Tuesday’s action by county sets worrisome precedent

Published 8:57 am Friday, May 25, 2012

The Decatur County Board of Commissioners voted 4-2 at Tuesday’s meeting to terminate the employment of Finance Director Carl Rowland and Human Resources Director Marjorie Mayfield. Interim County Administrator Gary Breedlove said publicly that he believed neither employee needed to be fired, and the commissioners overruled him with their action.

Technically, the commissioners did nothing wrong by their action. Yes, the county’s personnel policy sets a hierarchy where the county administrator is responsible for disciplining department heads. However, the Board of Commissioners is still technically the main governing body of Decatur County, and they are perfectly within their legal rights to terminate any employee. Even so, it is fair to question whether Tuesday’s action sets a disturbing precedent.

Although Breedlove has been on the job for only a few months, he has been in daily contact with both Rowland and Mayfield. He said Tuesday that he investigated both employees’ records thoroughly, and felt that their positives outweighed their negatives, and that neither deserved to be terminated. It should be noted that Commissioner Dr. David C. “Butch” Mosely was the first to recommend Breedlove for the job, yet he was also one of the four who overruled his decision and called for Tuesday’s terminations.

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County governments, like any organization, have structure for a reason. County employees answer to their department heads, who answer to the county administrator, who answers to the Board of Commissioners. It is important for all people in an organization to know the “chain of command” and to know who their superiors are. After Tuesday’s action, what is to stop a majority of the Board of Commissioners from firing any county employee, in the future — whether another department head or an entry-level file clerk or janitor? Yes, it’s true that this would likely never happen, but Tuesday’s precedent has opened that possibility.

Again, the Decatur County Board of Commissioners did nothing “wrong” by taking action Tuesday, but we question whether they did “the right thing.”