Cur­rent, for­mer em­ploy­ees of Aragon speak out about Mayor

Sev­eral see “mi­cro­manag­ing” and bul­ly­ing tac­tics as prob­lem, feel they are be­ing tar­geted

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Myrick [email protected]­stan­dard­jour­nal.net

Sev­eral cur­rent Aragon em­ploy­ees - who have asked to re­main anony­mous - have joined the list of for­mer Aragon work­ers com­plain­ing about the city’s mayor and his man­age­ment prac­tices.

The griev­ances, for the most part, mirror those of city em­ploy­ees who have al­ready left their jobs say­ing Mayor Garry Bald­win tar­geted them and forced them to re­sign in or­der to avoid a bad re­view placed in their file.

This prac­tice has caused a hos­tile work environment, they say, and caus­ing work­ers to fear they’ll be the mayor’s next tar­get if they dis­agree with him in any way.

Sev­eral de­scribed his ac­tions as “mi­cro man­ag­ing,” bul­ly­ing and even goes so far as to watch them on se­cu­rity cam­eras on a daily ba­sis.

Another said that “ev­ery

em­ployee is scared of him.” And a third added they watched Bald­win push at least four em­ploy­ees out of their jobs, telling them to re­sign or face “bad marks in their (em­ployee) file” and would try to pre­vent them from get­ting a bet­ter job than the one they had.

One even told of how em­ploy­ees that Bald­win tar­gets are forced out of their jobs, or face ter­mi­na­tion and use their per­son­nel files to keep them from ob­tain­ing good jobs in the fu­ture.

A re­quest was made for the per­son­nel policy of City Clerk Christie Langston, who made it avail­able for re­view.

The process is sup­posed to work that if an em­ployee gets in trou­ble, a writ­ten rep­ri­mand of what hap­pened goes into their per­son­nel file if it doesn’t re­quire any fur­ther dis­ci­plinary ac­tions. Oral rep­ri­mands aren’t re­quired to be recorded at all.

The per­son­nel policy also gives the mayor great lat­i­tude to re­duce salaries and de­mote em­ploy­ees for just cause with a writ­ten state­ment set­ting forth the rea­son why, plus sus­pen­sion and dis­missal.

One of those for­mer em­ploy­ees who was threat­ened with a bad re­view but chose to re­sign in­stead said that he was given the op­tion to re­sign, or be fired and have the bad re­view on his file. Oral rep­ri­mands aren’t recorded at all.

Josh Oz­ment, for­mer Code En­force­ment Of­fi­cer and Build­ing In­spec­tor, said when he first came on with the city he felt he was do­ing a good job and he was start­ing to make progress in clean-up ef­forts with the Aragon city lim­its. He at the begin­ning of his short ten­ure with the city re­ported di­rectly to Bald­win and was mainly left t com­plete a tough job that “no one else wanted to do”: clean up Aragon prop­er­ties.

“I did my job, and I even took on other tasks,” Oz­ment said. “I helped trap the beavers in the area, and worked to help out An­i­mal Con­trol.”

Oz­ment’s po­si­tion with the city be­gan to turn sour when he tried to force a lo­cal res­i­dent to re­move a car from their prop­erty within 10 days, or be forced to lose the car since it had no regis­tra­tion on it.

Af­ter the car’s owner com­plained, Bald­win then de­cided to shift re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for Oz­ment un­der the purview of Pub­lic Work Su­per­in­ten­dent Daniel Johnson. Be­fore his depar­ture from the city in late May, Oz­ment said he was threat­ened with a bad per­for­mance re­view af­ter Bald­win de­cided to ex­tend his pro­ba­tion­ary pe­riod from six to eight months.

Oz­ment said that Bald­win gave him a choice: be fired and keep the bad re­view on his record, which he was told would be used to pre­vent him from get­ting a bet­ter job with a dif­fer­ent em­ployer, or re­sign and have the re­view tossed out. Oz­ment said he chose to take the res­ig­na­tion.

“I chose to do it on my own, turn­ing over my pass­words and in­for­ma­tion and do­ing it the right way,” Oz­ment said. “I hold no grudge with the city about it. I’m ac­tu­ally do­ing a lot bet­ter now.”

In his po­si­tion as Mayor and act­ing un­der Ge­or­gia’s em­ployer im­mu­nity law, so long as another em­ployer thought Bald­win was act­ing in good faith, he could have used that bad per­for­mance re­view against Oz­ment and tell fu­ture em­ploy­ers about his in­abil­ity to do the job, based on the read­ing of Ge­or­gia Code Sec­tion 34-1-4, which gov­erns what em­ploy­ers can re­veal.

How­ever Bald­win’s threat of em­ploy­ees could be in­ter­preted as vi­o­lat­ing the im­mu­nity law if he were ever to re­veal in­for­ma­tion like that to an em­ployer, since he would have al­ready threat­ened an em­ployee with ter­mi­na­tion and bad ref­er­ences for not giv­ing up their po­si­tion.

