Morgan County commissioners are conflicted over Sheriff Ana Franklin's firing of investigator Doug Key.
Come next month, though, commissioners likely will vote on whether to follow the Personnel Review Board's recommendation to let Franklin's firing of Key stand.
The review board, in a unanimous vote last week, backed Franklin based on her claim that Key was insubordinate in two meetings she had with him in January. Franklin, who took office in January, demoted Key from lieutenant to sergeant and removed him as head of the Drug Task Force.
Commissioners say there is confusion about which manual Franklin should have been following. The sheriff's manual states Franklin has the final say in a termination; the county's manual says the commission's decision is final.
District 3 Commissioner Don Stisher said the commission should follow the county's manual.
"We're going to follow the one that's more for the employee and that's the county's," Stisher said. "There should've been a written charge given and I'm satisfied that policy was not followed in his (Key's) firing."
Upon firing Key last month, Franklin said in a memorandum that she had made inactive a 2008 manual Sheriff Greg Bartlett adopted for the office. But on the final day of Key's hearing on March 18, Franklin said she follows parts of the manual.
County Human Resources Director Terry Naccarato said the whole manual has to be followed.
"The entire manual was adopted and a person can't follow just portions of it," Naccarato said. "In a situation like this, the county manual supersedes the sheriff's manual. Even if she had the power to throw it out, officials should go back to the county's manual."
District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark said Franklin didn't have the authority to make Bartlett's inoperable.
"Sheriff Bartlett had to get permission from us to create the manual and she can't do away with it because she doesn't have the authority to do that," Clark said.
Clark and District 2 Commissioner Randy Vest said they want to seek a legal opinion about whether the commission has to make the final decision on Key's termination.
"If it's our job to do it, I don't mind doing it," Clark said, "but if it falls with the sheriff, then that's where it falls."
Commission Chairman Ray Long said it was his understanding that commissioners must act on the board's recommendation, and he plans to put it on the April 12 meeting agenda.
Said District 4 Commissioner Greg Abercrombie: "If Ray puts it on the agenda, I've got to make a decision."
Bartlett promoted Key and two other deputies on Jan. 12; Franklin took office Jan. 18. Franklin said the budget did not support the promotions nor was there a lieutenant's slot on the task force. Franklin said she removed him as task force commander because employees who worked under him said she was stressed.
During meetings that followed the action, Franklin said Key yelled and cursed, but not at her. Key said both he and Franklin cursed and later apologized to each other.
Stisher, Clark and Naccarato said abusive language is a minor offense in the county's manual.
All three officials said employees are deemed insubordinate when refusing to perform a task that an official has told them to do. They said cursing is not considered insubordination.
"There's progressive discipline to follow," Clark said. "It has to be a very serious offense to terminate on one offense."
The county's disciplinary procedure for minor offenses starts with a verbal reprimand; second, written reprimand; third, five-day suspension, and the fourth step is termination.
Insubordination is listed as an intolerable offense and termination is warranted on a first offense.
Stisher said Key should have been given a verbal or written reprimand.
"I don't think he had due process and I will stand by that," Stisher said. "This was not an intolerable offense."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service