911 center vote tabled, comments abound

A number of current 911 call center employees showed up to support Director Bernard “Buster” Brown. (Photos by Christopher Fairchild)

The official agenda item regarding the work environment at the county’s 911 center was tabled, but that didn’t stop the public from discussing it in depth. With Chairman Eric Maxwell missing another meeting due to a medical issue, Commissioner Charles Oddo asked that the item be tabled to a February 22 County Board of Commissioners meeting when he could take part. Talk instead moved to the public comments section to close the night with nearly three hours of speakers helping push the meeting’s adjournment to just before 1:30 a.m.

Several current 911 employees spoke in support of Buster Brown and the center in general and against Commissioner Steve Brown for accessing files.

“Buster is working very hard to make sure that Fayette County 911 and his employees are the best that we all can be,” said Heather Brown. “While everyone’s not going to agree that our environment’s the perfect one, the majority will. People enjoy coming to work and there’s a sense of ease without the tension of the former employees.”

Wendy Coulter said of Buster, “In all of the jobs that I have held in the past 30 years, Buster is by far the best manager I’ve worked with. He operates with integrity and expects the same. We are his family, only second to his wife and children.”

Nicole Smith, who was one of two former employees who brought up complaints during a December BOC meeting, urged the county to look into the 911 center further with an open, independent investigation.

“I do hope that you open an investigation so you can learn the facts, not what allegedly happened, so you can learn who’s telling the truth and who is not telling the truth,” she said.

Janika Terrell, a former supervisor at the center who flew in from out of state to speak, shared the call for an investigation of what she called the “inappropriate, hostile behavior” of Buster Brown and assistant director Amber Smith. Terrell asked why Brown was allowed to remain as director in spite of prior instances of inappropriate comments or behavior. Terrell also referenced accusations against her that prefaced her being terminated before being allowed to resign with backpay. She said she felt that her certifications were threatened if she didn’t sign an agreement to not sue the county.

“If I was this big (racist) person who created a hostile work environment, then why would you agree to reinstate me as an employee and then pay me out?” she asked.

In an uncommon move, Human Resources Director Lewis Patterson closed out the public comments section. Patterson spoke to a recently-completed Employee Assistance Program checkup and lashed out at Commissioner Brown.

Patterson noted that the observations from the visit showed the employees had “circled their wagons.”

Commissioners Charles Oddo and Steve Brown square off at Thursday night’s commission meeting.

“The center made an abrupt turnaround. The atmosphere is great. We actually have morale. In my opinion there was no morale,” he said, attributing the previous environment to hostilities in the radio room. “Now, to come back and rip off the scab and go backwards is just irresponsible.”

Patterson went so far as to agree with the opinion that ousting supervisors changed the culture.

“As soon as the three ladies in question departed, the atmosphere made a dramatic and quick change, and I would agree with (the EAP) on that,” he said.

He said he would not comment on the personnel investigation, calling it a “very improper forum” for discussing it, but did share his “deep concerns” on Commissioner Brown publishing files.

“I also want go on record as a human resources professional that releasing the investigation notes in an agenda packet is wrong in so many ways,” he said. “These people over here went to hell and back last year, and I went with them. I made the round trip.”

Patterson said the county clerk, deputy county clerk, county administrator, 911 director, and animal control director, along with himself and his staff were victims as well.

“We are all working in an unwelcoming and abusive work environment because of all this stuff that’s going on, and I’m really tired of it.”

County Administrator Steve Rapson, in saying that the county always meted out appropriate action when aware of allegations, started to detail the entire investigation from start to finish, but Commissioner Charles Rousseau warned about its implications on an ongoing EEOC investigation.

“If there is an active EEOC investigation, a lot of stuff that was said tonight jeopardizes that,” said Rousseau. “I’m asking you to cease and desist because all of this becomes a part of that.”

County attorney Dennis Davenport agreed with Rousseau.

“You’re absolutely right. None of this has been a prudent decision to go in this direction,” he said. “We’ve chosen to do this, and, whatever our reasons are, here we are, and the more we do it, the more we get out there, the more potentially negative it can be for the outcome.”

Chastised by Commissioners Charles Oddo and Randy Ognio for his access and dissemination of personnel and investigation files, Steve Brown reminded them that his actions were within state law.

“I am the government, right? If you are an elected official, you are the government,” he said. “I don’t need a reason for records requests. That’s the way it is. I”m sorry you don’t like it, but that is the way it is.”

The item is expected to return to the agenda at the February 22 meeting.

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Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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