On Sep. 18, Warren County Supervisors voted 4-1 to publically terminate two road crew employees.
The employees’ names were on the public agenda, their names were spoken at the meeting and one of those employees showed up to speak for himself. He was denied that opportunity in spite of his name being on the agenda and being publically terminated because he didn’t follow procedure, according to counsel.
The employee said he had followed the procedure. He had shown up at the meeting, as instructed, at the working session the prior Monday. On Mondays, instead of holding official meetings in the courthouse, the Supervisors convene for what they term a “working session” to deliberate on items for the forthcoming week. According to the employee, he attended the working session and was instructed to come to the meeting on the 18th.
Wasn’t on the agenda
During the meeting, the employee sought to present his case but was not given the chance. Supervisor Shawn Jackson proposed that the board enter an executive session to deliberate on the issue and grant the employee an opportunity to voice his concerns. However, her suggestion was dismissed by the other Supervisors and the Board Attorney, Blake Teller.
Here is a segment of the live feed taken at the Sep. 18 meeting by the Vicksburg Daily News that shows the entire interaction with the board and the employee:
The video begins with county roads assistant manager Archie West requesting the termination of two employees. The second employee is in attendance and wishes to be heard. However, he is not allowed based upon not following the grievance procedure as explained by board attorney Blake Teller.
Jackson tried to give him a voice at the meeting
In the video, Supervisor Jackson can be seen and heard trying to give the employee an opportunity to speak. She suggested to the board, “Employees have a right to address the board.” County Attorney Blake Teller responded that he had to follow the procedures. President Barfield then noted there was a motion to terminate and a second.
Barfield then asked if there is any further discussion, to which the former employee stated, “I got something to say. I ain’t…I ain’t,” the employee tried to speak as someone off camera spoke as well. The employee then speaks up and says, “I ain’t been to work in a week. I need to know (inaudible) if I’m fired, terminated. I need money in my pocket. I ain’t been to work in a week.” The employee continued on for a bit including mentioning that he worked for the county for 5 or 6 years. Supervisor Jackson asked the board attorney if the employee didn’t have the right to speak.
Teller responded, “I didn’t say he didn’t have the right, I said there is a process we have in place and a policy book that he should follow.”
President Barfield then called for the vote to be held that terminates the employee. Jackson was the only one who voted ‘Nay” saying, “I believe if he needs to know today we have the channel of executive session to go ahead and handle this now.”
Two weeks later
On Monday, Oct. 2, Jackson spoke with the Vicksburg Daily News about the event.
Supervisor Jackson said, “I spoke to some Supervisors about it and they agreed with me, ultimately. Anybody can show up at a public meeting, that’s why it’s called a public meeting. In particular, a county employee that wants to discuss their termination. That’s rare. He certainly had a right to. When it comes to terminations, etcetera, if people roll back the tapes, how could we have avoided that whole scenario? To the department heads, which all know I have respect for them, high respect… Did he know this was going to be contended? I asked the question of Miss Brantley, who happened to have been out prior, ‘did this individual come to the board office prior to?’ …Things we could have gotten on top of ahead of time. As it turns out, yes, there was knowledge that he was going to contend it and he had come to the board of supervisors office. That information never made it to the board.”
Jackson continued, “[It] puts us in a precarious public situation. What other choice did he feel he had but to show up publically? Now, what we could have done was go into executive session. I, having been an executive, don’t believe in skipping steps. At the end of the day, you may very well end up where you are anxious to get by following the steps instead of skipping steps because you’re just anxious to get there. Because we have hard-working men and women, particularly in the road department, who aren’t nearly getting paid what they need to get paid. My degree in labor relations says you keep those relationships intact. If that means you giving a man two minutes at the microphone in executive session and you, even if you still terminate him for cause, I think we would have done a lot better. We would of gotten a huge, a better, return on that time than the time we spend denying him on his ability to address the board.”
Is it the right thing to do?
When asked, “Do you feel his reputation was harmed being publically terminated?” Jackson responded, “Well, I don’t know. That’s for him to decide, right? I have no idea. I’ve seen some of that communication out there on the internet. I really don’t know. But our board attorney, he did remind, you know, that the reason was not to be discussed. You know, but again, I want to be clear that that is what executive session is for. Executive session is to have those types of private personnel conversations and things like that.”
The Vicksburg Daily News then presented to Jackson, “The City of Vicksburg, when they have a similar situation, will go into executive session for all the discussions and then they will come out and say that an employee was terminated without naming the employee.”
Jackson responded, “Yeah, that’s right. It could be an opportunity for us to change how we do it, totally. And I would be for that.”
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