Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Public payroll records: Graham fires 3, disciplines 2 during past year

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The city of Graham has fired three employees – a police officer, an engineer in the fire department, and a garbage man, all of whom were fired prior to completing a required probationary period for their respective positions – and suspended two others during the last year.

The information was derived from numerous public records that the city of Graham furnished this week in response to a public records request by The Alamance News, seeking personnel records for all current and former employees who had been subject to disciplinary actions during the 2023-24 fiscal year that ends June 30.

The most recent city employee to be fired was a sanitation collector, Lloyd Handy, 22, of 5752 Fancy Loop Road in Graham, based on a notice of dismissal and supplementary documentation that Graham city manager Megan Garner furnished this week in response to the newspaper’s public records request.  Handy had been hired as a sanitation collector, at an annual salary of $37,571.50 on November 6, 2023.

The newspaper sought to examine and inspect “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data-processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business” pertaining to disciplinary actions involving current and former city employees.

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Specifically, Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. requested the payroll information for all current and former city employees who had been dismissed, demoted, suspended, or fired between July 1, 2023 and June 21, 2024, the date on which the public records request was filed with the city of Graham.

North Carolina law classifies certain types of information in the personnel files of local government employees as public records, including: dates of employment; any increase or decrease in compensation; dates and types of any promotion, demotion, transfer, termination, suspension, and/or dismissal, as well as a copy of the final notice of dismissal outlining the reasons for dismissal.

 

Probationary garbage collector tested positive for marijuana

The city of Graham most recently fired Handy, a sanitation collector in the public works department, on April 9 of this year.  He was fired after testing positive – during a random drug test six days earlier, on April 3 – for cannabinoids (one of the compounds found in the resin of the cannabis plant, i.e., marijuana), based on a final notice of dismissal that the city’s public works director, Burke Robertson, sent Handy on April 9.

In his notice of dismissal, Robertson pointed out to Handy that, because he was fired prior to completing a six-month probationary period for the position, he was entitled to a “name-clearing hearing,” but his termination was final.

Graham’s personnel policies stipulate that new employees are hired on a six-month probationary period, except sworn law enforcement officers, who receive a 12-month probationary employment period, according to the city’s human resources department.

 

Probationary fireman made sexually explicit comments to 17-year-old

Graham fire chief Tommy Cole fired an engineer within his department, Timothy Williams, 33, on October 2, 2023 – five months into his six-month probation, based on personnel records that Garner furnished this week.

An ongoing investigation had revealed that Williams had participated in “multiple conversations with a Graham fire department Explorer that [were] sexual in content and deemed inappropriate as a city employee and Graham firefighter,” Cole wrote in an October 2, 2023 notice of termination to Williams.

According to Cole’s account of an investigative interview with Williams on September 30, 2023, Williams was asked direct questions about statements he had made to a “17-year-old male fire explorer regarding his family member” that were described as sexually explicit.  “While you denied using an exact sexually explicit word,” Cole wrote, “you stated that you had made comments that would have had the same meaning” and admitted to having done so more than once.

Williams was placed on unpaid leave on September 30, 2023, according to Cole’s notice of termination.

Subsequent interviews resulted in “multiple accounts” confirming those allegations about Williams’ explicit commentary, Cole wrote, adding that his investigation indicated the behavior had been going on “for some time” since Williams’ employment with the department began April 24, 2023.

Williams had been hired as a fire engineer at an initial salary of $50,147.23, based on the information that Garner furnished this week to the newspaper.

 

Probationary police officer fired after five months on the job

Graham police chief Mary K. (Kristy) Baker also fired one police officer, Joshua Shumate, during the current 2023-24 fiscal year, based on the documents that have been furnished in response to the newspaper’s public records request.

No details concerning the basis for Shumate’s termination – other than “unsatisfactory job performance – were furnished by the city or its police department.

Shumate was hired as an officer in the patrol division on May 8, 2023 and was terminated November 17, 2023, according to the supplementary information provided by the city manager.  His starting salary was $50,147; and Shumate was terminated approximately five months into his 12-month probationary period.

In her notice of termination to Shumate, Baker wrote, “This memorandum confirms that your employment with the City of Graham Police department is terminated, for unsatisfactory job performance, effective Friday, November 17, 2023.  Being a probationary employee, you are not afforded an appeal process.”

 

U.S. Constitution provides “name-clearing hearing” when public employees are fired

All three of the city employees who were fired during the 2023-24 fiscal year were offered the opportunity to have a “name-clearing hearing.”

The public records that the city furnished to the newspaper give no indication that any of the three former employees had requested such a hearing; or if they had, when the hearings took place.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) has concluded – following a 2018 ruling by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cannon v. Village of Bald Head Island – that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a right to a “name-clearing hearing” to all public employees who are terminated.

Public employees are entitled to a “chance to dispute public accusations made against them in connection with termination or a serious demotion,” the NCLM wrote in an April 2019 memo to all municipal human resources directors.

Though the name-clearing hearing might not change the decision to terminate an employee, it allows him/her to publicly address allegations “so that they are not stigmatized from obtaining future employment opportunities,” particularly given that dismissal letters are defined as public records under state law, according to the NCLM.

 

Two Graham police officers suspended during 2023-24 fiscal year

The documents that Garner furnished Monday revealed that, in addition to the three probationary employees who were fired, two Graham police officers also had been suspended since July 1, 2023.  No other city employees had been suspended or demoted during that timeframe, based on the documents that Garner provided in response to the public records request.

Graham police officer Lyle Lance, 35, had been suspended from work for two days, on April 1 and April 2 of this year.  Lance has been employed as Graham police officer since September 21, 2020 and currently receives an annual salary of $55,183.07, based on the information that the Graham city manager furnished to the newspaper.  No reason was listed for Lance’s suspension; nor was there any adjustment in pay due to his suspension, according to the public records furnished to the newspaper.

Graham police officer Brandon Newsome, 37, was also suspended from work for two days on May 27 and May 28, 2024.  No reason for Newsome’s suspension was listed; nor was there any adjustment in his pay as a result of the suspension, according to the public records that the city furnished this week to the newspaper.  Newsome has been employed with the Graham police department since August 22, 2008, according to Garner.

The city is currently trying to fill two of the three now-vacant positions (a fire engineer and police officer), as well as 10 other vacant positions, according to its website.

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