‘I quit!… No, wait!’
More disarray at Earle Water Department after commissioner resigns, rescinds resignation
A longtime member of the Earle Water Commission has withdrawn his letter of resignation and will continue to serve in that role despite calls by some on the City Council to put it to a vote over whether he should be allowed to stay.
Mayor Sherman Smith told the Council that he received a letter from George Stein rescinding his previous letter of resignation. Stein resigned from the water commission last month after the Council sent them a request recommending that a fired worker be rehired.
Edward Bolden was fired by water manager Danny Clark in April for insubordination. Bolden appealed his termination to the City Council and claims the reason he was given for his termination was because he missed too many days of work and not insubordination (Story on Page 7).
Although the City owns the water company, the water commission has the sole authority over hiring and firing. Bolden also took his case to the water commission but the body voted 2-1 to back Clark’s decision to terminate him.
Stein voted not to re-hire Bolden, but submitted his resignation claiming he felt pressured by the Council to re-hire Bolden. The water commission voted a second time – this time without Stein – and deadlocked 1-1 leaving Bolden’s termination to stand. Smith said since that time, Stein changed his mind about resigning.
“He has given me another letter withdrawing that resignation,” Smith said.
Councilman Robert Udell said as far as he is concerned the resignation should stand.
“He presented it to us,” Udell said. “It said Council and Mayor. He gave it to all of us. He resigned.”
Smith said the Council never voted to accept Stein’s resignation and therefore Stein had the right to change his mind because it never became official.
“We didn’t vote in it,” Smith said. “It was never a council agenda item. So it was never taken up for consideration for a vote.
And then he wrote another letter retracting that.”
Udell said the Council should have had a chance to vote on it and asked why the city should let Stein come back.
“We didn’t have a chance to accept it,” Udell said.
“How do you retract it?
How do you quit a job and then want me to hire you back? He wrote it to all of us. It said to the Council and Mayor.”
Councilwoman Tyneshia Bohanon agreed with Udell.
“I took it that it was effective immediately,” Bohanon said.
Smith said people change their mind all the time and that since the Council never voted to accept Stein’s resignation, technically he never quit.
“He said it. But we didn’t act on it,” Smith said.
“People change their mind. And if you resign and you change your mind, you send in a retraction in. He sent another letter to me wishing to be reinstated.
So he was never off the commission.”
“We didn’t force George Stein to turn in his resignation,” Udell said. “We didn’t force him to do that.
He didn’t want to make a decision. And then he comes back in a few weeks later and tries to recant it?
That’s not right.”
Smith said he understands why Stein chose to step down, but added that he has been an excellent water commission and the city needs his experience.
“He made a decision (about rehiring Bolden),” Smith said. “His decision was no. He was under the impression that we were trying to force him to re-hire Mr. Bolden back.
I explained to him that it wasn’t a demand. He decided to step down rather than do that. And I get it.
But I think Mr. Stein has been an excellent water commissioner. He has a lot of experience and he is a smart man and he knows this business.”
Udell expressed further frustration that the water commission let Clark return to his job after he admitted he forged signatures of residents on water samples, but won’t give Bolden back his job even though he has paperwork to support his claim.
Clark was suspended for two and a half months without pay pending the outcome of the investigation. Seven residents signed notarized statements attesting that their signatures were falsified on the forms related to the samples taken in September.
Water systems are required to collect samples every three years from random homes from a list to be tested for copper and lead due to possible corrosion in the pipes. The list contained 30 names out of the city’s 600 water customers. Clark was supposed to pick 10 names and take water samples inside the home from a faucet. The samples came back free of lead and copper but it was unclear where the samples were collected.
Clark admitted he took the samples from an outside faucet at the addresses listed and signed the homeowner’s names. According to Clark, he thought he was under a deadline to get the samples to the Health Department by the end of the day and signed the names because the residents were not at home. The matter came to light after made the allegations public.
Bolden alleged that Clark filled the tubes himself from a water source behind the water department.
The state Health Department has since called for Clark’s water systems operator license to be suspended, which Clark is appealing. Clark has had no infractions against him in 42 years as a water systems operator.
“So the water commission can make all the decisions and we don’t have any input?” Udell said. “Ain’t nothing been done to him.
What did they put in place to put him back on the water department?”
Smith reminded Udell that the water commission is an autonomous body and told him to read the chapter on water commissions in his Municipal League handbook for elected officials.
“They have exclusive authority to run the water department,” Smith said.
“Once the board is established, they select the members themselves. They can recommend and send it up here and we can confirm or deny it.”
Councilwoman Jimmie Barham said she wants Stein to stay on the water commission now more than ever given the current turmoil over Clark.
“The man has been on there a long time,” Barham said. “He knows what is going on. We are fighting to save our water company. He has a lot of experience.
That’s what we need in this crisis. We’re not keeping anything from the people.
But we need to keep the water company functioning. And that’s all the mayor has done is trying to keep us afloat. It’s one of the worst things we’ve faced in 25 years.”
Udell called for the Council to vote on Stein’s resignation.
“We should have voted on it,” Udell said. “When he gave us that piece of paper, he left. We didn’t do our job.”
Councilmen Robert Malone, Charlie Young, and Donnie Cheers said there is nothing to vote on.
“I’m going to abstain from voting because we didn’t vote,” Cheers said.
“We didn’t vote on anything,” Young added.
Bohanon said while she favored taking a vote, Stein is already back on the job and a vote would be pointless after the fact.
“I want to vote,” Bohanon said. “But didn’t you say he is already back? If he’s already back, it won’t matter anyway.”
Smith said the Council could put it on the agenda for August if it chooses.
“We can research it a little more and bring it back,” Smith said. “That is, if the council wants to make it an agenda item.
You can put it on the next one. I don’t know whether it helps.”
Bohanon said while she doesn’t agree Stein should be allowed to withdraw his resignation, she is more concerned about calming the nerves of residents who no longer trust the water company.
“That says a lot about a leader to leave your people and allow your personal feelings to be involved,” Bohanon. I can understand the people being in an uproar. There is a lot of concern. They should not be ignored or put on hold. The people deserve an explanation.”
Bohanon asked what their options were.
“Are we going to address it now?” Bohanon said.
“Or not at all? If he’s recanting, he’s recanting.”
Smith said if the Council votes they will have to vote on both – to accept Stein’s resignation, and then whether to accept his letter rescinding his resignation.
“If you vote on one, you have to vote on the other,” Smith said.
Barham asked City Attorney Davis Loftin for his opinion.
“Do we have to do anything?” Barham said.
“Not that I am aware of,” Loftin said.
“I think it makes it worse,” Barham added.
“I don’t think it is wise to put it (on the August Council agenda).”
The Council took no action on the matter and adjourned the meeting after almost four hours of discussion.
“We’re going to go home,” Smith said.