Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Controversy over Richmond County recreation director's dismissal continues

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The “whistle blowers” and Augusta officials call the recreation department probe by Bill Shanahan and other top incompetents in city government an investigation.

Others call it a witch hunt.

The controversy rages on.

Whistle blower John Doe e-mails from Wreckreation that the time card controversy that cost longtime Parks and Recreation Director Tom Beck his job is “just the tip of the iceberg.”

John Doe contends now-demoted Operations Manager Melinda Pearson created a hostile work environment. “It is NOT common to allow exempt employees to bank hour. Ms. Pearson was denied the time by Dennis Stroud and at least one other person refused to sign off on this action because it was plainly wrong.”

Beck was fired for signing Pearson’s time card that gave her credit for days she had not worked but, he said, was owed for overtime hours worked earlier in the year before going out on catastrophic leave.

WHOSE ICEBERG IS THIS ANYWAY? “Concerned in Augusta” begs via e-mail for someone to tell the truth about what’s going on in recreation because investigating city officials have created a hostile work environment for some employees while rewarding the worst of the lot.

“What has happened during this fiasco that the city has created, is now people feel empowered to do as they please! Many of the workers refuse to do their job. They feel that they can simply ride around in a city vehicle for hours on end, using city vehicles for personal use and only work 1 or 2 hours a day. This is common place! Ms. Pearson has tried disciplining employees for these violations but Mr. Shanahan refuses to act!!!!! This is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Meanwhile, “Please Help” says, “Augusta needs change.

“The evidence will soon show once released that this is a scheme of revenge by (former supervisor) Dennis Stroud for his termination at Augusta Recreation for his hostile treatment of Mrs. Pearson and fellow co-workers in the department during the time he worked there. Sources close to Augusta Recreation have stated Mrs. Pearson was humiliated on her job yesterday, removed from her office and demoted to the lowest paying grounds keeper position in the county, this is a NASTY blatant attempt made by the city to force Mrs. Pearson out of the county, make her quit, so that they can have the cause to deny her benefits she rightfully deserves after working more than two decades for this city.”

WHERE DID THAT PAIN IN THE NECK GO? He turned it in with his keys.

City Ink talked to Beck by phone on his way out the door to make his tee time. He said something doesn’t feel quite right.

“The stress in my neck is gone.”

But that could be because he’s still numb from being so summarily fired after 35 years – four years short of full retirement – especially after being promoted with a 15 percent raise last fall.

“I’ve seen so much take place,” he said. “It just goes to show you if they want to get you, they will find something. I’d done some things that had teed-off the black commissioners, and then some of the white commissioners got teed-off at me, and when the smoke cleared…”

It all started with four disgruntled employees, he said.

“But the most disappointing thing to me was Fred Russell,” he said. “I’d worked for four administrators. Linda Beazley for a short time, then Randy Oliver, George Kolb and Fred. Of them all, I thought Fred was the most solid. But when he told me he’d recommended termination and said, ‘We’ve got to be consistent,’ I said, ‘Don’t tell me you’re comparing me to that bunch of criminals who weren’t even showing up for work?’ ”

Some people, Russell included apparently, have likened Beck’s signing Pearson’s time card to a time-fraud scheme caught on tape over many months showing water treatment plant employees clocking each other in and out.

Russell’s recommendation gave the commissioners the excuse they needed to fire him, he said.

“They can say, ‘The administrator recommended it.’ ”

It’s a costly departure.

“If I had been able to work to normal retirement, the difference in what I would have received and now is over $20,000 a year,” he said. “Multiply that over a normal life expectancy and it’s a substantial amount.”

IT’S NOT WHETHER HE’LL SUE, BUT FOR HOW MUCH? “I hate doing it,” he said. “I honestly do. I think back, I raised my family employed with the recreation department. I appreciate that. But this situation crossed the line.”

During Beck’s 15 years as department director, he oversaw $70 million of facility improvements and new construction, including three phases of Diamond Lakes Regional Park and the Aquatics Center.

The department also received the District Agency of the Year award six times from the Georgia Regional Parks Association and the city’s first Trendsetter award from the Georgia Municipal Association in 2007.

BIG MAN AND BIGFOOT BACK IN ACTION: Ailing Augusta Commissioners Jerry Brigham and Grady Smith were back for last week’s commission meeting. Smith, just two days out of the hospital, minus a big toe a consequence of diabetes he ignored for way too many years.

“I’m getting around fine,” he said. “That’s the advantage of having 13-and-a-half D’s. You still have a good platform to stand on.”

SOME JUST SENT A CHECK: A big crowd showed up for Richmond County Clerk of Court Elaine Johnson’s fundraiser held by attorney Jack Long and wife, Benita, week before last. Sheriff candidates Scott Peebles, Robbie Silas, and Freddie Sanders and his campaign manager, David Fields, were there, as well as Commissioner Alvin Mason; Donna Murray from the tax assessor’s office; the queen of Broad Street Bonnie Ruben and her husband, Jeff Gorelick; State Court Judge John Flythe; and Superior Court Judge Cheryl Jolly and her assistant Jo Magill.

