By James Cook, Times Editor
The dismissal of the former Stanton City Clerk was a hot topic when it happened back in May. It is bound to be heating up again as she has filed a lawsuit against the city and the mayor, claiming she was wrongfully terminated and treated unfairly. She is asking for $20 million in damages.
On May 1 of this year then City Clerk, Vickie Slemp, was called into the mayor’s office where she was given a letter. That letter informed her that she was being terminated effective May 8, but that she was to leave the office and not to return as of right then. Mayor Dale Allen also informed her that he would not discuss her termination and the letter stated she could ask for a prediscplinary hearing. That hearing was set for May 8. Slemp left the office, “visibly upset” as she has stated in her suit, with “customers in the office” and “her daughter with her.”
At the time of the dismissal, Allen did not release a statement. However, in the lawsuit a claim has been made that Allen advised Slemp there may have been an issue with the audits and bank reconciliations. No one has ever claimed any wrong doing or illegal activity by Slemp in the case.
Allen also refused to recuse himself from the predisciplinary hearing and he also refused to answer questions on the advice of counsel. The suit claims that Slemp was not given a fair hearing and that her request for a continuance was denied. That claim also states that she was denied due process and the chance to call witnesses.
Former mayor Virginia Wills did testify stating that she never had any problems with Slemp performance. Wills also stated that she would give a verbal reprimand followed by a written reprimand if an employee’s conduct was “inappropriate or dissatisfactory” before she would terminate anyone. Wills stated that was the way it was supposed to be handled according to the policy and procedure manual.
Slemp has never received a yearly evaluation, which the manual states are supposed to be completed. She claims she was never verbally reprimanded or written up for any wrong doing while she was a city employee. In contrast, Slemp states in her court documents that Allen told her she was doing a good job, giving her the feeling that her employment was safe.
Slemp, who worked for the city from Feb. 8 2001 until her dismissal, claims that based on the city’s policy and procedure manual she could only be dismissed “for just cause” and that only “probationary period” employees could “be dismissed at will.” That manual has been what the city has used since it was approved, according to Slemp, on April 29, 2004. In the city’s last meeting on Oct. 8 the council did discuss looking at the policies to update them if needed.
Slemp and her attorney, Donna Hale, claim in the lawsuit that neither Slemp nor the Assistant Clerk, Teresa Koontz, ever received any bookkeeping or finance training. The mayor has claimed, at a meeting following the dismissal that training was available but Slemp did not attend.
Slemp also claims the yearly audits fell behind from 2003 until 2007. Those were completed in a matter of 18 months, with 2005 through 2007 being completed on Mar. 2, 2009. According to the suit, neither the auditors from Summers, McCray and Sparks, or Allen ever discussed the audits with her or Koontz. She also claims that when she asked the auditors about them, she was advised they would discuss it with her later. The audits did mention that the clerk needed more training, but that she was never sent to any training.
As for bank reconciliations, Slemp claims that the city hired “outside people” back in 2003 to take over that responsibility. The suit points out that the position for City Clerk that was advertised after her dismissal did not list this duty as being part of the job.
The 17 page lawsuit has other claims as well that deal with the possibility that Slemp may have been discriminated against. The suit also claimed that her replacement was hired illegally, that the open meetings act was violated and that Slemp was never paid for the first week she worked for the city. Some businesses and entities hold the check for the first 40 hours and that is paid when the employee leaves a job. Slemp claims in the suit that she was not paid for those hours.
As for her replacement, the suit claims that a position that does not exist in the city’s policy was created to hire the new clerk. The suit also claims that the posting methods of the special meetings were changed and that because of that Slemp and Hale missed a meeting on May 4. It was at that meeting that new clerk was hired as a Deputy Clerk.
The lawsuit also claims that male employees from the water and sewer departments who completed a one week training session received a $50 per month raise. However, after completing a three year process for certification, Slemp was not given such a raise. The suit also claims that when she inquired about the raise she was told by Allen that he would have to check with City Attorney Scott Graham. That was a week before she was given the dismissal letter.
She also claims that when positions came open that current employees would be offered the position for at least one week before it will be opened for applications outside of the city’s employees. But that when Koontz asked on May 2 why the position was not offered to her Allen allegedly advised that she had to be certified. The suit claims that the advertisement posted in the Times for the position did not list that as a requirement.
The lawsuit asks for a trial by jury as well as a judgment against Allen, both individually and as the Mayor of Stanton, and the City of Stanton. She is asking for compensation for her “past, present and future economic loss as well as for the mental distress she has suffered.” The suit also asks for Slemp’s costs and expenses, including attorney’s fees for the suit and the predisciplinary hearing be included in any damages awarded. The document also asks the Powell Circuit Court find that that the City of Stanton violated the Open Meetings Act, for punitive damages of $20 million to “deter future wrongful conduct by the Defendants, Dale Allen and the City of Stanton.”
Allen was contacted by the Times for a comment. “Based on the advise of my attorney and since this is pending litigation, I really cannot discuss anything about it,” Allen said on Monday.
These type of lawsuits only give the plaintiff’s side of the story.