Parks and Recreation Director Tom Beck has been suspended for five days without pay after an inquiry into the department's hiring practices conducted last month.
Mr. Beck, who has headed the Parks and Recreation Department since 1996, was notified Wednesday of the suspension by City Administrator Randy Oliver. Mr. Beck said Thursday he plans to appeal the decision to Augusta-Richmond County commissioners.
"I can confirm that (the suspension) has happened, but I have no public comment on it," Mr. Beck said. "I'm exploring my options."
The letter of suspension outlined the issues discovered during the department inquiry, which was conducted by the county's Equal Employment Opportunity director.
According to the letter of suspension, Mr. Beck was faulted for altered advertisements to fill a job vacancy for a Recreation and Parks specialist III. The position requires a four-year degree, but the job posting said qualified applicants should have a high school or trade school diploma or equivalent level of education.
"Clearly the human resources department erred in the publication of the notice of vacancy," Mr. Oliver wrote. "What is unclear, however, is the extent of your involvement. Simply put, did you know that the position required a BS degree? It would appear you either capitalized on an error by the Human Resources Department or that you did not know that the position required a BS Degree."
He also was cited for changing the title of recreation specialist II from center program coordinator to marketing/special events coordinator.
"While this may be warranted," Mr. Oliver wrote, "it was done without the approval of the mayor and commission. I view the position control as a sacred document that can only be changed with the approval of the mayor and commission."
Mr. Oliver's letter commended Mr. Beck's department for filling job vacancies with the use of a hiring panel, maximizing the selection and minimizing outside criticism. But the three-member panel was then reprimanded for being conducted with absences.
And the suspension letter noted that there had been miscommunication concerning the relocation of playground equipment at Wood Park.
"The issue is that you represented to the mayor and the commission that the equipment was relocated by the contractor at no cost," Mr. Oliver said in the letter. "While this is true, you neglected to mention that equipment was relocated by recreation and parks under the direction of the contractor."
Mr. Oliver said he believed the commission should have been made aware of that fact, noting that the time required to move the equipment could have been significant.
Department directors who have been suspended can appeal the action to the mayor and commission within 10 days, and Mr. Beck said he intends to.
His suspension is set to be effective Monday, but Mr. Beck is scheduled to moderate two meetings next week. He said he is trying to alter the suspension dates so he can still conduct the meetings.
Mr. Oliver has said he believes the five-day suspension is a "somewhat harsh" disciplinary action, but that City Attorney Jim Wall had advised him that salary exempt employees may be suspended for a minimum of one week. The next lower level of action, a written reprimand, would have been "insufficient," he said.
In the four years Mr. Beck has headed the recreation department, he has been suspended once before for one day on an unrelated matter.
"I think Mr. Beck is a top-notch recreation director," Mr. Oliver said Thursday afternoon. "I think his accomplishments are monumental, and I think he's a real asset to this government."
Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.
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