Council fires city employee
After hearing eight hours of testimony Tuesday, the Craig City Council voted unanimously to terminate an employee who’s worked for the city for 18 years.
City Water and Wastewater Plant Supervisor Joe Theaman was suspended without pay Feb. 18 pending the outcome of a hearing before the council. City charter requires the council to approve all terminations for employee who have worked for the city for more than 10 years and are less than five years from retirement.
Theaman was fired for committing a “major violation” as defined by city charter. He was accused of ordering two water department employees to weld, grind and polish two pieces of pipe that he hung in his garage at home.
He admitted that the work was done, but said the employees did it for him as a favor, not because he demanded they do it.
The City Council was charged with deciding on four issues, one, whether Theaman used or directed employees to use; two, city resources; three, on city time; four, for personal gain.
“The evidence will show that virtually this entire project was done using city labor,” the city’s attorney said.
The burden of proof was on the city.
On Jan. 31, Public Works Director Bill Earley received a three-page grievance filed by Mark Zimmerman. It was the third grievance Zimmerman had filed against Theaman, and only the third grievance filed against Theaman in his tenure with the city.
Earley found there was no merit to the complaint, but one line in it grabbed his attention.
Zimmerman mentioned a welding project he participated in more than a year before.
During his investigation, Earley was told that two employees had spent 20 hours on the project and that they were told by Theaman to tell their supervisor it was a city project if he asked.
Other employees also went with Theaman to his home to hold the pipe so that it could be measured for holes.
Theaman admitted he asked an employee, Shane Baker, to do the welding, but he said it was to be done as a favor. He said he assumed Baker did the work after hours or on his break. He even paid Baker $20 for doing it.
“We acknowledge Mark Zimmerman and Shane Baker performed work on this pipe,” Theaman’s attorney Kristopher Hammond said. “We acknowledge it was for Joe Theaman’s garage. The sole issue that’s going to be disputed is did Joe Theaman order these people to do this on city time, and Joe Theaman steadfastly maintains that he did not ask these people to do this on city time.”
Hammond called Theaman a “by-the-book” guy, and Theaman testified that had he known Baker or Zimmerman were doing the work on city time, he would have initiated disciplinary action himself.
“They chose to do the work on city time, and Joe didn’t know it,” Hammond said. “If he had known it, he would’ve put a stop to it.”
Hammond argued that there were many inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s testimony that should have been cause for concern.
Zimmerman did not say anything about the work for nearly a year, and when he did, the amount of time he said he spent on the project changed.
Theaman said 20 hours was “ludicrous” anyway. He had Robinson’s Welding do the exact same job and testified it took 1 1/2 hours.
Hammond also argued that Zimmerman had a personal vendetta against Theaman, filing his last grievance after a staff meeting that Hammond said Zimmerman felt targeted in.
“If Joe Theaman was going to ask a subordinate to cheat the city and lie about it, Mark Zimmerman is the very last person on earth he’d ask,” Hammond said. “Mark Zimmerman is the most likely person to run to city officials and complain about something so egregious.”
Hammond argued that Zimmerman chose to do the work on city time and then lied about it when he was caught.
“Mark Zimmerman lied to (his supervisor) to stay out of trouble, and he fabricated the lie and later blamed it on Joe Theaman,” Hammond said.
Zimmerman’s supervisor, Leon Christopher, testified that he would have noted a job that took one of his crew members so long. He also said that he questioned Zimmerman’s credibility.
“The city’s only witness is Mark Zimmerman, and what have you heard about Mark Zimmerman’s motives and what have you heard about Mark Zimmerman’s truthfulness and can you really take that to the bank?” Hammond asked.
Regardless of what Zimmer-man said, it was Theaman’s own words that lost him the case.
Theaman testified that he hauled the pipe using a city truck, which council members ruled fit the required elements of a major violation. Theaman used a city truck during city hours to haul his own pipe to his own home.
“We all agreed those four items were met,” Mayor Don Jones said. “It was a tough decision.”
Councilor Bill Johnston said the council learned a lot of things by listening to testimony and likely would modify policies because of the hearing.
“We’re going to learn from all of this and we’re going to discuss it as a council and a staff,” he said.
For example, Johnston thinks the city needs to clarify the chain of command and grievance procedures.
He also doesn’t think the council should have the authority to fire employees.
“This should have never come to us,” he said. “This wasn’t an appeal this was an approval of a termination as stated in the charter and I for one would like to change that. The city staff should be able to terminate.”
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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