A nearly 7-year-old claim of wrongful dismissal was settled last week when Glascock County agreed to pay a former employee $50,000. Because the county did not have liability coverage at the time of the dismissal, every dollar will come from the general fund.
After a closed session in last week’s commission meeting, the small county 40 miles west of Augusta approved an agreement with Kenneth Lamar Baxley to settle all pending claims he may or may not have against Glascock County’s Sheriff’s Department and the Glascock County Board of Commissioners.
The county’s current attorney Barry Fleming, who like the entire board of commissioners, did not represent the county at the time of Baxley’s firing, said that the dismissal was based on health problems that impacted Baxley’s ability to do his job.
“The original demand was for $200,000,” said Fleming. “If this had gone to court, it could have cost more in legal fees than they ended up paying in the settlement.”
Baxley filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, under which employers are expected to accommodate employees who have illnesses or disabilities, Fleming said.
“The sheriff would like to have kept him on, but because we are talking about a very small department where there are no real desk jobs, where every deputy has to be able to go out and respond to emergency calls, the sheriff felt like he had to let him go. In the end, it was a safety hazard for both the employee and the public,” Fleming said. “It got to the point where the sheriff was afraid Mr. Baxley was going to pass out while driving the patrol car. There was one incident when there was a prisoner in the back when he had to pull over.”
Commissioners Audrey Chalker and Lori Boyen said they first became aware that the county did not have liability insurance as a direct result of the suit being filed.
“When we got the letter (notifying them of the civil suit) we turned it over to our county attorney,” Boyen said. “The first thing he did was call the insurance company. That is when we found that we had no liability insurance.”
Both commissioners said they were shocked at the news, assuming that liability would be a basic tenant of the county’s insurance policies.
“We discovered we were under-insured on our buildings and that we were insuring vehicles that had been done away with years ago,” Boyen said. “We were insuring three ambulances, we have one. That’s when the insurance cleanup started, 2014, the second year we were in office.
“We fixed it right then. We ended up with better insurance and it included the liability and we paid to have that part of it retroactive going back five years. We fixed it as soon as we found out.”
As Baxley’s claim goes back to 2009, it predates even the steps they took.
Because of this, the settlement of $50,000 will have to come from the county’s general fund.
“We’re just going to have to pull it out of reserves. It wasn’t in the budget, so there will have to be a budget amendment,” Boyen said.
The county’s fund balance is in the neighborhood of $1.5 million, Boyen said, but all of that is not cash and the county’s annual audit is currently in process.
Boyen and Chalker were quick to point out that much of that fund balance is set aside for other projects, such as road improvements and they have federal and state restrictions on how certain dollars are spent.
“It (the settlement) is an impact, but it’s one that I feel we can absorb through smart money management,” Boyen said.
“It’s not going to put us under. There are other things we would like to have done with the money,” Chalker added. “It was less expensive to settle it. The possibilities of it going forward and it going before 12 jurors and having to pay for it to go through federal court, it would have been a lot more than $50,000.”