The Hall County Civil Service Board publicly voted 4-2 Wednesday to affirm the termination of an ex-Hall County Fire Department battalion chief.
But after extensive testimony had been given last year in a nearly daylong hearing on David McGehee’s departure — which came on the heels of criminal charges — a public vote came only after Superior Court Judge Jason Deal ruled on Dec. 27, 2013, the board had violated the Georgia Open Records Act by conducting a secret vote May 23 that year.
In transcripts from the meeting, Fire Chief David Kimbrell said the department hoped the Feb. 7, 2013, domestic violence incident, which led to several charges against McGehee, wouldn’t make the news.
County Attorney Bill Blalock referenced the headline of an article in The Times, “Hall battalion chief fired after domestic violence incident,” asking how Kimbrell felt about its effect on the reputation of the department.
“Well, we had hoped that the media would not pick up on it, but obviously they did,” he said.
McGehee’s lawyer said his client, a 30-year veteran with the department, faced family and personal difficulties — and a misunderstanding with police on the date in question — and that the county had fired him based on the negative publicity the case created prior to his day in court.
“They want him treated differently,” Gainesville attorney Joseph Homans said at last year’s hearing. “They want him treated differently because the newspaper wrote the article the way that they wrote the article.”
Blalock argued that the article was no more than a reflection of the egregious lack of professionalism in McGehee’s conduct.
“Once the arrest is made, he is booked, the press picks it up, he gets in the newspaper when he’s terminated, they recount the arrest, all that brings a great deal of disrespect by the public with regard (to) Hall County’s Fire Services’ decision,” he said. “You just don’t like to read things like that.”
The county sent out a news release at the time reporting McGehee’s termination.
No public notice was given for McGehee’s hearing, per requirements of the Open Records Act.
McGehee was charged with two counts of simple battery, one count of disorderly conduct and obstruction of an officer after an incident at his home on Dunagan Road. The Hall County Sheriff’s Office responded after McGehee’s stepson called 911 to report a fight between McGehee, his wife and another stepson.
McGehee has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. His case is tentatively scheduled to be heard in May.
According to the county handbook, the Civil Service Board first acts as an employee appeals board, and secondly as an advisory board to the commission and management regarding personnel policies and procedures.
The quasi-judicial board was created in 1968 by constitutional amendment, and its members serve four-year terms. Legislation at the state level is required to amend the Civil Service Act of Hall County.
Four of the seven 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.
Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Mecum has previously said he favors disbanding the board and instead employing a single administrative law officer. He told state legislators he wanted to eliminate partisanship, politics and friendships in favor of getting to the facts of the law.
Mecum told legislators in December that in one case, board members had “intimidated” others into voting differently during a hearing.
The commission’s request was not put in committee this legislative session, Mecum said.
He had no comment on Deal’s ruling that the board violated the Open Records Act. An email from The Times to the board’s attorney, Perry Sartain, was not returned.
A November 2013 decision the board made concerning the Hall County Sheriff’s Office also was taken in private. The board voted to overturn terminations of two sheriff’s office employees fired in July after an inmate escaped from their custody.
The sheriff’s office is appealing. A motion filed in December noted the secrecy violation, and asked the decision on former deputies Jack Dodd and Larry Henslee be voided.