Meridian Star

Local News

April 9, 2014

Civil service hearings to start Thursday

MERIDIAN —     A hearing for four members of the Meridian Civil Service Commission will get under way on Thursday.

    On Feb. 3, Mayor Percy 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 Meridian City Council in January.

    Bland planned to conduct hearings for the four commissioners, but that stalled over the question of who had the authority to conduct hearings —the mayor; the city council — or both. Discussions led Michael Goggans, city attorney, to ask for an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General's office as to who has the authority to hold the hearings.

    The mayor and council are the appointing power, according to the AG's opinion.

    "The removal of a civil service commissioner requires affirmative action by the mayor and the council after a hearing and finding of good cause for removal," the AG opinion stated.

    The AG office further clarified the difference by which civil service commissioners are removed from office and the way in which city department heads are removed from office. Department heads are appointed by the mayor, confirmed by the council, but can be removed by the mayor without the council's consent.

    It is different for commissioners, the opinion stated, because civil service commissioners fall under a different law, which says that the appointing authority (mayor and council) may remove them after a hearing if there is a good cause for them to be removed.

    Adding to the complicating factors was the removal of Gloria Kirby, the Civil Service Commission's secretary, who is also a city employee in the Civil Service Department. She was suspended with pay the same day the commissioners were served notices of removal, pending, Bland said at the time, the results of his investigation.

    "As a secretary, she has no official input, voice or vote on what the commissioners do," according to her attorney, Bill Ready Jr. "She takes the orders from the commission, keeps the files, she is the commission's representative on the examining board as the secretary of the civil service commission.

    Ready said there were two extensions on her suspension with pay; then in the following days Kirby was notified that the mayor had completed his investigation and found that she had violated her duties as a civil service employee.

    "But because of her exemplary work record he was not going to terminate her; he was going to suspend her for five days without pay and he ordered her to report back to work," Ready said.

    Kirby was directed by the mayor's letter to report to the Community Development Department for work because she was being removed from Civil Service, Ready said.

    In the meantime, another AG opinion stated that Kirby, in her role as Civil Service secretary, was entitled to the same hearing as the commissioners; moreover, no mayor had hired Kirby — she is selected and voted on each January by the commission, Ready said.

    It was only after the second AG opinion was issued, Ready said, that Kirby was served a notice of removal as the CSC's secretary. She was then notified that her hearing would be held on the same day as the commissioners, Ready said. This all happened in late March while Ready was out of town. He said he has not had sufficient time to prepare.

    "Unfortunately it seems the hearing officer is going to force us to do so even though the commissioners have had two months notice before the hearing; Ms. Kirby was allotted one week notice," Ready said.

    A hearing was set for April 3; but was rescheduled for April 10. He said he would be relying on information from other attorneys involved to get the information he needs. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday on the third floor of city hall.

    Constance Slaughter-Harvey, a former civil rights attorney from Forest, is the presiding officer for the hearing.

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