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Quincy commissioners vote to rescind hiring freeze in light of lawsuit

Quincy commissioners unanimously voted during a special meeting on Tuesday, November 23 to rescind a hiring and pay raise freeze that was put in place last month.

On November 9, the commissioners voted 3-2 to freeze all hiring and pay raises, unless directly approved by the commissioners.

The following day, the city attorney sent the commissioners his legal opinion on the matter.

 Attorney Gary Roberts told the commissioners the charter clearly states the city manager “shall employ or appoint all city employees.”

He also added: “The City Manager has power to hire and pay employees of the City of Quincy at his discretion and this duty cannot be usurped by the City Commission by motion, only by charter amendment.”

City Manager Jack McLean filed a lawsuit against the city on November 15, stating that the commission violated the city charter and infringed upon his rights as city manager.

A court hearing was held on November 17.

“The judge heavily suggested we solve this matter on the commission level,”  Roberts told the commissioners during the special meeting. “You don’t want judges to come in and make decisions on the commission.”

Roberts also said the judge recommended making changes to the charter; Roberts pointed out that rescinding the motion could settle the lawsuit.

Attorney Mohammad Jazil was hired to represent the city in the case.

Roberts advised if the city commission did not rescind the original motion, the city could end up paying more than $30,000 in attorney’s fees to defend the case.

He also said the judge was concerned that the commission should not be reviewing every employment application submitted.

Commissioner Keith Dowdell was the one who made the motion to freeze hiring and pay raises.

He said McLean still had the power to make those decisions, but he wanted McLean to come back before the commission and let the commissioners know.

“Right now, we’re trying to negotiate with police and fire, if we don’t know, with all these vacant positions you go out and hire people and we’re in a number crunch,” Dowdell said. “How can we negotiate anything financially with police and fire when we don’t know how much we got?”

Mayor Ronte Harris said he didn’t have a problem with the rescission, but said he didn’t know of any other way to handle the issues with the city manager.

Harris said McLean recently hired someone for the grants coordinator position, which wasn’t vacant at the time.

McLean hired former Gadsden County Administrator Dee Jackson to replace Dr. Beverly Nash as grants coordinator on September 29.

Nash wasn’t terminated until October 1 – two days after her replacement had been hired.

Harris said McLean contracted out two positions, one for $55,000 and the other for $68,000.

Dowdell and Harris said they are concerned that if the city manager keeps hiring during the 22 days left in his contract, the city won’t have money to renegotiate contracts and give raises to police and firefighters.

“Then we move on to the issue of the lawsuit,” Harris said. “We’re standing in the way of hiring police officers.”

Harris said the city manager’s behavior has been reckless, and that the commission should have known about the vacancies in the police department.

“I think it’s rather funny we find out about all this discord through a lawsuit and news reports,” Harris said.

In a press release, McLean stated the commission’s action hindered him from hiring critical command staff and sworn police officers.

“Every month we get human resources reports,” Harris said. “We can’t even trust the reports we get to be true and accurate.”

Commissioner Freida Bass-Prieto pointed out that human resources reports do not include vacancies.

Harris said he requested a list of all vacancies during the budgeting process; he said those vacancies were not there.

Harris asked if the positions that need to be filled in the police department were budgeted.

Finance Director Marcia Carty said the positions are in the budget.

Dowdell said prior to Chief Timothy Ashley being hired in November, the commission was told there were no vacancies in the police department.

Ashley appeared before the commission.

He said there have been two resignations since he’s been captain, and he anticipated two more within the next two weeks.

Harris told the new chief it was not the commission’s intention to hinder him from hiring officers for his force.

“It was so we could be informed about any other actions that take place,” Harris said, adding that if it had been any other situation, he probably wouldn’t have supported the motion to freeze hiring.

For the record, Harris asked Roberts to state the judge’s position on McLean’s request for an emergency order.

“The judge determined it was not an emergency,” Roberts said.

McLean said the new chief was sworn in November 8, and on his first day he identified positions that

he wanted to fill.

McLean said the motion on November 9 prevented the chief from filling those positions; he also said the commissioners never requested vacancy reports.

“When you don’t like the manager, don’t get in murky waters,” McLean said. “Stick to the charter and we’ll be ok.

During the meeting, the commission also voted to issue a request for proposals for a new city manager.

On November 16, the commission voted to terminate McLean’s contract with 30-day notice.

McLean’s contract ends on December 16.

Erin Hill – Gadsden County News Service