about Oakland’s investigation into Gibb.

Human resources probe

Tension between Gibb and Harrington had been building, colleagues said, and boiled over in the meeting when she challenged his assertion the team had not been cross-promoting programs on social media.

“OK, call me a liar. Look me in the face and call me a liar,” Gibb said, according to a first-hand account written by Kaitlin Keeler, the county’s digital editorial manager.

“He rose his voice, and with each word it got louder. He rose out of his chair and leaned across the table over his laptop with his hand reaching out towards Paula, and yelled, ‘You don’t get it and you never will.’ ”

Other employees in the meeting said they sat in awkward silence amid the exchange, during which Gibb accused Harrington of insubordination and said he would be reporting her to human resources.

Gibb did so the same day, alleging that Harrington, who still works for the county, called him a liar to his face, a detail that colleagues did not corroborate in their accounts of the meeting.

“The entire engagement was filled with sounds from Ms. Harrington of exasperation, disgust and frustration,” Gibb wrote in a supplemental report.

She was “argumentative and verbally abusive,” Gibb said, accusing Harrington of routine “confrontational verbal posturing” and disrespect of management.

Harrington “talked over” Gibb at one point and laughed when he threatened discipline, according to arts, culture and film coordinator Kristie Zamora. But she did not raise her voice like Gibb, said marketing and communications officer Steve Huber, a 14-year Patterson administration veteran.

Harrington, in her own account, said she tried to keep taking notes during the meeting but her hand was shaking and her nose began to run.

“I’m not usually easily intimidated,” she wrote, “but I could feel nervousness coming over me because Matt’s surface was so angry — he looked like he hated me.”

Patterson alerted to dispute

During the heated exchange, Gibb also criticized Spanos, who was at a separate meeting with Continental AG, a German-based auto supplier with a large presence in Oakland County.

He told Harrington that Spanos was not there to “save” her because she had prioritized another meeting, he later acknowledged, calling her absence a growing frustration.

But Spanos refuted those claims as “FALSE and Malicious” in an email she sent to Gibb, Patterson and Chief Deputy Executive Gerald Poisson, saying she had told Gibb about her scheduling conflict but he declined to move the meeting.

“While you were yelling, threatening and intimidating our staff, I was with one of Oakland County’s largest employers and … having a very successful and productive meeting,” Spanos told Gibb. “This is not the first time you have undermined me or threatened my family and me. I forgave you back then and moved on for the best of my department.”

Spanos accused Gibb of going behind colleagues’ backs to “sabotage” projects and said she had offered to help him develop processes so “you don’t have to bully people always” when deadlines approach.

“I now realize that attacking my staff and me is a pattern for you,” she wrote in the email to Gibb that was also sent to other top county officials. “It has to stop! If you have personal issues with me, DEAL WITH IT. We need to keep this professional.”

Gibb emailed Patterson about an hour after the Spanos’ missive.

“I will speak with Irene about the content of this email,” he said. “I apologize that she has chosen to react to an incident I have consulted with Jordie Kramer about without first discussing the matter with me. I have asked that she not use email in this fashion as it is often inaccurate and unproductive.”

Patterson did not personally respond to the emails, but Poisson, his second in command, called the situation “unacceptable” and directed the Human Resources Department to conduct an immediate inquiry.

Patterson on Jan. 29 requested and received Gibb’s resignation, according to severance documents. He had “determined that it is in the county’s best interest to end Gibb’s appointment and terminate Gibb’s employment.”

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