Another Warner Robins employee sends notice of intent to sue

chwright@macon.comNovember 14, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Less than a month after wrapping up potential litigation with one city employee, another one has informed the city that he intends to sue.

Attorneys for Public Works employee Kenny Allen sent the city a notice of intent to sue for $70,000. It said then-Public Works Director Joe Musselwhite unjustly accused Allen of stealing fuel from the city, which led to Allen’s arrest and the loss of wages for 11 months before the district attorney dismissed the charges. The city has declined to pay Allen for those wages.

“The actions of City officials in the malicious prosecution, wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and defamation of Mr. Allen were either negligent or intentionally carried out as to cause Mr. Allen significant harm,” attorney Ron Daniels wrote in the notice to Warner Robins.

Musselwhite said a discrepancy in the amount of fuel Allen used was called into question during a larger review.

“Allen was not targeted,” said Musselwhite, who has retired and is now running for Warner Robins mayor in a Dec. 3 runoff.

Attorney Kelley Burke, another of Allen’s attorneys, said he tried to wait until after the elections concluded before filing suit, but a deadline was fast approaching.

“It is not our intent to influence the local elections in any way,” Burke said.

In May 2012, Allen and another employee were arrested after the Warner Robins Police Department took out arrest warrants on theft charges.

The Public Works Department turned the matter over to police, Musselwhite said, “because we couldn’t determine” the cause of discrepancies with those employees’ fuel usage.

Jason Jones, the other city employee arrested, admitted that he was using city fuel to help with his commute to work. In July, he pleaded guilty and received 12 months of probation, a $500 fine and was ordered to pay restitution of $246.

In April, the district attorney’s office dismissed charges against Allen for lack of evidence. Allen, who had been suspended while the charges were pending, returned to work a week later.

Allen wrote city officials later that month, asking for reinstatement of the sick and personal leave he used while on suspension. Once his leave was depleted, Allen wrote, he was without pay. He asked the city for that back pay as well.

Burke declined to comment on how many hours of leave Allen used while suspended or how much he lost in wages.

In a May 8 letter to Allen, City Attorney Jim Elliott said the mayor and council had discussed Allen’s requests.

“As the relevant ordinance makes no provision for such, they have directed me to relay that your request is denied,” Elliott wrote.

Burke said the case against Allen was a “head scratcher” from the start because there was no evidence he had done anything illegal. Aside from that, he said, once Allen was “exonerated,” he deserved to be treated as any other employee requesting back pay.

“You go back and you see people who are on these indefinite leaves, and they’re getting paid. Other people have been hired back, and they got paid,” Burke said. “If it was illegal for Kenny Allen, how come it wasn’t illegal for other people? Due process means you have to treat everyone fairly.”

The city did not return a message for comment.

The last such case, involving Mayor Chuck Shaheen’s former secretary, Faye Coulter, who also had filed a notice of intent to sue, was given to the city’s insurer to handle. City Council approved a settlement with her two weeks ago.

Allen has worked for the city since October 1992, according to a 2011 salary study. According to a report listing city employees’ wages, Allen was paid $22.67 an hour, which equates to an annual salary of about $47,150.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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