Fiscal court meeting heated; ambulance director back at work
To no one’s surprise the regular Powell County Fiscal Court meeting held last Tuesday night was anything but regular. The court tried to conduct business as usual but everyone knew things weren’t going to remain calm and orderly for long.
As it was reported last week Powell County Judge Executive James Anderson dismissed Powell County Ambulance Service Director Eddie Barnes from his position last Monday.
At the fiscal court meeting Barnes addressed the magistrates stating, “As you know I have been terminated, I just wanted to thank you for allowing me to serve the public and community, I ask that whoever takes my position that you please do not let anyone do anything to the employees, they are a great group.”
It was apparent that not only did Barnes care for his community and employees, but they cared for him as well. The court room was full of supporters and those there to voice their opinions on the recent decision made in regards to Barnes’ position.
Anderson had advised the Times that Barnes was dismissed due to not properly keeping time cards, scheduling problems that created “mismanagement” and not using the purchase order system properly. All of t he listed problems, Anderson stated, could cost the county money.
“It was one of my main concerns, when I ran for office, that our public safety be efficient and that we use our tax dollars wisely,” Anderson told the Times Tuesday morning. “I have worked feverishly at this and have tried to work with the director. However, either he (Barnes) was unwilling or unable and failed to this task.”
Several citizens spoke and voiced their opinions on Barnes behalf. Mike Allen addressed Anderson directly asking, “Do you remember what you said to me at the last meeting when I stood here and asked you if you were going to fire Mr. Barnes,” Allen asked. “You said it was just a rumor.”
Anderson responded, “Yes, no, at the time it was a rumor.” Allen then said, “I feel you weren’t really truthful last time I was here” and he went on to say, “I think you made a terrible mistake”
Anderson defended himself by saying, “I was not unhonest with you I see the personnel side you do not see, I am a representative for the tax payers.”
Barnes the stood up and said, “Let’s bring everything out, since you have been here you have been after me, you have been upset with me since I refused to send a crew of volunteers to Menifee County to cut a tree out of the road for the auditor, and you asked me who I was to say no to you.” Barnes explained that he was not going to put his employees and volunteers in danger to do personal favors.
Anderson said, “That is not true”.
Barnes stated, “You did and don’t say anything different because it’s a blatant lie”.
Anderson tried to regain order in the meeting by explaining to the court that they would need to go into a closed session to discuss the firing of Barnes. Barnes then asked why that was necessary he thought he was already fired, Anderson explained, “I fired you”. Barnes then asked, “Am I fired or not” Anderson went on to explain that he had to go into closed session to get the courts approval.
Anderson tried to explain to the outraged crowd through all the chaos that he never questioned Barnes’ medical service and ability but” there are two sides to it, it isn’t just about the medical part.” He also explained they had been having issues with time cards and “things of that nature.”
Shouts came out from the crowd with comments such as, “Take them all out don’t point one out” In regards to comments about those who many felt are not doing their job. Barnes then asked, “What about the dispatcher we have problems with. I brought over a tape and let you listen to it concerning a dispatcher and how he handled a situation and you just laughed.” Anderson just shook his head and continued saying that is not true, which he stated repeatedly through the night concerning several accusations.
Allen went on to say, “I do not know your motivation for doing this but I pray the Lord forgives you, I have no hard feelings toward you but I pray someone does not have to pay with their life because lives are more important than dollars”.
Darrell Billings also showed his support for Barnes and the ambulance service. He stated, “These are the most underpaid and overworked workers in the county. I am amazed by the county judge’s office, you want Jefferson County service from them but you do not treat them like that, how can you justify firing of a man you have worked with for four months.”
Billings then went on to say, “About five months ago we saw a candidate that was adamantly against the insurance premium tax, him and his whole family was, I believe they even called one judge a fool. Now that candidate is our judge and it has never been brought up to revoke, in fact you have never mentioned the insurance premium tax.”
Anderson interrupted by saying, “I am working diligently on that.”
