An administrative law judge has ruled that two Macon-Bibb County Animal Control employees who were fired after allegations surfaced that money was mishandled at the animal shelter should be reinstated.
Judge Robert Herndon has ruled that termination for Animal Control Director Jim Johnson and his assistant, Paula Fuller, was “too severe.” Herndon instead suggested that Johnson and Fuller be suspended without pay for 30 days, according to rulings issued this month.
Both employees were given final disciplinary notices of termination effective Aug. 29, according to the notices issued by Deputy Police Chief Mike Carswell. Fuller and Johnson appealed their termination at hearings in December.
The judge’s decision comes months after Macon City Council members voted to reinstate Public Works Director Richard Powell, who was fired by Mayor Robert Reichert.
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During the 2011 budgeting process, Macon City Council requested an audit of the animal shelter, which resulted in the discovery that $18,408 was unaccounted for, according to the judge’s ruling in Johnson’s case dated Wednesday.
At his hearing last month, Johnson contended that the discrepancies discovered in the audit were due to waiving fees for adoptions, impounding animals and people retrieving pets during times of financial hardship. Fees also were often waived for city employees or senior citizens, according to the ruling.
Herndon ruled that there is “substantial evidence” that Johnson violated police performance and animal control policies when Johnson waived fees without “official authority” and there was no accounting for donations placed in a Central Georgia CARES animal charity jar at the shelter.
Johnson also was found to be in violation of a police cash handling policy. The audit showed that 77 animal control deposits made between July 1, 2010, and April 30, 2011, were submitted to the city finance office an average of 10 days late, according to the ruling.
Herndon ruled that Johnson was not guilty of allegations that he violated policies regarding his responsibility as a supervisor.
In considering Johnson’s punishment, Herndon described Johnson’s violations as “sloppy cash handling procedures” that could have been remedied with corrective action. Herndon noted that Johnson had been employed by the city for more than 20 years “with an unblemished record” and that Carswell, the deputy chief, has said that Johnson had “done a fantastic job.”
Herndon wrote that it appeared as though the city took “drastic action” following the audit by firing Johnson.
Johnson’s attorney, Charles E. Cox Jr., said he received a copy of the judge’s decision Thursday and that Johnson hasn’t been told when he should return to work or whether he’ll return as shelter director.
The Telegraph requested information Thursday from police about when and where Johnson will return to work, but that information was not provided by late Thursday.
Johnson has been suspended without pay since Aug. 29, Cox said.
“Mr. Johnson is delighted to be returning to work,” Cox said.
Police spokeswoman Jami Gaudet said shelter employees recently have received training on a computer accounting system to safeguard against future accounting problems.
In Fuller’s case, Herndon ruled that she was guilty of violating a police policy prohibiting employees from cashing checks or making change. Fuller has admitted that she made change for shelter customers using her money or money from a water cooler fund to which she and Johnson contributed.
The judge also ruled that there is “substantial evidence” that Fuller violated a police performance policy due to there not being an accounting of money that was deposited in a donation jar at the shelter.
Fuller was found not guilty of taking part in unbecoming conduct and being untruthful. The ruling said there’s no evidence that Fuller stole city money although city employees gave statements that they saw Fuller take money out of the animal control safe. Herndon’s ruling went on to say no one could determine that the money was city money instead of money from the water cooler fund.
Although the judge ruled that Fuller should be reinstated, Fuller resigned from her position Thursday morning.
She said she received a copy of the judge’s ruling earlier this month but didn’t hear from the police department until two officers hand delivered a letter to her home Tuesday. The letter said she was required to report to work on Thursday.
Fuller said she went to work at the shelter 13 years ago because she loves animals and wanted to make a difference.
In a statement, she wrote of spending many nights “holding babies until their last breath so they would know they were loved, if only for a while.”
While employed at the shelter, Fuller adopted five pets from the facility, she said.
After being fired and fighting for her job, Fuller said she was “heartbroken” and doesn’t think she can continue working for the police department.
“I was glad I was vindicated,” she said Thursday afternoon.
She now works in an administrative office for the Georgia Department of Corrections.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.