Board deadlocked concerning plight of ex-city workers

By Julie Fann
star staff

Members of the city's Personnel Advisory Board deadlocked on a 3-3 vote as to whether City Manager Charles Stahl properly followed policy procedure when he terminated the employment of 3 city employees accused of stealing items from vehicles on the city's storage lot. Personnel Advisory Board Chairman, John Wagoner, Vice Chairman, J.B. Shepard, and City Attorney, Roger Day will meet with Stahl today to discuss the board's dilemma and come up with recommendations for the ex-city worker's plight.
   Because there was a tie vote, the board decided to meet with Stahl and explain their problem. Had they agreed Stahl followed procedure properly, he would decide the men's fate. Had they disagreed, they would be able to make binding recommendations concerning the men. Central to the board's debate were the legal definition of theft according to Tennessee code coupled with the employee's 'true' intentions, and the question of ownership.
   "I do not believe that intent to deprive the owners of property was an issue for these men when they took these things. It's not like they took tires. They considered the cars of no value and those cars are not inventoried by the city," Board Chairman, J.B. Shepard, said. The cars are towed to the storage lot due to a violation of city code. If owners of the vehicles don't pay the necessary fines, the city then sends them a certified letter stating their property will be auctioned off.
   At a meeting last week, police said they saw the men take items from the cars behind the old Herb and Metal building, many of them stored in a plastic grocery bag. However, police didn't file charges since the men were city workers. The items taken included a can of Fix-A-Flat, a bottle of brake fluid, some empty cigarette packs, a bottle of power steering fluid, a can of insect fogger, a small amount of duct tape, a wrench, some dry cell batteries, two flashlight bulbs, and a small yellow ball.
   An attorney for the men, Ms. Nidiffer Rice, told the board the items taken were not city property; therefore, the men did not take anything from the city. "We have no owner in this case. The city doesn't own it; it was junk," Rice said.
   The men said they took the can of Fix-A-Flat to repair a city vehicle, not for their own personal use. However, at last night's board meeting, board member, Bill Plumer, said he investigated the issue and discovered the city vehicle was beyond repair and had been 'out of commission' for four months. "I believe these men lied under oath. They had no intention of repairing that vehicle. The value of these items is irrelevant," he said.
   Shepard asserted the punishment for the men far exceeds the crime and pointed to the fact that the men had no previous record of misconduct and said their previous loyal service deserved consideration. Larry Caldwell has worked for the city for 22 years, Keith Ingram for 17 years, and Todd Berry for five years.