Hardy Mayor Nina Thornton Faced With EEOC Charge

MayorEEOCHardy City Council learned of an EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) charge that is under investigation involving Mayor Nina Thornton and Alderman Jason Jackson at its meeting Tuesday, June 8. In addition to the charge, council members voted to have missing city documents investigated by Hardy Police Chief Scott Rose. An ordinance was also passed for existing residences on Main Street to be legal living quarters. A plan was also put in place to sell the city van.

In the midst of the charge, ordinances being passed and issues being resolved…another Hardy City Council member also stepped down from his position at the meeting. Alderman Greg Bess waited until the end of the meeting to read his heartfelt letter of resignation from the council effective immediately citing, “While I feel my work here is not done, my career and family are pulling me in different directions.” Bess has been serving on the council since he was appointed in 2013 at the resignation of Amy Hussung. This is the second council resignation this year, as Liane Maddox stepped down a couple of months ago.

Bess will remain active in the community, but felt it best to step down as he is always traveling. He serves as the CASA Executive Director, as well as the Sharp County Community Foundation Executive Director. His presence at Hardy City Council meetings will be missed, but he has offered to assist recorder/treasurer Carolyn Groves in catching up city records. Hardy resident, Danny Eitel, who attends nearly every meeting, expressed his interest in taking over Bess’ position.

The council began its meeting two hours earlier at 4 p.m. to discuss a number of issues. Three hours into the meeting, Alderman Jackson began asking Thornton a series of questions, which led him to reveal to other council members he had filed an EEOC charge against the mayor as an employee of the city on April 28, before he was appointed to serve on the council.

“As far as myself,” said Jackson, which shifted the council from city business to something more personal. He asked Thornton if he had met all requirements and attended all mandatory classes to be on the fire department, to which she replied, “The chief does all of that.” He presented information that she questioned his certification hours and that members of Hardy Volunteer Fire Department have come to him questioning why she has an agenda against him and is trying to get him fired.

“You are saying you have never threatened me, never bullied me in any way?” asked Jackson. “No. When did I bully you?” answered Thornton. Jackson began to play recordings he had and said Thornton has been “bullying and threatening” for a year. He recalled going to a fire department meeting and receiving negativity from the mayor about wanting to create a committee to try and improve the fire department and again, as president of the WHPOA (Woodland Hills Property Owners Association). Jackson also made accusations of Thornton using the “N” word, which she strongly disagreed, but he said he had recordings of that also. “You want recordings? We can sit here and play them, but we are going to be here all night,” said Jackson. “I didn’t say not only that, but you better have a good lawyer,” responded Thornton.

Alderman Bess was stunned to learn that an EEOC charge had been filed nearly six weeks ago and the council was just now finding out about it. “I offered to go into mediation to talk with the mayor, but this went to the city of Hardy. She responded back as the city of Hardy saying that a volunteer fireman…” Jackson said as he was interrupted by Thornton correcting him saying she responded “as the mayor of Hardy.” “You responded back by saying none of the firemen are employees of the city,” said Jackson.

This statement contradicts what Thornton discussed in a previous council meeting on Tuesday, May 17. Mayor wanted council members to discuss the procedures to join the fire department, because she felt those procedures haven’t been followed. In the personnel handbook it states the process should be the same as hiring city employees. “It means that when you want to be on the fire department, you would fill out an application and etc. like a regular employee….Municipal league defines volunteer as an unpaid employee because they do get benefits,” said Thornton during the previous meeting’s discussion.

Thornton’s response to the EEOC was that Jackson is not a city employee. Jackson said Thornton refused mediation, which Thornton said was not true. Thornton said she believed the mediation was what took place on a phone conversation with a representative from EEOC, but that is not what official mediation is. Jackson was informed by EEOC that a mediation date was set for June 8. EEOC then notified him that they received a call from Thornton stating Jackson wasn’t an employee; therefore she wouldn’t be attending mediation.

“You are saying we have a federal EEOC charge against this city…that is a month old and the city wasn’t notified,” asked Bess. “The city isn’t supposed to be notified,” mumbled Thornton. “He says that I have discriminated against him some way as a fireman,” she continued. Bess also questioned if city attorney Hollie Greenway was notified about the charge. “I was not. I don’t have a copy of anything. Is the city being sued, or Nina?” asked Greenway. The charge is against the city of Hardy, naming the mayor in the charge.

