Embattled 911 director resigns amid abuse claims

Employees of the county’s 911 center showed up at multiple County Board of Commissioner meetings in Feb. 2018 to support 911 Director Bernard “Buster” Brown amid claims of a hostile work environment. Brown resigned his position this week amid abuse claims. (Photo by Christopher Fairchild)

Eight months after alleged dysfunction at the county’s 911 center was aired publicly at multiple County Board of Commissioner meetings, 911 Director Bernard “Buster” Brown is out, resigning Monday morning amid new allegations of abusive behavior towards employees.

Brown was placed back in the crosshairs when Mical Heminger, the husband of a 911 employee, went public with complaints over unfair scheduling practices and an aggressive conversation with Brown. County Administrator Steve Rapson confirmed to media outlets that Brown turned in his resignation the morning of Monday, October 8.

Previous policy required employees at the 911 center to be “on call” four days a month, for which they do not get paid unless they are called in to work. On Tuesday, October 3, Heminger’s wife was called and told to report to work within two hours, even though she was not on call. She was told that her job was on the line if she refused to work.

Mical was away on a business trip, and Amber was the only one home to care for their children, so she told her employer she could not cover the shift. Staff went down the line until they could find someone else to fill in the shift, and on Monday, October 8, a new mandatory policy upped the requirement to eight “on call” days a month, which Heminger thought would be an even tougher burden on employees, especially those with families.

Heminger reached out to Brown to discuss the change, and he recounts that Brown refused to discuss operations with a non-employee. Heminger then quotes Brown as saying, “Your wife told me no…no one tells me no.” Heminger told Brown he would go public with their conversation and said he would talk to Brown’s supervisor, County Administrator Steve Rapson, at which point Brown ended the call.

Heminger says that Brown then called his wife and berated her for having her husband call him, and said the new “on call” policy was because of her.
After taking his story public, Heminger received calls from three other spouses of 911 employees saying they had to comfort their wives who were also distraught from the way they were treated by Brown. Complaints, both anonymous and signed, have been lodged with the county.

Commissioner Steve Brown led the push for an independent investigation into the work environment at the 911 center in early 2018, with his calls for an investigation culminating in multiple heated County Commissioner meetings in February 2018, with many current employees speaking in support of Director Buster Brown.

Among other complaints, testimony related to a February 2017 incident said Director Brown verbally assaulted and began to physically engage a 911 supervisor. He received a written reprimand for the incident. Commissioner Brown referenced an audio recording wherein Human Resources Director Lewis Patterson acknowledged the bad behavior of Director Brown with regards to work environment, and said he “was in the process of changing.”

Commissioner Charles Rousseau supported the investigation as a chance to get to the bottom of the allegations.

“I don’t like what went on at 911, and I don’t know the answer (to what happened there) 100 percent,” Rousseau said at the Feb. 22, 2018 meeting, saying the truth is somewhere in the middle of the two sides. “To put it to rest, in my humble opinion, is to take it out of the hands of an internal system that seems to have maybe done a decent job or maybe not done a decent job.

“I’m really concerned that we may be missing an opportunity to put it to bed.”

Commissioners Brown and Rousseau were rebuffed as Chairman Eric Maxwell and Commissioners Charles Oddo and Randy Ognio thought no investigation was needed and voted it down.

“I personally don’t see any reason to continue this. I think that staff has done a marvelous job in a very difficult time, and that starts from the top down,” said Oddo. “This process has been resolved. I have heard nothing about Director Brown negative since his reprimand, and I’d say everybody is entitled to a mistake.”

Ognio labeled the complaints as those of disgruntled ex-employees.

“I have a measurement of success when you have reprimands or whatever, and I measure that success by the results, and boy we’ve got really good results out of what was done, and the 911 center is in real good shape,” said Ognio. “I don’t see why you would do an investigation when what you have works so well.”
Heminger encourages any other employees who may have been affected by Brown to file a formal complaint with the county.

“I have faith in the Fayette County system to get to the bottom of this, even if they take a bit of nudging,” said Heminger. “I know the commissioners and county manager will not brush this aside as was done a year ago.”

Commissioner Brown expressed a sense of vindication on behalf of those who had previously lodged complaints about the work environment at the 911 center and felt ignored.

“I feel that the women who raised concerns previously months ago were pretty much proven true,” he said. “They were not employees (anymore), and they did their work to save the women that are working there now and in future years, and I think they have been proven absolutely correct.”

Commissioner Brown lamented that the recent batch of abuses may not have occurred if the county had been more proactive in investigating the center.

“Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this could have been prevented seven months ago, and we could have prevented another batch of new employees, primarily female, from being abused,” he said.

As of press time Tuesday, Rapson could not be reached for comment, but he declined an interview request from Channel 2.

 

Ed. Note: Fayette Newspapers has obtained copies of complaints from multiple current employees. We will explore those and other allegations against the 911 center in future issues.

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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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