Wingers rebuked for action in Lucas fire

Macon-Bibb County EMA Director Johnny Wingers has been formally reprimanded for the way an Emergency Management Agency generator was operated at the fire-damaged home of state Rep. David Lucas and City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas.

There have been conflicting reasons as to why a self-powered light array was taken in mid-June to their house on Saratoga Drive, where it was partly used to power the Lucas’ refrigerator and freezer. According to Mayor Robert Reichert’s administration, police initially were concerned that the fire may have been intentionally set and asked for a light source to help process a potential crime scene. But after going over that story with administration officials, Wingers told The Telegraph that police gave him no specific reason when requesting the generator, though they did mention the Lucas’ refrigerator and freezer. Wingers said he personally plugged the appliances into the generator upon delivering it early in the morning June 19.

Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas officially reprimanded Wingers in a June 25 letter.

“While I feel that your intentions were to help, you failed to follow your own operating procedures in this matter,” Thomas wrote.

It was the second disciplinary action taken against the EMA director in two months. May 1, Thomas reprimanded Wingers for a lack of proper planning in the event of a pandemic. The shortcoming became apparent when officials began looking for the city’s pandemic plan as swine flu was making international headlines.

“The fact is we just had a pandemic draft plan approved with issues you identified as not being addressed,” Thomas wrote in May. “You failed to follow through from last year to get the plan vetted and it was never brought to my attention the urgency of having the plan approved.”

In the second reprimand, Thomas told Wingers that a third transgression before the end of this year would result in “more severe action.” Messages left for Wingers on Tuesday were not returned.

There have been some bold personnel moves since Thomas started work toward the end of last year. He has forced out two department heads through resignation and retirement — former Economic and Community Development Director Kevin DuBose and former IT Director Tom Tourand. And the mayor fired a third — former Workforce Development Administrator Lori Howard.

Thomas and Andrew Blascovich, the mayor’s director of external affairs, said the administration is trying to bring greater accountability to city operations. Formal evaluations have not been used for 10 years, and Thomas is reintroducing the concept to department heads over the next few weeks.

Thomas said when incidents occur, he looks to see whether people acted appropriately. He said he believes in “progressive discipline,” giving people an opportunity to improve on their own before he steps in to take corrective action. There is no effort, he said, to marginalize or target specific employees for termination. “I don’t manage like that,” said Thomas, who was an assistant administrator of Dougherty County before arriving in Macon. “I don’t know these people. I’m only looking at them by performance.”

Blascovich said assessment must occur at all levels, from the top down.

“We’re not looking just to force people out the door or fire people,” he said. “We’re trying to get Macon out of being reactive and (to become) proactive.”

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.