Powell out as Macon Public Works director

Richard Powell, Macon’s Public Works director for a little more than two years, has been placed on paid leave pending termination by Macon Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas.

“I’ve got a meeting in the morning with the mayor,” Powell said Monday afternoon. “Thomas Thomas told me that I was terminated, asked for my cell phone and my laptop, wouldn’t give me any reason -- and that was it.”

He was told details would be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Powell said Thomas called him into his office at 8:30 a.m. Friday. Human Resources Director Ben Hubbard was waiting there too, Powell said. He said Thomas offered him three months of severance pay if he would resign. But Powell said he told Thomas that he thought he was doing a good job and wouldn’t quit.

Powell is the third city department head whose departure has been announced in the past seven weeks. In mid-December, Finance Director Tom Barber said he was quitting in early January after two years in Macon to become city administrator of Fairburn. On Jan. 25, Reichert told the City Council that City Attorney Pope Langstaff will retire April 28 after 13 years with the city.

Thomas, with mayoral spokesman Andrew Blascovich by his side, declined to offer details Monday about his Friday meeting with Powell or the reason for his firing, citing personnel privacy concerns.

“What I can say is, as of Friday, Richard Powell has been put on administrative leave pending termination,” Thomas said. “At that point in time, when he is terminated, he can decide whether he wants to avail himself of the appeals process.”

Blascovich said the administration will have to “go through the process” before making specifics public. He was unaware of any scheduled meeting between Powell and Reichert but said Powell’s termination should be finalized in the next day or two. After that, any appeal is up to Powell, Blascovich said.

Powell said he “most definitely” plans to appeal his firing to City Council.

The city charter says the mayor can fire department heads “for good cause,” but a 10-member majority of council can overrule firings if they find there was not a good cause, Langstaff said.

The council can also ask for a written explanation of a firing, which sometimes is a termination letter to the employee, he said.

The charter doesn’t specify any other recourse, but under the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause a fired employee has a right to a hearing, Langstaff said.

Since the council has the power to reinstate employees, council members usually conduct such hearings, he said. But at least once before, a hearing has been held by an administrative law judge.

City Councilman Charles Jones, chairman of the council’s Employee Development and Compensation Committee, said the council’s position on Powell’s firing will likely come down to whether he carried out what he was asked to do, not whatever he may have done above or apart from his job instructions.

“We just have to follow the proper procedures and can’t make (a) determination until we figure out whether it is our position to be involved,” Jones said.

Powell said he recently assembled a strategic plan for the department, but Thomas told him it “failed.” At that encounter, Thomas told him he wasn’t “moving the department in the right direction,” but gave no explanation or indication of what the right direction might be, Powell said.

“I’ve made some good changes. We saved money in a lot of areas,” he said.

Powell said he oversaw a restructuring of garbage routes, which freed up enough trucks to double the number of houses reached by recycling service without using overtime. Separating yard waste from household garbage, done since April, has already saved about $70,000 in landfill costs, he said. He said the department also has doubled the number of house demolitions at a lower cost.

Council President Miriam Paris said she’s “anxiously awaiting” the administration’s reasons for Powell’s departure.

“I’m not aware of problems in the department, but apparently there were,” she said. “I’m anxious to hear what the administration has to say.”

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.