Roberts: Red Bank leaders dig their own hole

Roberts: Red Bank leaders dig their own hole

July 20th, 2010 by Dalton Roberts in Blogsfirstperson

Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey's decision to fire Police Chief Larry Sneed has now landed the city a lawsuit. The tragedy is that it could have been avoided by simple openness with the people.

No politician should fire a person without a full disclosure of the facts. It matters not that they have the power. It is a horrible thing to take away a man's livelihood and reputation.

It happened to me in the 1970s when I was a victim of a political firing. I couldn't get a job for a year and wound up in a one-room apartment. I had 30 years of solid recommendations from bosses all the way back to being an A&P sack boy. The job-performance endorsements came from people like Dr. Bennie Carmichael and Dr. J. Earl Williams, one of the top labor economists in the country.

I was accused of "insubordination and inefficiency." Since when is an employee supposed to subordinate himself to a politician making bad administrative and political judgments? I had honestly discussed face-to-face with him every disagreement I had. He was the only county judge in Tennessee not allowed to serve out his term as county executive under the new executive-commission form of government.

It was the only time in a lifetime of work I had been accused of "inefficiency."

To show you what could have happened to Chief Sneed, the man who fired me first tried to do it in a secret meeting at the Read House. Failing in that, he made a couple of political deals and pulled it off.

Red Bank resident Marlene Everhardt asked at a commission meeting, "Was there any Sunshine Law that was broken with the way this was handled." That unanswered question hangs like an anvil over the commission.

The thing that made Sneed's dismissal stink to high heaven was that no one would say why he was fired. Now that they are in a lawsuit that may be understandable, but if they hadn't clammed up for two weeks after the firing, the lawsuit might not have been filed.

All Dorsey would say was the firing was for "management style, personnel skills and internal policy choices." Did they just suddenly notice his management style after years of employment? If they didn't like the way he handled personnel, surely they have a grievance procedure so they can hear disgruntled employees. Every government owes that to their employees. As far as "internal policy choices," that's just political gobbledygook.

Dorsey said he was "pointed by a commissioner" toward unspecified "issues" that led toward the firing. Without using political gobbledygook, I wonder if he can tell us specifically what the commissioner pointed him to? Did the commissioner purport to have spoken to other commissioners? Does he not know those who "deliberate toward a decision" violate the Sunshine Law?

Dorsey apparently didn't respect Mayor Joe Glasscock enough to even inform him he was going to fire the chief. That suggests it was a three-person hatchet job.

I have never been impressed with the quality of Red Bank government, including their once-bubbly sewers or their blood-sucking traffic cameras; but to fire a man with a good public-service record and be too pusillanimous to tell him and their citizens the straight-out reasons drops them to a new low with me.

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