City recreation employee Melinda Pearson fights back over demotion

Woman involved in time-card incident aims to clear name

Melinda Pearson, the Augusta recreation operations manager involved in a time card incident for which recreation Director Tom Beck was fired, isn’t taking her demotion to maintenance worker sitting down.

At the end of Monday’s Augusta Commission committee meetings, Pearson wheeled in a cart of thick packets, saying little as she handed one to each of the six commissioners present.

“I’m going to clear my name,” she said after distributing the packets.

Inside, a cover letter “to all parties concerned” said Pearson is appealing “all actions imposed upon me as a result of the malicious attack upon my character and integrity.”

“The investigation conducted about allegations of time card fraud has been conducted in an inept manner and has resulted in false information being publicized about me through the media,” it said.

On Monday, City Administrator Fred Russell approved Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan’s recommendation that Pearson be demoted for her involvement in the incident to maintenance worker II, an hourly position with a salary of $30,671 – barely half the $60,017 she earned as operations manager.

“We took the action we thought was appropriate,” Russell said. “I think she’s actually gone outside of the process by appealing to members of the commission.”

Under the city’s personnel manual, the appeals process for a demotion goes for review through the administrator’s office.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said that although a midlevel demotion was beneath the department-head level at which the commission has authority, he would probably review Pearson’s packet.

Shanahan, who conducted the investigation, is out of the office most of the week. Documents associated with his investigation, obtained through an open-records request Thursday, included several reprimands and write-ups for absenteeism and breaking policy throughout Pearson’s career with the department, where she began working in 1983.

The documents include several allegations of a hostile work environment at the recreation department and a handwritten denial by former recreation Deputy Director Dennis Stroud that he ever approved “comp time for exempt employees.”

Beck said that Stroud, who became Pearson’s supervisor last year after the public services department merged with recreation, orally approved her taking off the days in question and that the practice of paying employees who were exempt from overtime requirements for days not worked but recorded as worked was commonplace in city government.

According to a statement from recreation secretary Lisa Hall, Beck fired Stroud Jan. 3, then approved Pearson’s time card Jan. 4, despite her informing him that the “card was showing that she was at work each day and that was not the case.”

Because of the absences of Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles and Commissioners Matt Aitken, Alvin Mason and J.R. Hatney, commission members took little action during Monday’s committee meetings.

The absences of Bowles and Aitken caused cancellation of the public services committee meeting for lack of a quorum.

Controversy over Richmond County recreation director's dismissal continues
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