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Ex-worker says Gainesville retaliated by eliminating his job

City officials say budget problems led to decision

POSTED: April 28, 2009 11:35 p.m.

The city’s Public Works Department eliminated its engineering services administrator position Thursday, a move that City Manager Kip Padgett said was an effort to cut costs.

The administrator who lost his job, however, said he felt he was fired because he questioned a recent promotion within the city department.

Bill Haley had been on administrative leave since April 20 after he had a heated discussion with Public Works Director David Dockery about Dockery’s decision to hire Chris Rotalsky as the department’s new assistant director. Rotalsky was chosen for the job over Haley and seven other applicants.

When Haley returned to work at the end of his administrative leave Thursday, he was told his position had been eliminated due to budget restraints.

"It would not have happened otherwise," Haley said.

Haley, a six-year city employee, oversaw hangar leases at Gainesville’s Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport before he was let go Thursday. Rotalsky and an administrative secretary in the department will take over Haley’s old responsibilities.

Padgett said Haley’s dismissal also follows other recent layoffs in the Public Utilities Department as well as layoffs in the Marshal’s Office, Planning and Development Services Department and Inspection Services Department.

Aside from Haley’s position, the Public Works Department eliminated an administrative secretary weeks ago.

Padgett said all the layoffs within city departments were part of an ongoing effort to curtail city spending and close a $750,000 gap between expenditures and revenues in the 2010 budget.

"We’ve still got close to a million dollar shortfall and, as a result of that, we’ve asked each department to go back and really fine-tune budgets and make sure personal services are as lean as they can be," Director of Human Resources Joan Sheffield said.

But Haley said the elimination of his position coincided with a heated discussion he had with Dockery and Sheffield over the promotion of Rotalsky to assistant director.

Dockery notified Public Works employees of Rotalsky’s promotion in an e-mail on April 20. Haley said he had interviewed for the same job the week before.

Later on April 20, Haley had a meeting with Sheffield and Dockery. Haley was sent home because of his behavior in that meeting, he said.

"He was extremely emotional in the meeting," Sheffield said. "...I just felt like he needed a cooling off period, and it was suggested that he do just that."

Haley said he apologized for his behavior in both e-mail and voice mail messages left for Dockery and Sheffield.

Haley said Dockery informed him in a phone call on Monday afternoon that he had been placed on administrative leave and was to report back to work on Thursday morning. Haley asked Dockery then if his job had been eliminated. Haley said Dockery told him "no."

Dockery said he made the decision to eliminate Haley’s position sometime between Wednesday and Thursday.

When asked by The Times whether Haley’s conduct on April 20 had anything to do with his dismissal, Dockery said: "The Monday incident, in and of itself, did not."

When Haley returned to work Thursday, Dockery, Sheffield and Rotalsky informed Haley that his position had been eliminated due to budget cuts.

Haley said he was given two weeks’ pay and benefits.

Haley questioned how his job elimination could have anything to do with budget issues if the department had the funding to hire an assistant director.

"It’s not right," Haley said. "They’re going to use the budget restraint (as the reason)."

"Why did they eliminate my position and at the same time hire an assistant director?"

But Dockery said there were redundancies with Haley’s role with the city and the roles of the department’s administrative secretary and assistant public works director.

Hiring an assistant director from within the department allowed Dockery to eliminate some of those redundancies, he said.

"The assistant director, his responsibilities are way above and beyond what the engineering services administrator position’s responsibilities are," Dockery said. "I needed much more administrative, managerial type assistance."

Sheffield said hiring an assistant director gave Dockery the opportunity to look at the operations of the Public Works Department with a very critical eye and "do some realignment."

Dockery alluded that Haley’s position was not the only one the department would lose. However, he declined to comment on the specifics of future layoffs within the department.

"I would really prefer not to discuss that, because there are people who could potentially be affected by that that aren’t aware of that situation yet," Dockery said. "I’m trying to be as diplomatic as possible, but that is the case."



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