County Investigates Possible E911 Sick-Out

COLUMBUS – At its April 17 meeting, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors tabled a request to hire former parks director Roger Short as interim recreation manager. The board also asked Sheriff Mike Arledge to look into why multiple employees at E911 called in sick or otherwise didn’t show up for work recently.

County Administrator Ralph Billingsley recommended that the board hire Short to handle the transition between the current Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority setup and the upcoming split of city and county services.

Last September the county voted to give a one year notice to the city that they intended to dissolve the CLRA. In the future Lowndes County will give about $250,000 yearly to the City of Columbus and $50,000 to be divided between Artesia, Caledonia and Crawford. The soccer complex will be maintained by the county, but the city will still manage the programs there. The county will also take over costs and management for its community centers.

Short served as CLRA executive director until his retirement in December 2014. He had worked with CLRA since 1991, and was executive director since 2002.

“We are trying to transition into keeping up with the soccer complex maintenance and all of our different community centers,” Billingsley said. “Some of y’all, as well as I, have talked to (Short) about coming over to the recreation manager position to transition us from the old way to the new way. I would recommend hiring him at a pay of $36,000, which is half of what the position would pay, and have him start on May 1.”

District 1 Supervisor and President Harry Sanders made a motion to hire Short, with a second by District 3 Supervisor John Holliman.

“There is not a job description,” said District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks. “There is no question he would do a good job. If we hire him and he quits tomorrow we have no job description, and there needs to be one somewhere so we know exactly what this position entails and that it not be open-ended.”

“He’s going to report directly to (Billingsley),” Sanders said. “He and (Short) can get together and work out an interim job description. It’s going to be a different concept after October 1 when everything changes. Right now some of these assets are still in CLRA’s name and so forth. After October 1 we will have to have a different job description because he’ll have more employees and different responsibilities.”

“It’s not okay with me,” Brooks said. “Let’s remove (Short), because he’s my friend. I don’t think we need to be setting a precedent that we hire a person with no job description.”

“Let’s get (Billingsley) to write the job description and bring it to us at our next meeting,” Sanders said. “I don’t have a problem with that.”

“I’m looking on down the road,” Brooks said.

“I don’t think you can make a better choice,” said District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith. “There’s no question there. I would rather not set this precedent. Let’s table it and give him and (Billingsley) time to get together and develop a job description and then approve it at the next board meeting. What would be wrong with that?”

“The sooner we get somebody in charge the better,” Sanders said. “I think we need to go ahead and do it.”

“The predicament that you’re putting us in is that we have to make a decision between order and a person,” Brooks said. “We are setting a precedent that could come back down the road. We need to have some sense of order. The way we’re doing this is that you’re forcing me to vote for something that I don’t feel comfortable with. I can’t vote for it like this.”

“You make a motion that’s exactly how you’d like it done and we’ll do it that way,” Sanders said.

“Calm down,” Brooks said. “I don’t like the tone of your voice. All I’m saying to you is that we need to do what’s best for the county.”

Brooks made a substitute motion to table the hiring until the next board meeting. It was seconded by Smith and passed unanimously.

On other business, the board went into a 45-minute executive session to discuss a pending legal issue and several personnel issues.

When the supervisors emerged from behind closed doors, Board Attorney Tim Hudson announced that the personnel issues were all at E911.

“Last week some people didn’t report to work, and the board discussed the personnel and what direction we need to take to avert a crisis,” Hudson said.

Last week about seven E911 dispatchers called in sick. Dispatchers who were on call did not answer their phones. All told, an entire shift’s worth of workers were out at once.

District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham made a motion to ask Sheriff Mike Arledge to talk to the employees in questions.

“I make a motion that we give those employees who called in sick or didn’t show up for work due process and to have (Arledge) interview them,” Brigham said.

Arledge would also talk to E911 Director Shalonda Givens, Hudson said.

The motion was passed unanimously. The board will meet again Friday morning to discuss what action, if any, to take.

On April 3 the supervisors unanimously voted to give entry-level E911 dispatchers a raise as part of an effort to alleviate turnover. The workers who missed work last week were apparently not ones affected by the raise.

[For more, see my column in this week’s edition. – Ed.]