Chapel Hill employee has termination reversed

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

By Karen Hall

Editor

An employee who was fired by Mayor Carl Cooper while he was acting city administrator had her termination reversed after an appeal to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday night.

Carolyn McDonald, 56, was terminated by Cooper on Jan. 29, allegedly because she incorrectly forwarded a zoning question to Alderman Marion Joyce of the zoning committee.

"He (Cooper) had no first-hand knowledge of my work ethic or capabilities," said McDonald. "I have never been reprimanded. Dawn (Lovins, the recorder/treasurer) never called me in about anything.

"Do what is right and do not let me be used as a scapegoat," she urged the aldermen.

"What do you want?" asked Alderman Dottie Morton.

"I want to come back to work," answered McDonald. "I didn't do anything wrong."

"I've seen people fired, but they always got three write-ups first," said Alderman Houston "Bucko" Bryant. "It doesn't affect just you -- the other town employees are scared as well. I just don't think it's right."

City attorney J. Todd Moore had three letters about McDonald written by other employees, and these were copied and handed out to the aldermen, and to McDonald, who had not seen them before.

"This is a joke," murmured McDonald as she read the letters. "It's such a lie!"

"There's no dispute that the mayor had the right to terminate her. You have to decide whether to uphold it or reverse it," said Moore.

"Let's get our new administrator's opinion," said Alderman Tommy Lawrence.

"You do not need to have a reason to terminate someone," said interim administrator Austin Edmondson Jr. "We in government have the right to appeal. If this were the private sector, we wouldn't."

"We have to deal with the issues and the people that are here," said Lawrence. "The whole thing should never have happened. What we have is 'he said, she said.' This is getting way out of hand."

"The truth is somewhere in the middle," said Morton.

"It's sad that it's come to this," said Lawrence. "We need to make sure in our policies it doesn't happen again. We're learning at your expense," he added, gesturing at McDonald.

"Absolutely," she exclaimed.

Joyce pointed out that other recently fired employees -- Fire Chief Kenneth Runk and Administrator Mike Hatten -- had been placed on leave for a period of time, and then terminated, but McDonald was fired and sent home without any warning.

"What circumstances would lead you to fire an employee on the spot?" asked Joyce.

"I fired a dispatcher who used the police chief's email in an inappropriate way," said Edmondson, whose career has been in city administration.

"I can say stupid things because I'm the new guy," he continued. "This board is a policy-making entity. The staff deals with day-to-day issues. What you do here sets a precedent for how to deal with supervisors and employees. I'm going to back my supervisors."

There had been some discussion of who was McDonald's supervisor -- Hatten or Lovins -- and why Lovins was not present when McDonald was fired.

"Dawn (Lovins), do you have anything to add?" asked Lawrence.

"We wrote everything down," Lovins said. "It is what it is."

Finally, after over an hour of discussion, some of it heated, Morton made a motion to reverse McDonald's termination, and it was immediately seconded by Joyce.

In a roll call, there were four "yes" votes, from Bryant, Joyce, Morton, and Horace Hill Jr., while Lawrence abstained, and Pam Elliot voted "no."

When asked when McDonald would be coming back to work, Edmondson said, "We'll get it taken care of -- that's the board's direction."