Meridian Star

Local News

March 22, 2014

Slaughter-Harvey to preside over civil service hearings

MERIDIAN —     The hearing officer who will preside over the city of Meridian's Civil Service Commission is an attorney with a storied civil rights history.

    Constance Slaughter-Harvey, an attorney from Forest, will conduct hearings to determine if four of the five civil service commissioners will be removed from office.

    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.

    City officials looked beyond Meridian and Lauderdale County to find an attorney to conduct the hearings after local attorneys who were contacted recused themselves.

    Two other attorneys were also considered for the job but were unavailable due to scheduling conflicts, according to Mayor Percy Bland, who recommended Slaughter-Harvey to the council at a meeting on Friday.

    An online biography of Slaughter-Harvey stated that she was the first African-American woman to earn a law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1970. She went on to work in civil rights litigation for many years.

    Attorney Bill Ready Sr., who is representing the four civil service commissioners who are the subject of the mayor's inquiry, is familiar with Slaughter-Harvey.

    "Mrs. Constance Slaughter-Harvey is a very well-known middle-of-the-road, fair person who has represented working people and the underrepresented people all of her life," Ready said. "I don't think anybody is going to put any pressure on her."

    The vote to hire her was unanimous.

    The council also urged attorneys involved to work out a situation in which Kirby, who was suspended from her duties as civil service secretary, could meet with them in order to obtain files needed for the investigation. Her dual role, as both a city employee in the Civil Service Department, as well as secretary of the commission, makes things more complicated. As a secretary appointed by the commission, she is entitled to the same hearing process as commissioners themselves, according to a recent attorney general's opinion obtained by commission attorney Henry Palmer,

    Goggans, Palmer, along with Bill Ready Jr. and Bill Ready Sr., have agreed that Kirby can find the information the attorneys need in the civil service office with Palmer present. After her suspension, Kirby was allowed to return for a few days and was subsequently moved to work in the Community Development Department. Access to personnel files in civil service is needed to move forward with the hearings.

    "You've got three lawyers who are not authorized to be fumbling around in the confidential records of the Civil Service Commission," said Bill Ready Sr. "Those records are confidential, by law. Every employee of the city of Meridian has records in there. Mrs. Kirby will be able to hand us the information that we need without seeing things we have no right to see."

    When the hearings are 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.

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