The flawed system exposed during the circus that billed itself as personnel appeals hearings for Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark has extended to The Chapel Hill News. In a story in Wednesday’s edition, cub reporter Katelyn Ferral misquoted Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward as saying he thought the outcome of the hearings “wasn’t wrong.”
What Ward said was just the opposite. He took issue with the process and the outcome, and he said so in different ways multiple times.
Speaker after speaker rose to protest the flawed hearing process that led observers to distrust the decision to fire the workers. Al McSurely, Bigelow’s and Clark’s attorney, read into the record at Monday’s meeting a letter he had sent to town manager Roger Stancil and town attorney Ralph Karpinos delineating all the documentation he had requested that the town has failed to deliver.
After Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt gaveled that the first speaker’s remarks would be received but not referred, Matt Czajkowski clarified that by not voting to refer, no follow-up action would be taken. A couple of speakers later, when Kleinschmidt again wanted to vote to receive only, Ward spoke up, asking to receive and refer.
“I want us to find time to talk about this,” Ward said, over the vociferous objections of Gene Pease, Donna Bell and Sally Greene. Since Ward has been letting his hair grow long, he’s allowing his humanity to show. And he seems much more comfortable voicing his opinions, even when the majority on council disagrees with him.
Ward was the only council member to attend the lengthy personnel appeals hearings. “I’m troubled by what I heard at the hearings,” he said. “I’m not comfortable with the results as they stand today. … The outcome was wrong. The system worked poorly.”
Bell scolded the speakers that they should negotiate and collaborate, not demand. Speaker Steve Bader countered that many in the audience had tried to collaborate and negotiate and were shut out by staff and council who said they had to wait until the process played out. And when the decision to fire the workers was upheld, staff wouldn’t discuss because the decision had been made.
Pease blustered that he’s been a CEO for 25 years, and he’d fire workers who were insubordinate. But I’d wager that he’d fire them as soon as he’d received the complaint, not more than two months later, as they were trying to garner support for workers’ rights. And if a situation had rotted to the point that this one had, surely Pease would find a better solution than to make the stink worse by going ahead with the firings.
At some point in the not too distant future, the town will likely face a lawsuit over the mishandling of Bigelow’s and Clark’s firing. Council members who had not observed the process firsthand dug in their heels to support the flawed process. Ward, who took the time to attend the hearings, could see that if this flawed system continues, the expected lawsuit from Bigelow and Clark would be only the first. By speaking up, Ward took a stand to fix the problem. His motion passed, and the speakers’ comments were referred to the town attorney.
We look forward to council’s discussion on what went wrong in the personnel process.
– Nancy Oates