Thu 10 Feb 2011
As Anita Badrock kept reminding us this evening, the Personnel Appeals Committee doesn’t operate like a court – loose evidentiary rules, committee questions and witnesses, multiple cross-examinations, commentary from both parties.
If tonight’s hearing was cast as a made-for-television movie, the writers had a ready made character in Chapel Hill government’s own Voldemort. “He who must not be named” was not only responsible for starting the cascade of events leading to Clark/Bigelow’s termination but also stifling attempts to intervene before catastrophe struck.
The man in the shadows is a convenient trope but not a likely explanation for the evident failures in the Town’s disciplinary process.
As much as it has been discussed, the fate of the workers doesn’t hinge on whether race played a role in their termination or possible union busting efforts by the Town or documented poor performance or complaints by citizens over debris handling or offhanded remarks or “flinging arms” or rude remarks or angry calls for water or almost any of the other points/counterpoints flung about the last few months.
Their fates, I think, hinge on whether the P.A.C. thinks the two were afforded proper due process.
Town lawyer Sneed’s suggestion that the Town followed “the letter of the law” certainly doesn’t square, as Terri Buckner points out, with the Town’s own code.
Al McSurely, an exceptional Constitutional lawyer, argued persuasively that Ms. Sneed’s suggestion was at odds with both the Constitution and State statutes.
The P.A.C, though, doesn’t have to rely on interpretations of Town code or State statute or even the Constitution to determine if the workers were given due process, they only need rely on the testimony given this evening.
Did it make sense that the workers could be prepared to argue their case when the pre-disciplinary letter omitted any specific list of allegations, any discussion of evidence?
Did it make sense that the workers’ counsel would advise strict disengagement and leave the Town with only one option – termination? Or was it more likely, when faced with the end-product of two weeks of professional investigations, multiple weeks of Town work product to review, they asked for a bit more time to respond?
Was it reasonable to expect the workers counsel to work through what turns out to be an incomplete record of events, fill in the gaps and schedule a follow-up meeting in less than 3 days?
Why did Mr. Norris dig in his heels, not turn over the incident reports and a specific list of allegations in that meeting? Was it absolutely necessary to read through the documents together?
Given all that – the fixed attitude on conducting the pre-disciplinary hearing in a way which loaded the die against the workers, the lack of specific charges, the vagueness of some allegations, the dearth of supporting documentation, etc. – were the men afforded proper due process?