Toxicity, Turnover, and Turmoil

When C.J. May took office on January 1, 2019, the office consisted of 10 assistant prosecutors and 11 support staff. 

Mr. May’s first personnel move upon taking office was to fire a young prosecutor.  The prosecutor had been with the office for less than three months and was on the last day of his probationary period.  He had never been counseled that his performance was substandard, and at the time of the termination was one day from closing on a house.  Mr. May gave no justification for the firing except that he was “taking the office in a different direction.”  When I asked for a reason, Mr. May said it was a confidential personnel matter.  (Iowa Code 22.7(11)(a)(5) actually makes the reasons for firing a public record.)  Later, Mr. May was heard explaining that he made the firing to “scare the others.”

Some employees were planning on retiring during Mr. May’s term, including one prosecutor and the office manager.  The prosecutor was not replaced, and the office manager position was converted to “Assistant to the County Attorney.”    Where previously staff had at least some intermediate management, now all staff reported directly to Mr. May.

As 2019 went on, Mr. May drove away a qualified Victim Witness Coordinator.  When he hired her replacement, he interviewed 26 applicants, including applicants who had prior experience in victim services, victim advocacy, and social work.  He hired his former secretary who was working for a trucking company.

Mr. May’s treatment of employees led to further departures.  In 2020, two female attorneys with a combined 50 years of prosecutorial experience left the office.  Both left because of Mr. May.  Another attorney with more than 30 years of prosecutorial experience retired in 2021, again earlier than planned because of the environment fostered by Mr. May.  Another experienced female prosecutor resigned this month (May 2022), again totally attributable to Mr. May’s maltreatment of her and the toxic environment he created.

I have been on administrative leave since March 25 and banned from working on cases. Mr. May has publicly stated that I am no longer working for the County though I have yet to get any official word.

What about office staff?  From the original 11 staff members, 9 have left the office.  At least 5 of those who left would attribute their leaving when they did to Mr. May’s mismanagement and the hostile environment cultivated by him; almost all of them would say it was at least a part of the calculus for leaving.

The office has lost 6 attorneys, 7 if you count me, out of the original 10 when Mr. May took over, a staggering 70% turnover rate.  Replacing 9 out of 11 support staff is an 82% turnover rate.  Combined, the office’s turnover is over 76%, most of it attributable to Mr. May’s mismanagement and toxic leadership.  Turnover costs money.  Estimates range that replacing an employee can cost from 33% of an employee’s annual salary, to 150%-200% or even higher

Mr. May’s excuses have been bromides: he is “cleaning house,” getting rid of lazy government employees, “holding people accountable.”  The truth is, he has not done any of that—no one has been given an official performance review, and Mr. May has not set any sort of standards of performance.  His only accomplishment in managing the personnel of the office has been to create division, resentment, and factionalism where before there was none.

Whatever the cost in dollars, the turmoil has a real impact on the delivery of justice and public safety.  Having gone from 10 down to 7 prosecutors when case numbers have been increasing means less time is spent on investigating and pursuing cases, preparing for trials, and keeping victims and witnesses apprised of what is going on.  Defendants know it too, and defense attorneys will be able to continue getting sweet deals for their clients as long as the turmoil continues.  The turmoil will only end when Mr. May is removed from office.

Back to blog