Thornton said the council members were not notified because “there isn’t a case.” “This is something the council needs to know about it. I’m not trying to hide it,” said Jackson. Jackson didn’t want the charge to turn into a lawsuit. He wanted the mediation meeting to come to an agreement with Thornton and get the bullying to stop, but he didn’t receive the opportunity to try and make that happen. Greenway said she needs to see what the mayor has received in order to decide further action for the city. Bess made a motion for Greenway to review the documents and respond back to council members about what needs to be done regarding the issue.

Earlier in the meeting it had been established that ordinances and possibly other important city documents were missing from recorder/treasurer Carolyn Groves’ office. She stated when she leaves, she always locks the door. Thornton stated she had taken some ordinances to “white out” notes she had made on them. Ordinances from 2015 and 2016 are missing and Ordinance 2016-2, which repealed Ordinance 2015-2, was never published.

Ordinance 2015-2 was the controversial retro-active ordinance that would have made it legal for Thornton, Groves and Groves’ husband to receive payment from state funds allocated for a summer feeding program for children. The “reimbursement” as Thornton called the payment was discovered in an audit report and passing the retro-active ordinance would make it so Thornton would not face serious consequences. Thornton used her power to vote on passing the ordinance when there were three yes votes, two no votes and one abstain. Thornton said she would make sure it was published.

Aldermen Bess was concerned enough about the missing documents to make a motion to create a resolution to have Hardy Police Chief Scott Rose investigate where the documents were going. “Something goes missing from our city offices, we should investigate whether the chief as the authority to do that or the chief needs to bring in Arkansas State Police. I think it needs to be taken care of,” said Bess. Rose said that he can file the initial complaint, but then turn it over to ASP.

In March, it was brought before a select few residents, who are also council members, living on Main Street, that they were living in their place of businesses along Main Street, illegally. Maddox and his wife Liane (who was then a council member) and Alderwoman Vicki Rice received notices that their living quarters had actually been illegal for decades, according to an existing ordinance the city has. Maddox presented an amendment to Ordinance 96-6 which would allow the use of preexisting residential quarters on the historical Main Street. The amendment makes living in an existing residence on Main Street legal.

An existing issue of council members not having access to a budget to actual expenditure report was addressed by alderman Maddox. He said it is the responsibility of council members to manage the city’s actions, but they can’t do that when it is unknown how much money is in the accounts. Alderman Bess agreed with him, by adding they don’t have the proper tools to correctly and functionally operate the city’s budget.

The city van has been a much discussed topic since Jackson, who has since became a member of the council, presented the possibility to make the city some extra cash, earlier this year. The council passed an ordinance which called for the sale of the van. That ordinance was then vetoed by Thornton and then overturned by the council.

Thornton told the council that sealed bids would be opened in August, which the council found unacceptable. The resolution to sell the van was passed in April, therefore the majority of the council felt August was too far away to sell the van. “Is there a reason why we are going so far out?” asked Alderman Jackson. Thornton said she was putting it in City and Town and other papers to advertise, but Jackson said the longer they wait to sell the van, the more it depreciates in value.

Thornton was unsure about selling the van, as it is property purchased with grant money. “I wanted to be sure we got it right. I don’t want it to come back…mayor didn’t do it right this time. I’ve been accused of that by this council before and I want to be proper,” said Thornton. After much discussion and disagreement between council members and Thornton, a motion was made to advertise that the city would be accepting sealed bids to be read at the next meeting in Areawide Media and The Jonesboro Sun for one week. The bids will be opened Tuesday, June 21. “I want to be absolved from anything to do with the van and selling it and that’s not plausible for me because I’m the mayor and that’s not fair that you are going to make the choice to do it and then I’m going to have to take the repercussions for it,” said Thornton before the motion was passed.

A decision will be made on what to use the money for, once the van has been sold.

Hardy Advertising and Promotions Commissioner Freda Mae Gamblin informed council members that Hardy A and P would be purchasing 32 street signs to replace existing signs with the council’s approval. She also requested that Johnson Street, next to Hardy Pottery, be changed to Johnston Street, as that is the actual name of the street, the “T” had been left out of the spelling for several years. Council approved A and P’s request to replace the signs. Gamblin also informed the council that A and P was budgeting $5,000 for the renovations that will be taking place in Hardy Park.

Hardy City Council meets the first and third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at city hall.

Reprinted With Permission by © Copyright 2016, Area Wide News
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