Bulloch County Commissioners, in a 4-2 vote, upheld Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch’s decision to terminate a county department head for violating policy by failing a drug test.
Former county transportation director Eddie Smith appealed the decision, arguing that the county policy could be interpreted differently and that his 24 years of service with only one reprimand on record should have bearing on his termination.
During a hearing Wednesday, Aug. 19, Bulloch County Commissioners reviewed the policy and heard arguments from county legal representatives as well as Smith, then voted to uphold Couch’s decision.
Commissioners Walter Gibson, Roy Thompson, Carolyn Etheridge, and Robert Rushing all voted in favor of couch’s decision to terminate Smith due to policy violation. Commissioners Anthony Simmons and Ray Mosley voted to rescind Couch’s order and retain Smith on staff.
“I believe in giving everybody a second chance,” Simmons said. “Especially a person who has worked 24 years for the county … and knows more about county roads than I ever will. That was my whole premises behind my vote, but I know this is how our regulations read.”
Smith admitted having made a mistake during a stressful time in his life, and said he was socializing with old friends when one passed around a marijuana cigarette, and he accepted a turn.
“I made a mistake at a weak moment during a stressful time in my life. However, I do not agree with the board’s decision to terminate me.”
He argued points, including having saved the county money, coming in under budget for the past four years; having perfect attendance and excellent evaluations, and only one reprimand in all his service.
He referenced the board’s policy, which he said states an employee may be, not must be, terminated if he fails a drug or alcohol test. He said the policy suggests taking a person’s service record into consideration.
“I am very disappointed in a few of the commissioners’ decision not to uphold their policy,” he said. “Their decision sends a message to the employees of Bulloch County that length of service and job performance does not matter, and if you make one mistake, you are out the door.”
Etheridge, who has only been on the board a few months, selected to replace former commissioner Jan Tankersley, said "I did up hold the county manager’s decision. I felt like it was just the right thing to do – he looked at the whole process. I knew he had done his research.”
Couch said he didn’t have much more to say about his decision. “I really don’t have any further comment. It is what it is, and the facts speak for themselves. Whatever is on the record is the comment.”
Smith was asked to submit to a random drug test, which is county policy for employees. He said he has been tested several times throughout his 24 years of employment and had never failed a drug or alcohol test until recently.