Billings then stated, “ I am not interrupting you when you speak so please show me the same courtesy. I spoke with the insurance commissioner out of Frankfort today; if you do not do something tonight then nothing can be done.” He went on to explain Anderson only had until April to do something or it would be too late.
Billings then went on to ask, “Are we going to see James Anderson the candidate or the judge? Because right now I don’t think we really know who you are”.
After much discussion and voicing of opinions from several concerned citizens a motion was made to enter into closed session regarding the issue of Barnes’ position. The closed session took 2 hours which lasted longer than the regular meeting itself.
After the two hours, the meeting resumed into an open meeting where Anderson explained that they had discussed his decision to fire Barnes. He then explained a vote for dismissal would take place. Magistrate John Barker made a motion to dismiss Eddie Barnes from his position as Ambulance Service Director and Magistrate Eck Snowden seconded the motion. The vote was then tied, Magistrates Donna Gabbard, Myers Arnett, and Ricky Creed all voted no. Anderson also voted to fire Barnes.
Due to a tie vote the court presented Barnes with an option to come back to work on a 90 day probation. Barnes responded, “I cannot make a decision tonight, Donna Hale represents me and it would go against my best decision. I would need to speak with her first. I do not feel I should be on probation when I have not done anything wrong”.
Creed stated, “I fought hard for you. If you agree to come back to work we would love to have you”
Anderson then proposed to the court they give Barnes a time frame to make his decision, he asked if by 10 a.m. on Wednesday would be ok.
Barnes stated, “I would need time to discuss this with my attorney, with her having court I am not sure I can reach her by then.”
Anderson proposed they give Barnes until close of business or 4 p.m. on Wednesday. The motion was made it with all in favor the motioned passed.
However, just after 3:30 p.m. last Thursday Anderson received a letter from Hale stating that the court had violated their own policy as it pertained to dismissing employees. The letter stated that there had to be fiscal court approval of dismissal before employees could be fired officially, as stated in the policy and procedure manual at subsection 5.46.
Hale stated in the letter that Barnes would return to work with pay and would be entitled to any back pay since he was not legally terminated. Hale also stated that Barnes should not be retaliated against by the “county judge for his willingness to stand and speak up for his rights as an employee.”
Barnes did report back to work last Thursday.
Anderson spoke with the Times last Thursday morning and stated that he was aware that Barnes was back to work. He also stated that it was without the 90 day probation that the court had requested.
“There was some question about my voting on the matter, but the KACO attorneys (Kentucky Association of Counties) have advised that I could vote,” Anderson said. “If there is a tie I can break the tie, except when it comes to personnel matters.” County judge executives are allowed to vote in the fiscal court meetings on most matters.
As for what is next in the saga, Anderson calmly stated his position. “All I can do is continue to do my job and monitor situations,” he added. “I will work with all departments as I have in the past.”
With other business on the agenda the court also agreed to continue to give the Powell County Soil and Water Conservation Office the budgeted $12,500 with plans to look for more when reviewing the upcoming budget. Representatives from the conservation office were in attendance advising the court about the importance of the office to the county and all they had to offer.
The court also proclaimed April Red Bud Month, appointed Tim Hibbard to the tourism commission in conjunction that the City of Stanton is also in support of the appointment. They also approved Anderson to enter into an agreement with the Montgomery County Jail to house the inmates.
The court then appointed Donna Gabbard and Ricky Creed to be placed on the grievance committee with Anderson. That committee is set to hear appeals from two ambulance service employees after the department was drug tested last month. One employee is reportedly appealing after he allegedly refused to be tested, which refusing is listed in the county’s procedure manual as being a terminating offense. The other reportedly tested positive, however has apparently provided blood testing done within three hours of the first screening to show the first test was wrong. Both employees are up for termination.
They court also approved the extension board district budget and accepted excess fees in the amount of almost $15,000 from Powell County Clerk Rhonda Barnett.
(Times Editor James Cook contributed to this story.)