ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – All summer long, employees working for the City of Albuquerque’s Family and Community Services Department at their Child Development headquarters have been dreading walking into work, but it’s not for the reason you might suspect.
“There have been times where to walk in you don’t even want to breathe. It’s just disgusting,” said an employee who did not want to be identified, out of fear of retaliation.
Employees say every day since May, they’ve walked in to find rodent droppings, what’s left of food rodents had gotten into, or worse — rodents themselves.
“Having to go in everyday and clean up on your desk, in your drawers. Afraid if you were going to sit down and one was going to run across the floor,” said the employee.
This building is located at 1820 Randolph SE. The main purpose for this building is administrative. However, children and families are in the building, according to employees, “regularly.”
This is the building parents would take their children to enroll them in a city run daycare program. It’s also a place they could come to get health and hearing screening done.
“Do the parents of these kids know this is going on in this building?” asked KRQE News 13.
“I don’t believe so,” replied the employee.
KRQE News 13 was sent dozens of photos from employees who spent months documenting the conditions in their workplace. In several of the photos, it’s clear the rodent droppings were found in areas where children would be.
KRQE News 13 asked mother, Ammara Aleem, who was there to sign her son up for daycare if she knew. She didn’t.
“Oh my God,” Aleem said when she saw a photo of a rodent tail and feet hanging from an air vent in the building.
“Yeah, that’s not good because kids are coming here,” said Aleem.
Employees say the tension is high, not only as anxiety builds wondering if a rodent will run across their feet, but also because they say management is failing them.
“It was taken to the managers and it seemed like it wasn’t a very big concern,” said the employee. “It was more brushed off than anything.”
KRQE News 13 sat down with Family and Community Services Director Doug Chaplin. He says he was informed of the “infestation” in late July, but that the Child Development Manager, Anita Fernandez, found out and reported the incident on July 6.
“The manager here first heard about the infestation on about July 6 and immediately called Trinity Pest Control,” said Chaplin.
Documents prove Trinity Pest Control was contacted and brought in on July 6. However, employees say Fernandez knew about the problem “months earlier” and failed to report it.
“You know I’ve heard that concern brought up on a couple of different occasions. I’ve yet to come across anything that was (in) emails or anything. And, once that was brought to my attention, I immediately spoke to the manager and requested the timeline which you’ve seen that this started on July 6,” said Chaplin.
On August 7, Albuquerque City Councilwoman Diane Gibson questioned Chaplin about the infestation, and when it began, for 10 minutes during a city council meeting.
“So, I’m receiving information saying it went back even further than that,” said Gibson, when Chaplin told her management became aware on July 6.
KRQE News 13 obtained emails between Gibson and Chaplain, dated August 3. In those emails, Gibson says her staff, “who have been talking with the advisory board and family at my request,” reported that July 6 date isn’t accurate.
The email from Gibson continues, “Anita had been aware of the infestation problem for at least two months. Someone called Andrew Quintano in HR months weeks ago. Risk Management is now aware of the problem, apparently.”
Gibson also questioned Chaplin about the claim that employees were too scared to come forward or report the infestation out of fear of retaliation.
“It would bother me a little bit that staff would be worried about bringing things — about anything but especially about your work place — and whether that’s suitable for them to carry out what we’re asking them to do on behalf of the City of Albuquerque,” said Chaplin.
As of now, Chaplin says the rodent problem is mainly confined to the perimeter and exterior of the building.
“The building is currently safe for employees, the public and the children,” said Chaplin.
According to an invoice to the Family and Community Services Department from Trinity Pest Control, there have been 300 glue boards put down to “catch everything we possibly could.” There were also “approximately 40 baits in secure areas to combat any rodents that might still remain in the building or might move in later.”
Another document also shows that “approximately 2,000 ceiling tiles will need to be removed.” Workers will determine if the tiles can be cleaned or will need to be thrown out.
The invoice states the price tag for this clean up is $17,874.16.
Employees sharply criticized management, saying they weren’t taking this seriously. Now, as the clean up goes on, they hope management stays on top of cleaning up the building.
“We want a working, safe environment,” said the employee.
There is no listed end date for the cleanup. Chaplin says the building is safe for employees and the public.
PHOTOS: Rodent infestation at Family and Community Services Headquarters
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