More disarray at the Earle Water Department
Fired employee denied reinstatement in appeal to City Council
An Earle man who was fired by the Water Department will not be getting his job back despite an appeal to the City Council and Water Commission.
Edward Bolden, who was fired by Water Department manager Danny for insubordination, appeared before the City Council again at its July meeting to make his case for reinstatement.
Bolden claims that he was told by Clark that he was fired for missing too many days of work, and not for insubordination. He said that he was never written up by Clark for insubordination and that he can prove he had the days to take off from work and was wrongfully terminated.
“My paperwork does not say I was fired for insubordination,” Bolden said. “I was wrongfully terminated. I can prove it. I didn’t break anything outside of the code of the Water Department. Every day that I missed was approved. It was covered by a vacation day or a sick day.”
The Council has discussed
Bolden’s firing several times over the past three months in executive session and made a recommendation that Bolden be given his job back, but the Water Commission vote was split 1-1 and Bolden was not reinstated. Longtime water commissioner George Stein resigned as a result of the controversy claiming he felt pressured by the council to reinstate Bolden. Although the water department is owned by the city, the water commission has exclusive authority to hire and fire.
Bolden told the Council that nobody on the water commission ever saw his termination paperwork and that no one will answer any of his questions.
“I feel like I can’t get an answer for them, so I am asking that the Council see,” Bolden said. “How do you determine that you aren’t going to rehire me on a vote that is 1 to 1?
Can I get some kind of information?”
Mayor Sherman Smith told Bolden that it was the water commission’s decision not to rehire him. As far as the Council is concerned, the case is closed.
“You’re asking for an answer from a group that does not do the hiring and firing,” Smith said. “But you expect us to give you an answer. They had already voted not to rehire you” Bolden accused the council of already having their minds made up and of ignoring Clark’s misdeeds at the water department.
Clark was suspended for two-and-a-half months pending the outcome of an investigation after Bolden accused him of forging signatures of residents on a water test for copper and lead.
Seven residents signed notarized statements attesting that their signatures were falsified on the forms related to water samples taken in September. Water systems are required to collect samples every three years from random homes from a list submitted by the state Health Department to be tested for copper and lead due to possible corrosion in
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. Bolden alleged that Clark filled the tubes himself from a water source behind the water department.
Smith went to the addresses listed and tested the water himself. The samples came back showing no traces of copper or lead, which Smith said isn’t unusual because the city has all new PVC pipelines in their distribution system.
The director of the Health Department’s engineering section has since notified Clark that he had 15 days to surrender his treatment and distribution license as a result of the findings of the investigation. Clark has filed an appeal with the Arkansas Board of Health’s Drinking Water Advisory and Operator Licensing Committee over the suspension of his license and remains on the job.
“You already had your minds made up that you were going to side with Mr. Clark,” Bolden said.
“That’s not fair. Is your need for Mr. Clark outweigh him committing the crime? All I hear is the water commission has to deal with it. But isn’t it you all’s responsibility to make sure the water commission is treating everyone fairly?
Who does the water commission answer to? I did not do anything to be put in the position that I am being put in right now.”
Smith said the Council has spent months investigating and deliberating about Clark’s actions – often staying in session past midnight – and that Bolden has gotten more time to air his concerns in public than anybody else has in his 25 years as mayor.
“You had council privileges. You had water commission privileges. I don’t know anybody else that we gave consideration to make a recommendation,” Smith said. “When you don’t get the response you want, you get disrespectful. And anything short of what you want to hear displeases you. So I can’t satisfy you.”
Bolden responded that he doesn’t plan to sit back and do nothing. He has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that he was fired for missing days while other workers in the water department who missed days were not disciplined.
Bolden was denied unemployment benefits by the state twice.
“Just because you all gave a recommendation doesn’t mean that I have to sit back and give up,” Bolden said. “That’s not who I am.
That’s not in my character.
They can’t do me wrong like that.”
Bolden also presented the Council with the results of a petition signed by residents asking the council to give him his job back.
“This does not mean I’m satisfied,” Bolden said.
“I’ve been going around the community. I’ve been talking to people.”
Smith dismissed the survey results as biased.
“You are telling them your side of the story and what you want them to believe,” Smith said. “You’re never going to be satisfied.”