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McGhee appointed to PAB in advance of hearing on police officer’s dismissal

By Bill Short

Flag City LogoThe Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen appointed member Thomas McGhee to the Personnel Appeals Board last week in advance of a hearing on a police officer’s dismissal.
Board members took the action during their Sept. 14 regular monthly meeting by a 4-3 vote, with McGhee abstaining, Aldermen Mike Caruthers, Frankie Dakin and Hank Hawkins dissenting and Mayor Terry Jones casting the tie-breaker.
McGhee, whose PAB term will end on Sept. 1, 2018, is replacing Debra Sigee.
Shortly before the vote, during the portion of the meeting designated for Public Comments, Sigee recalled that she was appointed to the PAB in December 2013 to replace McGhee, because he was elected as an alderman.
Requesting that her replacement be “someone other” than McGhee, Sigee called his reappointment a conflict of interest and a “blatant disregard” for the intent of the new City Charter.
She cited Section 5.05 of the Charter, which states that the aldermen will deal with city employees only through the city manager, except for “the purpose of obtaining information” so they can fulfill their duties.
Sigee said appointing McGhee will have him “indirectly involved” with the employees.
But City Attorney Charles Perkins said there is no conflict of interest for an alderman to serve on the PAB. He said it would only be an “issue” if one of the city department directors requested a hearing, because they are hired and fired by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Perkins called a PAB “unusual” among municipalities. In most that have a city manager form of government, he said that individual hires and fires everyone. And if there is an appeal, it goes directly to court.
He believes Millington’s PAB was established because, under its previous Charter, the city had a mayor-aldermen form of government that gave the mayor the authority to hire and fire city employees.
Perkins said the “thinking at the time” probably viewed the PAB as a “check and balance” on the “general rules” to protect the employees. But Millington has a “different system” now.
“Theoretically, the city manager is above politics,” he noted. “He’s making his decisions based on his best judgment.”
Perkins acknowledged that, if a termination is upheld by the PAB, the fired employee can appeal its ruling to the Chancery, Circuit or U.S. District Court.
Caruthers expressed concern about the “perception,” not the “legalities,” of having an alderman on the PAB. He thinks that might “cause an issue” when a case goes to court.
“My concern is that it really needs to be squeaky clean,” he said. “If we go to court, we need to not have any questions about it.”
Citing the Charter, Dakin said he shares Caruthers’ concern.
“We work through the city manager on personnel issues,” he noted. “And an alderman serving on that board, even if it’s not against the law, the perception is that he will be working with personnel.”
McGhee said the aldermen do not make personnel decisions affecting any employee below the level of a department director. So, he has no “input” into whether that individual is hired, fired or promoted.
“If I’m asked to serve, I’ll serve,” he said. “But I have no problem with the sitting board continuing to hear it. It’s not my issue. I serve the city.”
Alderman Chris Ford said he does not consider it a conflict for McGhee to serve on the PAB.
“With his background and experience, I think it adds another layer of professional judgment that none of us has,” he noted. “We’ve got to have an appeals board anyway. One is already in place, so we might as well move forward with these recommendations.”
Perkins said one of the recently fired police officers has requested a hearing before the PAB.
“So, we need to hear his case,” he said. “We plan to have a court reporter there and take sworn testimony.”
Because he expects the case to be disposed of in “an expeditious fashion,” Perkins said he anticipates that the hearing will be scheduled “sometime in early October.”

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