Meridian Star

February 6, 2014

City Council calls special meeting

Skipper talks about firing

By Terri Ferguson Smith / tsmith@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     A day after Mayor Percy Bland fired longtime financial officer Ed Skipper and removed four civil service commissioners, the Meridian City Council has called for a special meeting.

    A notice from the city on Wednesday said that George Thomas, president; and Dustin Markham, vice president; called a meeting for today at City Hall at 4:30 p.m.

    The agenda items are budget concerns and personnel concerns.

    Contacted on Wednesday, Markham, who represents Ward 2, said he did not need to go into details about the nature of the agenda items for today's meeting. However he said the agenda items are not directly related to Skipper's firing or the removal of the commissioners.

    "We just need to handle a couple of things and discuss it among all five of us — what, if any actions we should take related to the budget and our current financial future, given that our chief financial officer is no longer with us," Markham said.

    He was equally brief about the personnel concerns on the agenda.

    "We need to look at what we need to do about our future, given our current circumstances as a city," Markham said.

    He said he was as surprised as anyone when he learned on Tuesday afternoon of the terminations. Department heads serve at the will and pleasure of the mayor, who does not have to get council approval to terminate them, but the mayor does have to ask the council to confirm appointments.

    "I thought the council meeting went well yesterday morning," Markham said. "It wasn't communicated to us as it related to Mr. Skipper or as it related to the Civil Service commissioners."

    Also on Wednesday, Bland confirmed that Gloria Kirby, secretary for the Civil Service Commission, has been suspended with pay, pending the hearing set for Monday during which the four terminated commissioners will have an opportunity to respond.

    Bland removed four of the five commissioners;  John Watts, chairman, Robert Stockton, Carol Smith and John House.

    Commissioner Frederick Liddell will remain. He was appointed by Bland and confirmed by the City Council on Jan. 21.

    Henry Palmer is the attorney for the Civil Service Commission.

    "At the hearing the commissioners can offer evidence or make arguments or do what they think appropriate to challenge it," Palmer said. "I don't know what the facts are but I have seen the removal notices."

    If the terminations stand, Palmer said the fired commissioners could appeal the decision in Lauderdale County Circuit Court.

    Skipper worked for the city for more than 35 years, starting out in Community Development but soon moving to Finance.

    On Wednesday he said he was still trying to absorb the news.

    "I did not know this was coming. We know as department heads we are always subject to this," Skipper said.

    When Bland's term began in July, Skipper said he thought he would continue with the city when the mayor asked the council to again confirm him as CFO and city clerk.

    "We had some immediate changes during the first month or two. Department head were replaced and I was actually put up and confirmed so I assumed we were doing what we were supposed to be doing," Skipper said.

    Skipper said after he was called to the mayor's office on Tuesday and given the news, Bland told him that he wanted to go into a different direction. Skipper said he asked Bland if he had done anything wrong and the mayor said no.

    In announcing the termination to the media on Tuesday, the mayor said basically the same thing, that he just wanted to go in a different direction with the department and Skipper had done nothing wrong.

    "I didn't know what to say," Skipper said. "That was that. I was escorted to my area to gather my personal effects, turn in my city cell phone and my keys."

    Skipper said he didn't know what the different direction the mayor was referring to, but "Obviously I am not a part of that," Skipper said.

    Skipper said the city has always had clean audits under his leadership.

    "Most people who know me know that I try to do everything by the law," Skipper said. "That's what I've always done and that's what I intended to keep doing."

    Skipper, 64, said he is not ready for retirement and he is looking for a job.

    "I need to work. I have not reached the point to where I wanted to retire. There are certain issues with health insurance. That's a big consideration," Skipper said.

    Skipper said many people had called him to let him know that he will be missed.

    "I obviously enjoyed working with the city," Skipper said. "I believed in our city and wanted to do those things to help it."