PRESTONSBURG — Several local residents attended Monday night’s city council meeting to voice their displeasure over the recent firing of a veteran police officer, only to witness the first reading of an ordinance supporters say will increase protections for all city workers.
About a half-dozen residents filed into the councilroom, with three of them addressing the council to lodge their protest of the firing of former Prestonsburg Officer Brian Walker.
“I’m concerned that, in this great democratic nation, there exists a community leadership position with ultimate power and no established process for recourse,” said Maranda May, Walker’s sister-in-law. “I’m here because I believe that firing an officer after over 10 years of service was a negative testament to the decision-making skills of the one wiht absolute power.”
May and others said Walker was fired without being given an explanation. Instead, they said he showed up for work one day last month and received a one-sentence letter informing him that he had been terminated, effective immediately.
Britta Caudill said she wanted an explanation for the firing, which she said “jeopardized” the community. Mayor Jerry Fannin said he was barred by state law from commenting on the matter.
Clay Corbett also addressed the council and said he would like to see the city implement civil service protection for city employees, as had been proposed by Councilman Les Stapleton, who is also challenging Fannin for mayor in the November election.
During a break in the meeting, while the council engaged in a closed-door session to discuss a real estate matter with Frank Fitzpatrick and address an issue raised by City Attorney Jim Webb, Corbett said Prestonsburg’s at-will employment policy conflicts with the spirit of the American form of government.
“There’s no checks and balances when one person has all the power,” Corbett said.
Corbett’s desire to see additional protections for city workers took a step toward becoming reality later in the meeting, although the final form of those protections remains unclear.
The council held the first reading of an ordinance offered by Stapleton that would require multiple layers of agreement before a dismissal could occur, while also giving fired employees the right for an appeal before the city council, either in public or in private. The first reading of the ordinance was given unanimous approval, although Stapleton noted that several amendments could be made prior to a vote on a second reading.
Stapleton said after the meeting that his ordinance was specifically prompted by Walker’s firing.
“I hate it that the firing of an experienced police officer had to precipitate this, but it is an ordinance that will give our employees peace of mind,” Stapleton said.
Walker’s wife, Cheryl, also attended the meeting and although she said she knew nothing that protesters or the council did would result in her husband getting his job back, she praised the effort to increase job security for city employees.
“None of these employees should have to worry that they will be the next to get a one-sentence dismissal,” Cheryl Walker said.