Red Bank's recently fired public works director says his sudden termination last Wednesday came as a complete shock - enough to trigger what almost turned into a heart attack.
Wayne Hamill is recovering from an emergency operation during which he was given a coronary stent the afternoon Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey gave Hamill an ultimatum: resign or be terminated.
"It absolutely came as a surprise. I was not at all prepared for that," said Hamill on Thursday. His doctor told him the anxiety of the announcement likely triggered the chest pains.
Dorsey said the decision to fire Wayne Hamill was based primarily on managerial differences and a need to restructure the department after budget cuts.
"His major philosophy and mine about how to take the department forward were different," said Dorsey. "We had had many prior discussions on our issues prior to Wednesday."
Hamill said he believes the decision was about more than management style and thinks it may be related to age discrimination.
"The older people are typically the higher earners, and when they start going ... He's suggested I retired before. There's no doubt this was about my paycheck."
Hamill's salary was close to $60,000 a year.
Dorsey insists the decision was not age or salary related.
"It was management issues," he said. "Public works is just an area I need to retool right now."
The city's recently passed 2012 budget had sharp cuts, including the department's codes officer. Hamill said codes enforcement was one issue Dorsey cited for his termination.
Hamill never got a chance to answer Dorsey's ultimatum. He emailed Dorsey on Monday explaining about the emergency procedure and asking about his employment status.
Dorsey responded by email: "You were supposed to come back by my office, but you did not, and of course now I understand why." He added that there were several ways Hamill could have contacted him, and concluded: "Since you did not come by and I did not hear from you, I noted it as a termination."
He added that he was sorry about Hamill's health problem and wished him a speedy recovery.
"I guess he made that decision while I was still on the table," said Hamill.
Hamill said if he could still make the decision, he would choose to be fired.
"I did nothing wrong, so I have nothing to resign over," he said.
Shortly after giving Hamill the ultimatum, Dorsey contacted Mayor Monty Millard and the rest of the Red Bank City Commission about his decision.
"I was surprised by the move, but I also know it's Chris' responsibility to make those decisions. We don't get involved in the hiring and firing," said Millard.
Commissioner Floy Pierce expressed disappointment.
"For me it was out of the blue, and I just feel very saddened about it," said Pierce. "It never looked like there were big problems between them."