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Hall County wants rid of Civil Services Board

Commissioners in favor of replacing group with single administrative law officer

POSTED: December 14, 2013 12:02 a.m.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners asserted earlier this week that politics and emotion have clouded the decisions of the seven-person Hall County Civil Service Board.

In making a request that would disband the board in favor of a single administrative law officer, Chairman Richard Mecum told the local legislative delegation on Thursday that he wanted to get rid of partisanship, politics and friendships and get to “the facts of the law.”

“We want the facts of the case and not personalities,” he added.

According to the county handbook, the Civil Service Board first acts as an employee appeals board, and second, as an advisory board to the county commission and management regarding personnel policies and procedures.

The board was created in 1968 by constitutional amendment, and its members serve four-year terms. Legislation is required to amend the Civil Service Act of Hall County at the state level.

Four of the members are appointed by the commission, two are chosen by a majority of government employees and one by other elected officials in the county, including the sheriff, judges, clerk of Superior Court and tax commissioner. The board doesn’t meet at set times, but rather, whenever the need arises.

Deborah Mack, a former Hall County commissioner, was appointed to the board by the commission and has served for one year.

She said she didn’t know the rationale behind the commissioners’ desire to replace the board, but she had no issue with the proposal, either. 

“If that’s the way that it needs to go, then there’s no problem with ... running it that way,” she said.

She said the board gets in-depth training, and much of what members do is listen just as a jury would. The board often hears termination hearings and an attorney is always present.

“Both sides have legal representation to answer different questions, and if we’re not going in the right direction, to steer us in the right direction,” Mack said.

The board recently voted to overturn the terminations of two Hall County Sheriff’s Office employees, deputies Jack Dodd and Larry Henslee, who were fired in July after an inmate escaped from their custody. The sheriff’s office is appealing that Nov. 18 decision. 

Mecum said that hearing had nothing to do with Thursday’s resolution.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, asked if moving to an administrative law officer would cost more.

“I’m not questioning the motive, just concerned with the money,” he said.

County Attorney Bill Blalock noted that the lawyer who represents the board in hearings is paid, and Commissioner Craig Lutz said he felt any cost incurred by the switch would be worth it.

“You see the examples we’ve had recently of terminations that have been overturned by the Civil Service Board,” Lutz said. “They’re putting people who made very poor decisions on behalf of the taxpayers back on the taxpayer payroll in a situation where they’re working with other people. I think whatever you spend ... is going to be well worth it.”

The handbook expressly forbids partiality and politics. 

“The Civil Service Board members are to be interested in the fair treatment of employees with proper recovering and concern for the efficient and effective operations of government services provided to the citizens of Hall County,” the policy reads. “It is imperative that board members exhibit mature reasoning, prudent stewardship of public funds, evidence of good judgment and nonpartial and nonpolitical performance of these duties.”

Mecum also said board members had “intimidated” others into voting differently during a hearing.

Commissioner Scott Gibbs cited a case where he felt the board let emotion get in the way of applying the law.

“We had a hearing last year ... when the guy was sexting his girlfriend on a county cell phone on county time with pornographic pictures,” Gibbs said. “He appealed it, took it to the Civil Service Board, tied attorneys up for two days, and one of the members was concerned about getting rid of him because she was worried about his retirement down the road.

“We have rules and regulations and that’s what we want enforced,” he added.


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