The Long’s Pickens Road home was designed by Willis Irvin for cotton broker Porter Fleming and built in 1911. The style is eclectic, according to Benita Long, who said it was the fashion of the day for people to take elaborate tours of Europe and model rooms of houses they subsequently built on the styles of different countries they visited. The exterior of the Long’s home is Italian Renaissance, the main room reminiscent of an English tavern, the parlor, French.

Jack Long’s library is filled with law books, photos and mementos such as those from the 1958 Savannah Diocesan Lourdes Centennial Pilgrimage he and his brother Gene made with two Augusta maiden ladies, Eleanor and Marie Bennett; priests; Savannah residents; and Flannery O’Connor and her mother.

The Bennett sisters detailed the entire pilgrimage from Augusta to New York, Ireland, England, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and back to Augusta. O’Connor wrote friends about the trip and the bad little boys:

“The plane ride from Rome to Lisbon was on the Argentine Airways in which we set facing each other, me and Regina facing Slowburn and one of the little boys, with Margaret and Mrs. Stoddard and the Monsignor and Fr. Burke facing each-other across. Slowburn took out his needle and thread and began to patch his pocket; then he put that up and put a monocle in his eye and took out a dime novel in Spanish called Solo tu, Veronica, and began to read that, then finally he went to sleep with his mouth open and the little boy had a great time making as if to insert a coin in it.”

“…The little boys amused themselves all the way to Lisbon telling her (Margaret) that if she would go out on the back of the plane she would find a little balcony where she could look out, that we were about to crash, that if she gave Mr. Slowburn a commission he would find her a husband, etc., etc. … Nell Green bought three pairs of shoes in Rome. Mr. Brennan spilled his liquor in his TWA bag and it went all over his clothes.”

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star
650
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star 05/05/12 - 09:25 pm
2
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Sylvia, thanks for giving us

Sylvia, thanks for giving us the rest of the WRECK DEPT story. I think it was(is) a witch hunt; however, what I don't understand is why any supervisor/manager/dept. head would tolerate all of the problems this employee(Melinda) supposedly had during her working career(according to the newspaper article Friday)...and to promote her(or any employee) and have them manger others. Still a lot of questions unanswered.

FriedFacts
61
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FriedFacts 05/05/12 - 09:44 pm
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Let me say thanks to Sylvia,
Unpublished

Let me say thanks to Sylvia, too, for keeping her promise to tell us about the Jack Long, Flannery O'Connor trip. She was an important American writer and lived a quiet life right up the road in Milledgeville.

FriedFacts
61
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FriedFacts 05/06/12 - 06:39 am
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"The “whistle blowers” and
Unpublished

"The “whistle blowers” and Augusta officials call the recreation department probe by Bill Shanahan and other top incompetents in city government an investigation."

Haha, can't get much plainer than that. Calling Shanahan and the others at the top "incompetents."

dichotomy
37496
Points
dichotomy 05/06/12 - 11:23 am
2
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"Still a lot of questions

"Still a lot of questions unanswered."

You won't get any answers. When Beck's lawyers file the lawsuit we will pay a lot of money to settle and no facts will be revealed. I'd say Beck is entitled to about $500,000, plus his retirement, plus attorney's fees. Isn't it amazing how 10 commissioners and an administrator can be collectively as dumb as a rock........not just on this issue but pretty much everything they do. Have you ever seen a good clean firing come from this bunch of clods where we, the taxpayers, did not have to pay dearly through a settlement for our commissioners stupidity?

Little Lamb
49094
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Little Lamb 05/07/12 - 06:27 am
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0
There is still a lot we don't

There is still a lot we don't know, but several things have become clearer. From the story above:

Beck was fired for signing Pearson’s time card that gave her credit for days she had not worked but, he said, was owed for overtime hours worked earlier in the year before going out on catastrophic leave.

I think the policy on catastrophic leave is that you have to exhaust all your earned leave — vacation, sick leave, and comp time before you can take catastrophic leave. For Beck to sign off on comp time earned before she took catastrophic leave shows a blatant disregard for policies and procedures. It also sets a back precedent that others will try to use in the future.

Both Pearson and Beck were in the wrong.

augustalocal
10
Points
augustalocal 05/08/12 - 08:31 am
1
1
@ Everyone

@ Everyone

"explaining" is right word! Let look at the argument in its entirety...number one, lets say her comp time is "Valid"...ok she gets "hosptialized" according to records and is placed on "catastrophic leave"...ok she finally gets a chance to return to work and is informed by her superiors that she still has 4 days of the comp time she received from back in the first of the year...RIGHT THERE...it was a failure of leadership to inform her that this time was exhausted and could not be utilize after her leave and finally if this indeed is a "common place" practice throughout city government as Tom Beck stated they should have stopped the buck with him and reformed their HR policy's! but instead here we are looking at a disorganized government on a witch hunt about an employee who is probably a good employee...again where do we live people???? know your government before "possibly" condemning the innocent

augustalocal
10
Points
augustalocal 05/08/12 - 08:32 am
1
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@ Star

as far as her record goes i think you need to check HR policies regarding files over 5, 8 or even 10 years. it is policy that they are "cleaned" but hmmm i guess our city HR dept isnt capable of following policy...this explains ADP...HELLLLLO people where do we live again??

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