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Termination of Water and Sewer Department employee is overturned by Civil Service Board

The Talladega Civil Service Board voted 3-0 Thursday to reverse the termination of a Water and Sewer Department Employee and instead order him suspended for 15 days without pay. According to Board Attorney Mark Owsley, this is the harshest discipline the board can order short of termination.

Interim City Manager Kelsey Gallahar said the city was waiting for a written finding from the board before deciding whether to appeal their decision to Talladega County Circuit Court.

The employee, Kenneth Turner, was fired for taking a city vehicle to Oxford and Anniston to purchase equipment for his own heating and air conditioning business while on city time.

He was initially questioned regarding a missing piece equipment valued at $1,600 from the water and sewer shop in January. He was never charged with stealing the equipment, but a review of the GPS from his city vehicle showed he had made at least five unauthorized trips to Oxford or Anniston over the course of a week in January. Almost a quarter of the time that he was supposed to be working for the city that week was spent making those trips, according to a memo from Gallahar. The GPS date also showed that he had lied about some of his activities during the previous hearing.

Turner had a previous written reprimand for violating city purchasing policy.

At a preliminary hearing before the Civil Service Board last week, Turner said he planned to represent himself, but Owsley said he was represented Thursday by attorney Jon Adams.

According to Owsley, Adams argued that Turner was fired because city officials believed he had stolen the piece of equipment but couldn’t prove it. Gallahar disputed this, saying that GPS data showed that the truck had been driven out of town on numerous occasions throughout January, when there was no legitimate reason for it to be out of town.

Owsley said Adams then cited a recent case where a police officer had been suspended for unauthorized use of a patrol car. In this case, the officer was suspended after one violation and showing remorse. The more troubling issue here, Owsley said, is that the officer let someone else drive the vehicle.

The board deliberated in closed session Thursday, but voted to overturn the termination and put the suspension in place publicly.

The Civil Service Board has five members, but two of them were unable to hear this case because of COVID-19.