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Councilor calls for censure
Aug 01, 2006 12:00 am
Citing numerous problems with the personnel director's performance, Lebanon City Councilor Kevin Huddleston is sponsoring a resolution to censure the department head.
The ward 2 councilor filed a resolution late last week calling for the censure of Personnel Director Jim Henderson with language stating Henderson "has clearly shown he has not performed his job in a satisfactory manner." The City Council is set to hear the resolution Aug. 1.
The censure stems from the most recent allegation of Henderson failing to follow state law when he released a list of city employees' names and home addresses – including police officers – to county mayoral candidate Linda Elam's campaign manager. State law dictates law enforcement officers must be notified within 72 hours of a resident attempting to retrieve personnel information. Huddleston is claiming the notification to police never happened.
But Lebanon City Attorney Andy Wright disagrees with that assertion. He explained Elam returned the list at the request of Mayor Don Fox to remove officers' names. After that, the list was returned to her without police officers' names and addresses. Therefore, no law was broken, Wright said late last week.
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Henderson first said the list given to campaign manager Matthew Chapman did not include officers, then admitted it did. But he pointed out the original request, filed June 15, did not include exempting law enforcement, but said a later revision by Chapman did.
"There were no laws violated by the release of that list," Henderson said. "The people requesting it asked specifically not to include that information."
However, Henderson admitted to the mistake of releasing the list with police officers' names and home addresses.
"It is regretted that this mistake as to whether or not Chapman did or did not, at various times, want a complete list, minus undercover police as he first stated … it will not be repeated," Henderson said in a memorandum to Fox provided to The Democrat.
However, the apology doesn't appear to be enough for one city councilor. Huddleston is still seeking to "discipline" Henderson with the censure resolution.
The resolution reads "discipline should include possible termination … or other appropriate action," but Huddleston said he was only seeking censure.
"Just discipline," Huddleston said. "My constituents, they're going to hold me accountable … so I want the same to be done for department heads. They need to be held accountable.
"The (person) who asked for those names clearly stated to exclude the police, and he sent them anyway," Huddleston continued. "I don't think we should be jeopardizing (police officers) – someone's life could be at stake."
The city charter requires the votes of four councilors and the mayor to discipline or remove a department head.
Public Safety Commissioner Billy Weeks said officers were not informed individually of their addresses being given to the Elam campaign because she quickly returned them, requesting the officers' information being removed.
"Had she not returned that list, each officer would have been notified," Weeks said.
Police Chief Scott Bowen added officers were informed at Friday's morning meeting of the situation.
Some councilors fed up?
Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler said he was "tired" of what he called repeated misleading information given to the Council.
"It just seems like if somebody's been in a job for a long time, some people think they own it and they don't have to follow rules and regulations," Buhler said. "They just do what they want to do. … All through the budget process, personnel issues, we were either misled … or misinformed. I got tired of that. … You either tell the truth or you don't."
Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer called it a good resolution which needs to be passed.
"Well, I certainly agree there is a problem in the personnel director's performance, and that's what's being brought out," Farmer said. " … (But) I think we need to give him due process, hear his side of the story."
Ward 5 Councilor Joe Hayes said certain elements of the situation "don't look good," but was hesitant to comment, saying he had yet to read the resolution.
The resolution also lists Henderson's alleged failure "to follow established policy concerning the required rejection of applicants … who have been convicted of a felony."
The city attorney issued an opinion earlier this year that felons, under former city policy, could not be hired. This came to light after The Democrat reported several convicted felons were working in city government, at least one related to Fox. That policy has since been changed, giving some leeway depending on the nature of the crime and amount of time since it occurred.
"It says the director of personnel shall reject the application of any applicant if it is determined that (they were convicted of) a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude," Wright said. "I interpret that to say a felony conviction or a conviction for a misdemeanor involves an act of moral turpitude, but the mayor and Jim Henderson did not interpret it that way."
Henderson has said his own reading of the language is the phrase "involving moral turpitude" applies to felony and misdemeanor convictions applicants might have, which he reiterated in a written statement to The Democrat.
"The policy, as it is written, was non-enforceable due to the ambiguity of the regulations which … stated no one who had committed an offense resulting in a jail stay of any duration could be employed," he said. "… In the final analysis it was found the latter part of this regulation, especially, has never been enforced as felons were hired before I took this job."
In his statement, Henderson said he is confident "most members of the Council will not be fooled and duped by this effort to again interfere with the orderly, efficient operation and management of the local government … make unfounded and fabricated charges against them … (and) subvert the day to day manager of the city, the mayor, of his authority and powers."
"Politics as usual"
For his part, Fox called the move "politics as usual."
"The last political campaign has not stopped, and it's a problem when you have a councilman who can run an attack campaign and lose. He's still on the Council and he has Council members that followed his lead," Fox said, apparently referring to 2005 mayoral candidate Farmer. "… I think that they're going to have egg on their face because Jim Henderson followed the letter of the law."
Adding he was conducting his own investigation, Fox took a hard shot at Huddleston, a freshman councilor.
"We have the least experienced, least knowledgeable councilman wanting to censure a department head, and he knows absolutely nothing about human resources … (or) city business," Fox said. "… I've been trying to get Kevin Huddleston to get involved in affordable housing like his predecessor should … I can't get him to square one, and I couldn't get (former Ward 2 councilor) Annette Stafford to slow down."
The resolution also accuses Henderson of failing to revise relevant portions of the city's Rules and Regulations in a timely manner.
Henderson countered, saying he can "move no faster than the committee assigned the task," referring to the Rules and Regulations committee addressing the matter.
Staff Writer Jason Cox can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 45 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.