In the city’s own or­di­nance, per­for­mance re­views are con­fi­den­tial, and only be seen by the em­ployee eval­u­ated, the de­part­ment head, the city clerk and the Mayor and Coun­cil mem­bers. Ap­peals are al­lowed and for­warded to the city coun­cil as of the cur­rent lan­guage in the per­son­nel or­di­nance.

A hear­ing can be setup for em­ploy­ees who have been “de­moted, sus­pended with­out pay, dis­missed or who al­lege dis­crim­i­na­tion in the pro­mo­tional pro­ce­dures or lay-offs in vi­o­la­tion of es­tab­lished policy.”

They only have five days to ap­peal the de­ci­sion to hear the ap­peal. It also es­tab­lishes rules for no­ti­fi­ca­tions of the hear­ing, the hear­ing it­self, and the re­sults, all to hap­pen within the month of the ap­peal be­ing filed.

Oz­ment never had the op­tion to ap­peal his fir­ing and bad per­for­mance re­view since he re­signed on his own.

Since he re­signed in the spring, Oz­ment said he got a bet­ter job in Cartersville mak­ing twice the money.

He had two thoughts about his depar­ture to add. The first was that he wished his depar­ture hadn’t hap­pened the way it did.

“If they don’t need me any­more, or can’t af­ford me any­more, they should have said that,” he said. “That’s the only bit­ter part I hold against Aragon, is the way they used me and then dis­carded me.”

He also wants Aragon res­i­dents to know their Mayor isn’t do­ing his job.

“Ev­ery­thing is left up to Daniel (Johnson) to run that town, and to me he’s not the per­son that needs to be over­see­ing the city of Aragon. The Mayor should be re­spon­si­ble,” he said. “Ev­ery­thing is left up to Daniel to run that town, and to me he’s not the per­son that needs to be over­see­ing the city of Aragon. The Mayor should be re­spon­si­ble.”

The depar­ture of em­ploy­ees af­ter Bald­win took of­fice be­gan not long af­ter in 2016, when for­mer Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Hal Kuhn de­parted from his job.

He sent out a let­ter to both the Polk County Stan­dard Jour­nal and city of­fi­cials and said his res­ig­na­tion was forced at the time since he didn’t wish to serve un­der for­mer city and court clerk Lori Dunn.

In that let­ter, he stated “Af­ter dis­cus­sions with the Mayor con­cern­ing changes to the Fi­nance De­part­ment, I was told to ei­ther com­ply with the changes or re­sign. I had no choice but to re­sign.”

Kuhn’s ma­jor rea­son for ten­der­ing his res­ig­na­tion was to avoid in­volve­ment with Dunn, cit­ing se­ri­ous con­cerns her past ex­pe­ri­ence with the city’s fi­nances.

“To place an in­di­vid­ual in a trusted po­si­tion, whose past per­for­mance was a key fac­tor in the City’s fi­nan­cial cri­sis and ma­jor com­pli­ance is­sues, is too much of a fi­nan­cial risk,” Kuhn’s let­ter stated.

The bleed­ing has con­tin­ued over the past year and a half.

For­mer City Clerk Sandy Norman, who was hired by for­mer Mayor Ken Suf­fridge, served as City Clerk dur­ing two more ad­min­is­tra­tions be­fore Bald­win was elected af­ter tu­mult within the city in 2016.

That’s when things went down hill for her, and even­tu­ally she was forced to leave her job rather than ac­cept a bad em­ployee re­view last sum­mer. She was in the mid­dle of clerk train­ing cour­ses, and chose to com­plete them on her own.

That re­view, as re­ported at the time, was prompted by an e-mail Norman sent re­lay­ing her con­cerns about ev­i­dence in her pos­ses­sion re­lat­ing to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into for­mer city and court clerk Lori Dunn.

Dunn re­signed af­ter she was placed on leave fol­low­ing the state of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her ac­tions in March 2017 while she was in charge of the city’s fi­nances prior to her re­moval from the po­si­tion in 2014.

She as well felt un­der con­stant pres­sure from Bald­win.

“He was a mi­cro-man­ager,” was Norman’s one re­sponse to the way she felt treated by her for­mer boss.

Norman now works as an ed­u­ca­tor at Rock­mart High School. She com­pleted her course­work with her own money and time to be cer­ti­fied as a city clerk ear­lier in the year.

Nei­ther Norman or Kuhn elected to for­mally ap­peal their un­fair treat­ment ei­ther prior to their res­ig­na­tions.

The com­plaints from for­mer em­ploy­ees join the litany of cur­rent em­ploy­ees who are fed up with the way things are go­ing with their boss, but are afraid of los­ing their jobs and be­ing re­tal­i­ated against if they stand up for them­selves.

They are ask­ing for lo­cal res­i­dents to help them by seek­ing to in­sti­tute a re­call vote against Bald­win, and elect a mayor who will treat them fairly.

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