A former Augusta firefighter who challenged his 2008 termination for a positive drug screen got a new personnel board hearing Wednesday, but the panel again upheld his termination.
Edward Neal, a 26-year firefighter, claimed he never used drugs and alleged his was a false positive in the case, which changed state law regarding government employees’ right to face their accusers at a personnel hearing.
With the opportunity to question the Medical Review Officer and “collector” who handled Neal’s sample Wednesday, attorney Jack Batson inquired why no one had instructed Neal about his opportunity to test the other part of his “split sample,” a procedure Augusta employs that reserves half the sample for a possible retest later.
Brian Skelley of BC Drug and Alcohol Testing, who took Neal’s sample, said he shipped all collections to an Atlanta lab.
“I didn’t know you could test later on,” Skelley said, while city Risk Manager Sandra Wright said Augusta had used the split-sample procedure as part of its zero-tolerance drug policy since consolidation.
Neal said he learned through a phone call from then-Deputy Fire Chief Carl Scott that he’d tested positive for marijuana and asked his doctor what to do. The physician had him produce another sample, which tested negative, but it had been 12 days since his first test.
“That’s a pretty good length of time,” Wright testified.
Neal said he probably had signed documents acknowledging the city’s drug test policies and procedures. He’d found another job a few months after his termination, but wished he could restore his reputation and collect the city retirement he would have been eligible for in two years, at age 55.
“People that know me personally know I don’t do drugs,” he said.
Representing the city, attorney Dan Hamilton pushed Neal to explain why he or his attorneys
hadn’t asked to have the second part of the split sample, stored in Atlanta for a year or more, also tested.
“You did not do anything to have the split sample tested, correct?” Hamilton asked.
“If I had had a split sample, I would have had it tested,” Neal said.
After the two-hour hearing, the personnel board upheld the decision to terminate Neal. All five members present – chairman Chip Barbee, Ronnie Masters, Bob Finnegan, J.R. Riles and Gwendolyn Robinson – voted in favor.
Riles said he disagreed with how the city informed Neal about the result, but “due to the fact that (Neal) had signed” the policies and procedures, he should have been aware of them.