Columbia County code officer's firing upheld by commission

The Columbia County Commission voted Tuesday to uphold the firing of Code Compliance Officer Jimmy Vowell, overturning an earlier decision by the county’s Civil Service Commission.

 

Vowell was fired after he entered the home of Erica Masters without permission on July 2 while serving a code violation notice. The Civil Service Commission voted unanimously in October to overturn the firing.

That decision was appealed by Columbia County Development Services Division, the department that employed Vowell. After hearing arguments from representatives of both sides, the commission ruled Vowell would not get his job back.

The Development Services Division’s case was built on confirming that Vowell entered the home without permission and later provided false information to supervisors about what happened. Vowell’s case centered on the appropriateness of the punishment.

Melissa Detchemendy, Vowell’s representative at the hearing, requested a demotion and/or transfer to another job. She said the independent nature of the Civil Service Commission added credence to its decision.

“To give him the death penalty for this violation is extreme,” she said. “We believe that, as did the Civil Service Commission.”

Detchemendy also said that Vowell entered the home because he was concerned about the occupant’s safety.

“He was at this house having been there before,” she said. “The car did not appear to have been moved. There was debris around the tires. There was a smell coming from the house and the door swung open. Yes he did walk in. He was concerned.”

Tom Cathey, representing the Development Services Division, said that not only did Vowell violate policy, he later offered conflicting testimony and only admitted entering the house when video evidence was presented.

“I really hate that he screwed up on July 2,” Cathey said. “And I really hate that he lied about it on July 3. But that’s what happened.”

Vowell said he does not consider the matter settled and he might file a lawsuit.

Masters, who recently filed a lawsuit against Columbia County and Vowell, citing emotional and physical distress, said she feels good about the decision.

“If they had rehired him it would have been like they had written me off,” she said. “It’s been hard, but my concern here is for the safety of the citizens.”

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