Revenue Investigator Bernell Hopkins

“If a dog was promoted I would be unable to say anything.”

Department: Business Affairs & Licensing

Employed for: Twenty years, now as a revenue investigator (making sure that businesses comply with city licensing rules)

Cred: Awarded four figures from the federal monitor. Claims that during his career he increased the city’s collection rate on bad checks from 40 to 90 percent. And a former coworker (whom Hopkins trained) says of him, "as an investigator, and as a city worker, he's one of the hardest working." Regularly has to have his regular court appearances rescheduled, because he writes so many citations that they exceed the court's allotted time.

Background: Decorated Vietnam veteran, graduate of Roosevelt University. Actually likes his job—making sure that businesses comply with city licensing rules—but the stress of his abusive work environment, he says, "gets me so my wife can't deal with me."

Gripe: Throughout his career the city has turned Hopkins down, in writing, for 25 promotions. In fact, he says, a guy whom a former coworker calls "one of the worst investigators in the department" got promoted over him. ("Everybody was flabbergasted," says the coworker.)

Why cloutless: In 1996, Hopkins wrote a seven-page letter to the city’s personnel commissioner, detailing his stellar work record and the promotions of less qualified or incompetent persons. In a subsequent meeting with the commissioner's deputies, Hopkins says one of them informed him that "the administration selects and promotes individuals as it sees fit, and I have no right to challenge its authority. She said if a dog was selected or promoted I would be unable to say anything."

Hopkins' former coworker says that Hopkins' current managers "know whom they can pick on and whom they can't. Burnell wouldn't say something" when harassed.

Why the city's not compliant: Hopkins believes that the city continues to promote less-qualified workers based on political favoritism. These include the "worst investigator" noted above, and former revenue investigator Abd Ayesh, who received a promotion to supervisor less than two years after reaching Hopkins' rank. Last June, prosecutors charged Ayesh with stealing contraband cigarettes that his department had seized—then giving the cigarettes to convenience stores owned by his family.

Because he’s pointed out the city's lapses in the past, the past continues to haunt him: Hopkins says that his managers persist in harassment that includes write-ups and attempted suspensions. For example, in 2006, Hopkins was charged with insubordination by a director who, says Hopkins' former coworker, "instantly became abusive with his power" when promoted. The director attempted unsuccessfully to suspend Hopkins. Then, Hopkins' supervisor denied him his last two salary increases, citing a need for "performance improvement." After complaining to his union about the first denial, Hopkins received back pay; his union grievance about the second denial is still pending.

What now? Hopkins say the aforementioned abusive director told him "I should stop feeling sorry for myself and just quit."

See "Substantially clouted", the main article for this story.