WARNER ROBINS — City Council took up the issue of guaranteeing department heads an appeal process for dismissals Monday, an action one councilman said stems from a conflict between Mayor Chuck Shaheen and Police Chief Brett Evans.
Council voted 4-3 to amend the city personnel policy to give department heads the option to appeal dismissal to an administrative law judge. Shaheen added his nay to those of Tom Simms Jr. and John Williams.
The issue was initially put forward during the Dec. 6 meeting by Councilman Bob Wilbanks.
“It has everything to do with the police chief,” Wilbanks said. “Here’s a man who has suffered a tyrannical oppression and been hounded all year -- since last Christmas. It has to stop. We have to give our department heads the peace of mind to do their job and not be at the whim of the mayor.”
The ordinance gives Warner Robins’ seven department heads the right to seek appeal before an administrative judge, who would then forward a legal opinion. Currently, Warner Robins mayor and council members must vote to fire a department head.
Wilbanks said the administrative judge would add another layer of protection for a department head.
“I don’t see the need if this issue will come up before mayor and council again. I don’t see it at all,” Shaheen told council members during the precouncil work session. “If we are going to vote again on this measure, why not just have the vote to start with? Now, with this, we will have a judge to decide who works for the city of Warner Robins and not the people.”
The mayor and the police chief have had a strained relationship during Shaheen’s first year in office. Shaheen suspended Evans for seven days earlier this year for a violation of city policy related to what was termed campaigning for Shaheen’s opponent, Chuck Chalk, in a 2009 runoff election. Council ended the suspension by a 5-1 vote after two days. Shaheen also sent a letter to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council reporting the suspension. POST is investigating the allegations made against Evans in the letter.
Williams weighed in against the new policy.
“My take on this is that these are people who serve at the leisure of the mayor and council,” Williams said. “You add a legal appeal then you could have it drag through the courts for years while we pay a person not to do the job. I’m against this from the start.”
@BR Body Subhed:Liquor store limit discussed again
City Council continued to debate a proposed ordinance that would tie the number of liquor stores to the population of Warner Robins.
There are now 12 dedicated liquor stores in the city of Warner Robins.
Under the 2000 census, the population of Warner Robins was about 45,000, but city officials expect the population to number more than 60,000 when the 2010 Census is released in the spring.
Councilman Paul Shealy previously introduced a measure that would limit specific package stores to 1 for every 3,000 citizens, but altered the ordinance Monday to make it 1 for every 4,000.
Wilbanks said the revised ordinance should be a first reading because of the change. Council agreed to take up the issue again at a January meeting.
This marks the third time the ordinance has come up for a reading, but it has been altered and needed to go through a first reading again. City policy is to have one reading at a public meeting, then a second, followed by a vote on the issue.
“I realized that with the updated census numbers we would have about 20 licenses, and that was too many,” Shealy said. “I think at 1 in every 4,000 would limited it to about 15, and give room for growth.”
Wilbanks pointed out there were no liquor licenses currently in the process of being approved, and that the ordinance would limit free enterprise.
“You have to look at what this does in the sense of setting up a precedent,” Councilman Daron Lee said. “If we limit liquor stores today, then what other businesses will want us to limit their competition tomorrow? I’m against this.”
To contact writer Shelby G. Spires, call 744-4494.