HELENA-WEST HELENA- In a series of 6-4 votes and after a presentation that clearly showed Mayor Arnell Willis had not followed proper procedures when terminating several employees, the Helena-West Helena City Council made a finding that the Mayor had not followed proper procedures when terminating employees and consequently they had never really been fired and ordered the City to pay them back pay.
An obviously defiant Mayor Arnell Willis opened the meeting by starting with the employee hearing for O'Shea Burrell, who was represented by Attorney E. Dion Wilson. Willis said, "As the Mayor, I decided I wanted to put my own management team in place...That's all I have to say."
Wilson attempted to ask the Mayor questions, which was part of the agreed procedure. Willis refused to answer most of them, but did admit that the termination letter was "hand delivered" and there was "a log in the police department" to prove that. The employee handbook clearly states that any termination letter must be sent through the U. S. mail.
Alderman Don Etherly made a motion that the council find that Willis had not followed the handbook procedures for termination and that Burrell be given back pay since he had never really been fired. The motion passed 6-4, with Aldermen Jay Hollowell, Eddie Clark, Daniel Strickland, and Joe St. Columbia ignoring the plain evidence that Willis hadn't followed policy and voted to support him in violating the rights of Burrell. Alderman St. Columbia has recently come under fire for referring to black elected officials as "monkeys" in a email. Strickland appeared to be lost after the vote asking Willis, "When are we going to vote on what we came here for?"
The next hearing was for Deputy District Court Clerk Belinda Covington, who was represented by Attorney James Valley. Willis said he had fired her as the "Purchasing Officer" because he felt that was a position that was not needed. He also refused to answer most questions from Valley. Valley's presentation brought out that Willis had not followed the employee handbook in several areas. First, Willis had not sent her termination letter by regular mail. Second, the letter he did send did not notify her of rights to appeal. Third, since Covington was a non-department head, the department head had to recommend a firing to Willis, which did not happen. Fourth, Willis also listed no infraction that had been committed to warrant determination. On the motion to find that Willis had violated the handbook and to give Covington back pay since she had never been technically terminated, the vote was again 6-4, with Hollowell, St. Columbia, Clark, and Strickland choosing to ignore the obvious facts.
Valley then suggested that since Willis had previously stated he would answer no questions and had essentially the same reasons for all of his terminations that the remaining non-department head employees be given the same treatment as Covington and asked for a motion to reflect that. Valley represented Renita Danley, Dana Flowers, Felicia Jordan, and Zellie Word. Attorney Robert Kinchen asked that his clients, DeWayne Cartwright and John Huff be added to the list. Employee Tracy Davis asked to be added also. The vote on that motion was again 6-4.
When Valley asked City Clerk Sandi Ramsey when the checks for back pay could be picked up Ramsey replied, "Friday."
When Valley asked Willis where and when the employees should report, Willis replied that they were to be at the City Council room at 8 am.
A separate vote was taken on former Sanitation Director Victor Jordan since he was a department head. An identical motion for him also passed 6-4.
In other business, Ashley Tyler, son of Willis aide Diane Tyler, got a 10-0 vote to overturn a 3-day suspension he received for cussing his supervisor.