Macon-Bibb department heads may not have recourse on firing

Proposed policy manual leaves top jobs in mayor’s hands

jgaines@macon.comDecember 5, 2013 

Department heads in the new Macon-Bibb County government would serve at the pleasure of the mayor, with no right of appeal to the consolidated government’s commission, under the personnel policy set to be adopted.

The new government needs to adopt that policy and many others as written at the new commission’s first meeting, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert told commissioners-elect Thursday.

Reichert, the new Macon-Bibb mayor-elect, and all new commissioners but current Bibb Commissioner Gary Bechtel met with the task force that’s been working on consolidation. One of the items discussed was the 229-page personnel policy.

“Most of what you’ll see is the merger of those two policies into one,” city Human Resources Director Ben Hubbard said.

The new commissioners have 25 days to look the policy over before the new government starts and note any changes they’d like to make, Reichert said. Changes can be made in the first few months, but the manual itself needs to be in place from the Jan. 1 start date, he said.

Macon Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, a Macon-Bibb commissioner-elect, objected to the lack of an appeal process for fired department heads, suggesting it would make recruiting quality job candidates difficult. City department heads can appeal their firing, a procedure that’s been used only once in recent years.

Reichert fired city Public Works Director Richard Powell in February 2011, charging incompetence; but Powell appealed to City Council. In October 2011, the council voted 10-4 to reinstate him.

Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, said at-will employment of department heads is common in county governments.

And Reichert said the same standard prevails in private business.

“Employment at will is the general rule,” so long as the causes of termination don’t violate federal discrimination standards, he said.

Bibb County Commissioner Bert Bivins, a Macon-Bibb commissioner-elect, said the county has also discharged department heads.

“But it was a consensus thing,” he said. Chairman Sam Hart would present his case for firing to other commissioners before department heads were let go, Bivins said.

Bivins said leaving department heads’ jobs wholly in the mayor’s hands might make them reluctant to tell commissioners unpleasant facts.

Commissioner-elect Mallory Jones said mayors would be unlikely to fire department heads “on a whim,” since searching for and hiring replacements in those skilled positions is expensive.

Bibb County interim Human Resources Director Bel Wall said anyone who works for a constitutional officer such as the sheriff, instead of for the Macon-Bibb government itself, also does so at that officer’s pleasure. General Macon-Bibb employees will have a grievance procedure to appeal dismissal, but constitutional employees don’t, she said.

However, Wall and Hubbard said, constitutional officers can choose to adopt the Macon-Bibb policy for their own offices.

Commissioner-elect Scotty Shepherd, a retired sheriff’s major, said law enforcement personnel do have some protections under civil service rules.

The county always asked related constitutional officers to adopt the county’s personnel policy, so their employees would know they were being treated the same as Bibb County employees, Bivins said.

Once Macon-Bibb County adopts the personnel manual, the new government can likewise ask constitutional officers to accept it as well, Reichert said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service