Why did the city council believe it needed to even negotiate a settlement with McCorkle after she was fired in September 2008?
Shane Haynes was hired in July 2008 as city manager and immediately ran into issues in his interactions with McCorkle. He brought his concerns to the city council in an executive session in August and was told to basically start over in terms of working with McCorkle.
Council members, in fact, told him during the executive session that if McCorkle failed to cooperate and work well with Haynes, her immediate supervisor, he could take whatever action he needed. Haynes documented at least three incidents of insubordination in the next few weeks and then fired McCorkle about a month after the executive session.
The city charter gives the city manager hiring and firing authority over all city employees. In the case of department heads, however, the charter says the manager must first consult with the city council in executive session. Haynes did just that; he followed procedure before firing McCorkle.
The question of whether McCorkle should have been fired is not the point. It was within Haynes' authority and he took the required steps within that authority to dismiss an employee he believed was not doing her job to his satisfaction.
Though she never filed a lawsuit, McCorkle, through her attorney, told the city she intended to do so. As reported in the Statesboro Herald, McCorkle claimed her termination was improper, citing the Personnel Policy of the city.
She also said her replacement was named during her appeals process, which abridged her right to due process. In addition, she said she was improperly terminated for whistle blowing activity, specifically that she notified officials, as per the Statesboro Code of Ethics, of "resume falsification by the City Manager, non-compliance of audit requirements for liquor license(s) by a council person and a failure of a council person to file reports with the States Ethics commission."
McCorkle was seeking $1,165,000 in damages.
Despite no lawsuit actually being filed, the city met May 26 for mediation of the dispute with McCorkle's attorney. On Tuesday, it was revealed two options to settle McCorkle's claim came out of the session:
Option 1 - - McCorkle would be reinstated to all her former positions. She would receive $68,000 in back pay, plus an additional payment of $50,000 for attorney's fees, and reinstatement of all her benefits as if she never left the position, including 42 days of accumulated vacation. Half, or $69,000 would be paid by insurance.
Option 2 - A payment of $450,000 - $225,000 from the city and $225,000 from insurance - with a stipulation that McCorkle would not file a suit and would never work for the city again.
Option 1 passed with the support of council members Tommy Blitch, Joe Brannen and Gary Lewis. And, though he does not vote, Mayor Bill Hatcher clearly supported that option.
Council members Will Britt and Travis Chance said they believe McCorkle's claims were baseless and the city should have taken the case to court.
We agree. Her claims are baseless. Looking at her charges one by one: Haynes followed procedure in firing her. It was the city's duty to hire a replacement to carry on necessary business. By the time McCorkle made an issue of discrepancies in Haynes' resume, it already had been reported in the Statesboro Herald. The other two claims also were well known. She didn't blow the whistle on anything.
So why did the city settle? Blitch, Brannen and Lewis said they did it to save the city money. The short-term gain of a payout of $69,000 to McCorkle as opposed to $225,000 is not an insignificant sum - $156,000 less. But that will erode quickly if McCorkle resumes her duties under her old yearly salary and benefits of about $110,000.
The saving-the- city-money argument just doesn't add up. We believe it's such a weak argument the council members have created a credibility problem with the public as to their real reasons for supporting McCorkle's return.
If Blitch, Brannen and Lewis believe city residents are truly better served with McCorkle as city clerk, they have yet to say so. Their silence on that matter doesn't speak well for the conviction of their actions.
It seems the odd man out in this whole scenario is city manager Haynes. The mayor and council have undermined his authority. The mayor clearly controls the votes of Blitch, Brannen and Lewis in this matter and if a motion is made to fire Haynes at the next council meeting, it almost assuredly would pass. We hope that doesn't happen. Haynes deserves better.
We urge the city to reconsider its action to reinstate McCorkle. The city should take the case to court. But, failing that, should at worst vote to settle with McCorkle for $450,000 - $225,000 of taxpayer money and $225,000 of insurance money. The city needs to move on now.
After Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Hatcher was immediately confronted by a very concerned city department head that didn't want McCorkle to, once again, have any say in his department. Clearly, McCorkle has become a divisive figure and bringing her back is not in the best interests of the city government or the residents of Statesboro it serves.