Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fired Employee Appeals Delayed Until March 29; Hollowell to Franklin "Shut Up!"

HELENA-WEST HELENA- Ten employees were present with their attorneys Tuesday night ready for employee hearings pursuant to the terms of an agreement on procedure at the previous meeting.  However, alterations to those procedures just hours before the hearing led to objections from the lawyers for the employees and the hearings are now set for a special meeting on March 29.

At the meeting on March 1st in response to objections from Attorney Dion Wilson, Attorney Robert Kinchen, and Attorney James Valley, City Attorney Chalk Mitchell agreed that the hearings would be held according to procedures outlined in the Administrative Procedures Act and agreed to have a court reporter present to create a record of the hearings.  Just hours before the meeting, Mitchell sent faxes to those attorneys, which represent various employees, a letter reneging on that agreement and changing the rules.

Kinchen, on behalf of John Huff and DeWayne Cartwright, objected to the late change saying, "Agreements mean something."  Wilson then asked Mitchell what the procedures would be.  Mitchell outlined no specific guidelines and went on to say in reference to the city's stand against the employees, "I don't have any evidence..."

Hollowell interjected, "We're not in court."  However, the discussion about procedures continued.  Valley on behalf of seven of the employees said, "I am going to ask the Mayor to show us where these employees were fired according to the provisions of the employee handbook.  When he can't do that, I am going to ask you to reinstate these employees....You must follow your own procedures."

Alderman Christopher Franklin then asked Mayor Arnell Willis, "Why did you fire those people?"  Willis refused to answer the question.  After failing to answer that question several times, Franklin then asked Willis, What do you make?  Do you make the $48,000 (the amount Willis is supposed to be making according to the base pay ordinance)?  Willis said, "I don't have to answer that."  The salary of the Mayor is a matter of public record that is supposed to be available to the public.

Jay Hollowell
Hollowell then raised his voice and said to Franklin, "Why don't you just shut up?"  An angry exchange ensued between the two alderman.  Willis then referred to Franklin as "Councilman Foe Foe."  Franklin responded by saying to Willis "You (Willis) won't listen to me but you jump for Hollowell and St. Columbia."  Alderman Don Etherly intervened and after the situation calmed he asked Willis, "Can we stipulate that the employees were fired based on your letter?"  The letter states that the employees were fired because Willis was elected and was "taking the city in a new direction."

While Willis would not stipulate to that, Etherly and Mitchell were able to agree on a procedure where the city would make its case against the employees with the employees' attorneys and the council able to ask questions.  The employees will then make their case with the City Attorney and council able to ask questions. The council will then vote on whether or not to reinstate the employees.

The council then voted to set the date for March 29.

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