A costly delay

While county commissioners drag their heels, a money pit grows

Thanks to a string of bureaucratic delays, former Fulton County employees may soon get paid for not working.

Twenty-four fired county employees have lined up over the past year to appeal their terminations before the Fulton County Personnel Board. Half of them have been waiting more than six months for their cases to be heard. And the longer those appeals stagnate, the more the county will have to cough up to cover back pay if the employees are reinstated — which isn't rare.

Six employees could collect a check paying them a full year's salary for doing nada for Fulton County.

What's more, there are 86 additional employees contesting suspensions and demotions — and seeking cash for wages lost during those times. They too are waiting for the Personnel Board to hear their possibly costly appeals.

The problem is, there currently is no Personnel Board.

The board, which hears appeals filed by miffed county employees and sets salaries for county jobs, used to be manned by three members. Earlier this year, one member died. Another quit. And Fulton County Commissioner Rob Pitts proposed increasing the number of Personnel Board members from three to seven.

Pitts' resolution, which passed March 19, clearly defines the way the new Personnel Board should be created starting June 1: Each of Fulton's seven county commissioners names one Personnel Board member.

But Pitts' resolution does not specify a deadline for the commissioners to do so.

So far, Pitts, Commission Chairman Mike Kenn and Commissioner Emma Darnell have named their appointees. But the four others — Bill Edwards, Tom Lowe, Nancy Boxill and Bob Fulton — have not, despite being offered the opportunity at the last three commission meetings.

"They need to get on that," says Susan Laccetti Meyers, Kenn's policy analyst. "Mike can't make them do it."

Commissioner Fulton, however, says no one has expressed any urgency for him to appoint his Personnel Board member. "I'm not aware of that," Fulton says. "If I were aware of that, I probably would have moved more aggressively."

Edwards, Lowe and Boxill did not return phone calls.

Due to the absence of a full Personnel Board (or, at the very least, a quorum of four members), the Board couldn't meet in June, nor is it likely to get a fourth member in enough time to meet in July.

That's tough for Marlys Favors. The single mother was fired from her job as a materials assistant at a Fulton County supplies warehouse in August 2002. She says she's alleged to have used a county vehicle without permission and to have tried to collect money for recycled paper when she shouldn't have, charges that she denies.

Favors took a 50 percent pay cut so she could find some work, at a Radio Shack. She was looking forward to her appeal, which was scheduled for May — a painful enough nine-month delay.

Now, though, her case has been taken off the Personnel Board's calendar and is on hold indefinitely.

"I would love to have my job back," Favors says.

Bob Brandes, director of Personnel Board, says the board is supposed to hear appeals once a month. But with one month missed and another missed opportunity on the way, knocking off the 110 appeals is beginning to seem unlikely — and not just to fired employees trying to get rehired.

Maureen Malone, one of the three newly appointed board members, says she's as much in the dark about the appeals as the employees doing the appealing. She says no one on the County Commission has briefed her on the backlog of appeals, the process by which the board might tackle them, or when the tackling might begin.

"They said that someone would be in touch," says Malone, a labor lawyer and former chairman of a city Neighborhood Planning Unit. "Well, they have not been in touch. I'm just waiting."