Meridian Star

Local News

March 19, 2014

City to find outside attorney for civil service hearing

MERIDIAN —     Finding an attorney to serve as a hearing officer to conduct a hearing for four of the five Meridian Civil Service commissioners is the Meridian City Council's next step in getting the future of the commission resolved.

    The city is looking at hiring one of three out of town attorneys to hold the hearings, because as Mayor Percy Bland told the council on Tuesday, local attorneys have recused themselves from serving.

    Bland said they were contacting Bobby Sneed, Constance Slaughter Harvey, and Bobby Dallas, all out of town attorneys, to see which one can quickly schedule a hearing.     City Attorney Michael Goggans will be in touch with them this week and will get their information to the council, which recessed its Tuesday meeting until 8:30 a.m. on Friday. They hope to be able to hire one of the attorneys at that time.

    When the hearing is held, Bland will make a recommendation on commissioners individually. If he requests a commissioner's removal, the council will vote either to remove the commissioner or to keep him or her.

    Who conducts the hearing and who has the authority to remove commissioners was a question that led the city to recently seek an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General's office. That opinion stated that both the mayor and the council are to participate in the hearing.

    The issue arose in early February when Bland gave notice of removal to four of the five commissioners. On Feb. 4, Bland served notice of removal to commissioners John Watts, chairman; Robert Stockton, Carol Smith and John House.

    Commissioner Frederick Liddell  was not given a notice of removal. He was appointed by Bland and confirmed by the city council on Jan. 21. Gloria Kirby, Civil Service secretary, was suspended with pay on that same day.

    Bland accused commissioners of grading on a curve without proper notice to test-takers and he accused them of holding improper closed door sessions.

    While city officials wait for a hearing, the work of the commission has been delayed, although the commissioners are all still on board. That means that terminated employees who wish to appeal and other employees who have grievances have to wait to have their cases handled by the commission.

    "The longer it stays down," said Dustin Markham, Ward 2 councilman, "the longer our employees don't have redress."

    Hiring full time employees has halted, as the commission is responsible for grading tests by potential employees.

    After the council meeting, Bland said he has not said a lot about the accusations, but he believes the council will agree with his decision to remove the commissioners when they hear all of the evidence.

    "I don't take lightly removing the four civil service commissioners,'" Bland said. "Over the next few weeks, as to when the information is presented to why I had to make the decision, the community will know I made a tough decision but I made the right decision. I will be a good steward of the city's resources and all of our tests, as it relates to civil service, will be done fairly across the board."

    George Thomas, Ward 1 councilman and council president, said the council hopes to get an attorney hired as soon as possible.

    "We recessed this meeting until Friday morning at 8:30," Thomas said. "By that time we should have the background information. The three people should have been contacted by then to see if they would do it and if they would do it, how much would they charge. If we get that information and they are agreeable to the council, I hope that we could hire one at that point. We would like to have the hearing April 1 in the afternoon."

    The council also talked about the increase in shootings in the area. Ward 4 Councilwoman Kim Houston asked Bland to talk about what citizens can do to help make the city safer.

    "Over the next two weeks you are going to see a more dominant presence in our neighborhoods," Bland said. "We have a lot of intelligence now that the chief and the entire police department is working off of ... The resources are going to be out there the next couple of weeks to suppress it and deal with those specific individuals who are doing these shootings."

    Bland added that the city is going to crack down on youth who violate the city's curfew.

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