15 March 2012
The Board of Supervisors fired five Fluvanna County department heads Wednesday (March 14) in the wake of the secret raise fiasco that came to light last week.
The Board of Supervisors voted 3 – 2 to terminate Planning Director Darren Coffey, Public Works Director John Robins, Parks and Recreation Director Dwight Godwin, Finance Director Renee Hoover and Human Resources Director Brandy Amos.
“It was not a comfortable decision to make,” said board Chairman Shaun Kenney said. “But it is the right one for Fluvanna and the right one to improve the integrity of this government.”
The week before during the Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors met in closed session for several hours before resuming an open meeting and taking three actions: to relieve Coffey of his interim county administrator duties, rescind all raises and put a letter of reprimand in the personnel files of all department heads involved in the raises.
Kenney said about 30 employees were given raises that totaled $120,000 annually and the raises were instituted in December and January. Kenney also said no constitutional officers received or gave raises.
The Fluvanna Review sent a Freedom of Information Request asking for county employee salary information to determine who was involved.
Apparently the raises came about after Coffey was named interim director in November 2011 when Jay Scudder resigned. Coffey did not tell the board about the raises. Kenney said an employee who received a raise told the board after the employee’s conscience bothered him or her.
Last week Kenney said it was too early to determine if employees would be fired over the secret raises.
The Board met Wednesday ( March 14) to discuss the budget, but went immediately into a closed session.
Supervisors Mozell Booker (Fork Union) and Joe Chesser (Rivanna) voted against terminating the employees.
Chesser said the Board needed to take action, but maybe not this one.
“I’m not sure this is the right message to send," Chesser said. "Darren was the one responsible (for the raises) but to me, it’s very harsh.”
Chesser went on to say what the county was losing by getting rid of the five employees.
“I didn’t want to see Darren go. He has contributed a lot of expertise to this county. I’m afraid we cut off one of our strongest assets. John Robins is a tremendous asset and a very fine employee. I think (getting rid of him) is another mistake. We’ve lost a major knowledge bank in him. Renee Hoover had high credentials. She straightened up the finances. We had fantastic results in the reports she’s given.”
Chesser said Amos was new to the county and was used to taking orders from her superiors. Prior to becoming the Human Resources Director, Amos worked in the University of Virginia’s Human Resource Department.
“She never worked in a political environment before,” Chesser said. “She always worked in an environment where her immediate boss was the boss and she’s being persecuted for following what her boss (Coffey) said.”
Kenney said it was a hard to fire the department heads, but it had to be done.
Kenney said he is not worried it will be hard to find qualified candidates for the open positions after the house cleaning.
“To the contrary, I think we’ll attract quality people because they’ll see we have a workplace that puts a very high price on ethics and integrity.”
The board began interviewing candidates for the county administer job on March 10 and have more interviews scheduled for March 21. Kenney said a new administrator will be in place by May 1.
“The new county administrator will be able to put key people where they are needed,” Kenney said.
Many who heard the board fire the department heads said those people should collectively sue the county.
Kenney said such a move doesn’t concern him, noting that Virginia is an “at-will state.”
According to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry website, an employee who believes he or she has been terminated unfairly, does not have a right to challenge the termination.
It states: “Virginia is an employment-at-will state; this means the employer may terminate any employee at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. As a general rule, therefore, the employee has no right to challenge the termination. There are a few very limited exceptions. For example, an employee may not be discriminated against or terminated because he has filed a safety complaint or exercised his rights under OSHA law.”