The honorable thing to do

When the hearing for fired town worker Clyde Clark opens tonight at 7 at the Chapel Hill Public Library, it’s important that residents stand up for this man and support him against what is looking more and more like a grave injustice.

Clark and his former co-worker, Kerry Bigelow, were fired by the town in October in what increasingly looks like an effort to silence the two for speaking up about unsafe working conditions and racism in the Public Works Department.

It became obvious at the hearing for Bigelow last Thursday that the town blew this one big-time – not only blew it but has railroaded these men. Secret witnesses, vindictive and incompetent town functionaries, detectives hired to dig up dirt on town workers, fabricated complaints, contradictory testimony, whispers and innuendo. Not only blew it but is doing everything it can to make it go away.

This would be prime stuff for any town run by a venal corporation or some petty crime boss. But this is Chapel Hill – aren’t we supposed to be better than that?

We like to think of ourselves as an enlightened community and a beacon to the rest of the state. But when town leaders pass over a qualified black man to give a position to a less-qualified white man, when the town proceeds to persecute that black man for pointing out that injustice, when the town spends more than $22,000 to hire a company to trump up charges against that black man, we have strayed a very long way from the ideals residents like to point to when describing their town.

Feels like we’ve been transported back in time to those awful 1950s and ’60s, when folks risked their lives by standing up for the truth. We come across looking like another backwater town in the unenlightened hinterlands.

The hearing for Clark is to be in the meeting room of the library. Clark and Bigelow requested that their hearings be open to the public. That should be a sign to anyone that these men have little to hide and in fact want the community to know just what’s going on.

If Joe Straley, Charlotte Adams and Hank Anderson were alive today, they would be at this meeting. They would stand beside Clark and Bigelow in reminding the town of the principles we all cherish. Clark and Bigelow come across as honorable men. Wish I could say that about town staff.
–Don Evans

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  1. John Kramer

     /  February 9, 2011

    Yeah, let’s defend these guys. After all we know all of the facts in the case and are better at adjudicating HR issues than the town staff. Plus, we haven’t had a good protest in a while, that alone is reason to find some cause, regardlessnof its merit.

    I never knew this town was so full of Judge Judys!!!

  2. Michael

     /  February 9, 2011

    I’m proud the town stood up to this extortion – first it was about union busting and now it’s about racism. Bottom line is that these guys violated the terms of their employment and now try to hold the town hostage along with a cadre of misguided cause-seekers.

  3. Runner

     /  February 9, 2011

    A job is not a right. If you have people in your employ who are negatively effecting your operation, you have every right to ask them to leave your organization.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  February 9, 2011

    I agree with Michael and Runner. If an employ violates terms of a contract or negatively effects the business, he/she should be terminated……if he is indeed the problem and if he has been told that he is causing a problem and given the opportunity to change. In the case of the Sanitation2, they were neither told that there was a problem with their behavior nor given the opportunity to change. On top of that, there is no valid or reliable data documenting that they have caused a problem. The supervisor who works directly with these men has said he never saw them have any problem with a resident. So it comes down to what “they” (3 closely linked residents said) and what Rev. Bigelow said (and what I assume Mr. Clark will say tonight).

    The town’s mishandling of this HR problem has wasted time, money, and tarnished the reputations of the workers.

    If I was the employee and/or the lawyer in this case, I would be asking how many resident complaints have been filed against other town employees, and specifically other trash collectors.

  5. Don Evans

     /  February 9, 2011


    It’s about both union busting and racism. Check the records. Read the report posted at OrangePolitics. Read over the timeline. And read Terri Buckner’s report from the Bigelow hearing. The real bottom line is that town supervisors screwed up, Bigelow and Clark spoke up and the town is now bent on making them go away.


    When the town hires a person, it enters into a contract with that person, which the town and the person agree to honor. When the town decides to skip over or ignore the rights it agreed to honor in order to cover up its mistakes and then punishes contractees for pointing that out, that is not right. And blindly supporting such a regime without checking out the facts is short-sighted. If the town gets away with shafting Clark and Bigelow, who will it shaft next? Probably you and I, as taxpayers.

  6. What I was struck most by last week was the vagueness of some of the allegations and the Town’s difficulty in explaining why management didn’t intervene more directly as Bigelow’s performance, at least as the Town has characterized it, declined precipitously.

    I worked for a large (well, formerly large) corporation in the Park. When we had to deal with workers whose performance had declined or who had been involved in “serious incidents” there was a fairly established process.

    One issue the Town has, the lack of specific documentation on early and initial incidents, does not surprise me. When dealing with a worker having difficulties I would usually start with an informal process – call them in, talk about what was going on, maybe suggest some specific improvements. At that point there was very minimal documentation.

    If the troubles persisted or worsen, and especially if HR got involved, a much more formal process kicked-in. At that point documentation started to accumulate – meeting times, notes, action plans, improvement goals, etc. If an employee ended up being discharged for cause, and the cause wasn’t extremely blatant (being caught stealing, for instance), there was usually a fairly established paper trail.

    Last week it wasn’t clear if the Town had a similar paper trail. Management certainly had time to develop a documented case. It could be that there are more specifics – maybe in the pile of papers Ms. Sneed and CAI kept referring to – but the public wasn’t made privy to those contents. Maybe the apparent shuffling of HR management, the shift in Public Works management meant that a detailed process fell through the cracks.

    As Terri and Don have highlighted, the Town has treated Bigelow/Clark as a pair at times and as individually troubled workers at other points (the big deal made about Bigelow’s radio call for water, for instance). The common link between the two co-workers prior to this series of events is their labor organizing efforts and their filing of safety grievances. Is that why the Town and CAI lumped the two together? If not, what did they do jointly that led to their joint firing? Did they both frighten the resident? Did they both wave sticks and their arms down on Greenwood in Sept.?

    Tonight I’m wondering if we’ll see more gyrations as the Town avoids talking about “he who must not be spoken of” (what the heck happened during Bigelow’s first application evaluation?) What else if going on in Public Works?

    What I expect from the Town, given the great amount of community concern – much of it fostered by second-hand and third-hand accounts leaked from both sides – is a much more developed case. We’ll see if that happens…