Originally created 02/09/02

Aiken plans better discipline



AIKEN - The city of Aiken has clarified how it disciplines its employees and plans to better train its department heads to recognize drug and alcohol abuse, Human Resources Director Stanley Quarles said Friday.

The actions follow a December meeting by the city's employee grievance committee.

The committee recommended educating supervisors on drug and alcohol abuse after it reviewed former Parks and Recreation Director Terry Rhinehart's drunken driving case, according to documents obtained by The Augusta Chronicle through an open records request.

Mr. Rhinehart was arrested for driving under the influence twice last year and was fired after his second offense in October. His appeal for reinstatement was denied by the grievance committee.

But city officials had refused to reveal why Mr. Rhinehart left his job until this week. Mr. Rhinehart has not been convicted of either charge.

Mr. Quarles said he began updating the city's employee handbook last summer and that Mr. Rhinehart's case only reinforced clarifying disciplinary action.

Mr. Quarles said department heads already receive annual outside training to recognize drug and alcohol abuse, but will receive additional training this year. Supervisors are trained to watch for absenteeism, missed meetings and attitude changes, Mr. Quarles said.

The city recommended to Mr. Rhinehart that he attend an alcohol abuse class after his first DUI in May, according to a city memo, but he declined to do so. New policy will require DUI offenders to attend an alcohol abuse class, Mr. Quarles added.

Employees will be able to choose a program, but must have it approved by the city, Mr. Quarles said.

Mr. Rhinehart could have been fired after his first DUI, Mr. Quarles wrote to Mr. Rhinehart in October.

"We insisted upon your attending the alcohol and drug program," the letter told Mr. Rhinehart. "It did not do any good. ... We are all grateful that you did not kill anybody."

Mr. Quarles said drug and alcohol abuse by employees would be "evaluated on a case-by-case basis." Mr. Rhinehart got a second chance, but not because he was a department head, nor because he had worked for Aiken more than two decades, Mr. Quarles said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.