By Nikki McKim
Grievance hearings were conducted by the Richardson County Commissioners last week at the request of former Richardson County Jail Administrator David Clark and Sheriff’s Dept. employee Julie Houser.
Newly elected Sheriff Don Pounds terminated Clark from his position when he took office in January of this year.
Clark, who has since been replaced by Christi Chesnut, requested an explanation from Sheriff Pounds as to why he was fired from his position.
“If you could just explain why I was dismissed; its not spelled out in this letter.”
The letter in which Clark is referring to is the letter Pounds allegedly gave Clark on Jan. 12 of this year, informing him he was no longer Jail Administrator.
Pounds told Clark he was dismissed for a hostile work environment and because he (Pounds) was informed that Clark had been cooking meals for inmates “against the Health Department rules and regulations.”
Sheriff Pounds also informed Clark that he had photos and evidence to prove his claim, however he couldn’t provide that evidence at the time of the hearing because his attorney had advised against it.
Pounds said he didn’t ask for any complaints or photos, but three Sheriff’s Dept. employees approached him about the working conditions, saying they “couldn’t take it anymore” and planned to quit. Clark questioned the Sheriff on the claim, asking what the employees said they “couldn’t take?”
Pounds again said the complaints were written out, but his attorney told him not to provide the information at the hearing.
Clark then asked the Sheriff if he had been fired based on heresay evidence, to which Pounds told him that he believed he had sufficient evidence; including written and signed reports from Clark’s fellow employees.
Clark reminded Sheriff Pounds of State Statute 23-2510 that states “Any employee may be discharged, suspended, or demoted in rank or compensation by his department head by a written order which shall specifically state the reasons therefore. Such order shall be filed with the commission and a copy of such order shall be served upon the employee personally or by leaving it at his usual place of residence. Any employee so affected may, within 10 days after service of the order, appeal such order to the commission. Notice of such appeal shall be in writing, signed by the employee appealing, and delivered to any member of the commission.
“The delivery of the notice of appeal shall be sufficient to perfect an appeal and no other act shall be deemed necessary to confer jurisdiction of the commission over the appeal. In the event any employee is discharged, suspended or demoted prior to the formation of the commission, such employee may appeal the order to the commission within 10 days after the formation of the commission in the manner provided in this section.
And State Statute 23-2511 saying The commission shall, within two weeks after receipt of the notice of appeal, hold a public hearing thereon at which the employee shall be entitled to appear personally, be represented by counsel, cross-examine witnesses and produce evidence. The commission shall have the authority to affirm, modify or revoke the order appealed from, and the finding and the decision of the commission shall be certified to the department head who issued the order, and the finding and decision of the commission shall be binding on all parties concerned. In the event of an appeal to the commission, no order affecting an employee shall become permanent until the finding and decision of the commission shall be certified as provided in this section.
Clark questioned Pounds as to why he wasn’t following these State Statutes. Sheriff Pounds reiterated that he had to follow his attorney’s advice in this matter by not producing the documents in question.
Clark also questioned why it was in Sheriff Pounds’ jurisdiction to delve out punishment for something that was not under his watch as Sheriff. Pounds explained, “In my past experience, somebody that has knowingly done something wrong; I do not want that type of person working for me.” Clark let the Commissioners and current Sheriff know that his authority had come from “his” Sheriff [Houser] with permission. “We were doing what we had permission to do.” He told Pounds, it was “None of your business, none of your authority.”
Clark said “I feel this has been a railroad by a certain group of employees with a outside agenda to eliminate Julie Houser and myself,” adding that his life has been turned upside down by these recent events.
“I feel pretty singled out about this; other people were doing this” said Clark. “When you add things up, it doesn’t fly. There’s a personal agenda.”
Former Sheriff Randy House ad