Caledonia aldermen dismiss grievance – The Dispatch

An ongoing dispute took a surprising turn Tuesday night when the Caledonia Board of Aldermen dismissed an employee’s grievance against his supervisor.

Water Technician Trey Robertson filed a grievance against Water Supervisor Benny Coleman in June, alleging blackmail, ethics violations, discrimination and a violation of his constitutional rights.

Tuesday night, the aldermen voted 4-1 to dismiss Robertson’s grievance as having no merit. Alderman Quinn Parham cast the sole dissenting vote, saying though Robertson was “not without fault,” he believes his allegations against Coleman are true.

At the crux of the issue is Robertson’s Class B water certification test, which he passed last spring but says Coleman has refused to sign due to a separate conflict between Coleman and his parents, Pam and Jim Robertson. Though Robertson received a $1-per-hour raise when he passed the exam, he will receive an additional $1-per-hour raise when his certificate is signed.

Now that the grievance has been voted down, it may be a moot point. If the aldermen had found Robertson’s grievance to have merit, they could have suspended Coleman until he signed the certificate. Now, the only way he can be forced to sign is through a court-ordered writ of mandamus, said Town Attorney Jeff Smith.

Robertson will not be able to file another grievance making the same allegations of blackmail and discrimination either, Smith said, though he can come before the Board and revisit the issue of the unsigned certificate.

Last month, in an attempt to mollify the situation, Smith, at the request of the aldermen, presented Coleman, Robertson and Caledonia Mayor George Gerhart with a conditional memorandum of understanding, which would have granted Robertson’s $1-per-hour raise but placed him under a 60-day review period, during which time he was to meet specific requirements to Coleman’s satisfaction in order to have his certificate signed and keep the raise.

Robertson refused to sign the memorandum of understanding, saying he felt it was tantamount to an admission of guilt when he had done nothing wrong.

“I don’t see how it could have done anything but help Trey,” Smith told the aldermen. “I’m at a loss for what to do.”

Coleman told the aldermen he was continuing to work toward signing Robertson’s certificate but declined to give a time frame when that might happen.

Robertson, who was not present at Tuesday night’s board meeting, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the Board’s action. He plans to consult with his lawyer about his next course of action.

Robertson did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. Reached Wednesday morning, he said he was disappointed but not surprised by the board’s action.

“Benny has yet to confirm or deny what he said, which should prove to the Board he’s guilty,” Robertson said today. “He shouldn’t get away with this. This isn’t over.”

via Caledonia aldermen dismiss grievance – The Dispatch.

Caledonia proposes deal to end dispute with water employee – The Dispatch

A Town of Caledonia employee may soon see the pay increase he’s spent more than a year fighting to receive.

 

Water technician Trey Robertson filed a grievance last month against Water Superintendent Benny Coleman, alleging that although he passed a Class B water certification test last spring, Coleman refused to sign his certificate, preventing him from receiving a mandatory $1 per hour pay raise.

 

Tuesday night, Town Attorney Jeff Smith presented Robertson, Coleman and Caledonia Mayor George Gerhart with a conditional memorandum of understanding which all parties must sign by Friday and abide by for 60 days in order to bring the issue to a close.

 

Coleman remained quiet, his eyes fixed on the floor, as the document was presented. He didn’t respond to Robertson’s concerns that he may renege on the agreement.

 

Robertson’s pay will increase from $14.03 to $15.03 per hour as soon as the memorandum is signed, but the raise will not become permanent until the end of the 60-day period. If Robertson has met the stipulations set forth in the agreement, Coleman will be required to sign Robertson’s certificate and authorize a permanent pay increase.

 

The document, which Smith created at the behest of the board of aldermen, states it is intended to “relieve a situation which has become tense and almost untenable by all parties to this agreement.”

 

The three-page memorandum, obtained by the Dispatch, alleges Coleman has not signed the certificate because Robertson has failed to conduct himself “in an exemplary or workman-like manner to the satisfaction of the supervisor.”

 

Sources have characterized the relationship between the two as a generational conflict, with Coleman — as Robertson’s elder and superior — demanding a level of respect which Robertson has not shown.

 

In his grievance letter, Robertson said he felt Coleman was refusing to sign his certificate due to an unresolved dispute which began last July between Coleman and his parents.

 

The terms of the memorandum require Robertson “act and show his ability to conduct, understand, maintain and articulate his skills and workmanship in a degree and manner which shows the town and the supervisor he understands any and all relevant duties, specifications, and curriculum of a certified water operator within the state of Mississippi.”

 

Duties include punctuality, work attendance, honesty and integrity, “basic understanding of work, duty, loyalty and fidelity to supervisor,” along with understanding water transmission, purification, clarification, circulation, maintenance, transmission and usage. He is also expected to have a basic understanding of money and the water department’s operating costs.

 

If Robertson fails to meet the majority of the requirements, the $1 pay increase will be rescinded and Coleman will be released from any obligation to sign his certification.

 

Alderman Quinn Parham expressed concern over the verbiage of the agreement, saying he felt it left too much room for error, and Smith admitted that if any party fails to sign the document, or if the terms aren’t deemed to have been met at the conclusion of the 60 days, they will be “back to square one.”

 

After the board meeting, Gerhart said the memorandum is unnecessarily prolonging an issue which could have been resolved months ago if the aldermen had confronted Coleman about Robertson’s unsigned certificate.

 

“The full board insisted Trey take the exam, and he passed it,” Gerhart said. “Benny failed in his job as superintendent of the Caledonia Water Department.”

 

Robertson contends he has already met the requirements laid forth in the memorandum.

 

“It’s things I’ve been doing five years on a daily basis,” he said.

 

None of the parties signed the document Tuesday night.

 

Coleman last month said the town paid for Robertson to take the test three times, but neither he nor Gerhart could recall how much the test cost.

 

The certification test is administered through the Mississippi Water and Sewer Operators Association, which is under the umbrella of the Mississippi Department of Health.

via Caledonia proposes deal to end dispute with water employee – The Dispatch.

Caledonia employee files grievance – The Dispatch

An employee with the Town of Caledonia’s water and sewer department has filed a grievance against Water Superintendent Benny Coleman, alleging blackmail, ethics violations, discrimination and a violation of his constitutional rights.

 

Water technician Trey Robertson passed his Class B water certification test last spring, but he says Coleman refuses to sign his certificate, thereby preventing him from receiving a mandatory $1 per hour pay raise.

 

The issue has been the source of ongoing dissension during the past year, with the board of aldermen meeting in several closed executive sessions to discuss the matter.

 

Further complicating issues, Robertson’s parents, Pam and Jim Robertson, have accused Coleman and the water department of illegally crossing their property line without an easement last July, tearing down fences, making deep trenches and causing damages of more than $10,000.

 

The board has received an estimate of $10,557 for repairs, which Caledonia Mayor George Gerhart said should be paid by the water department. During a March board meeting, however, Alderman Brenda Willis questioned that, saying she didn’t see why the water department couldn’t make the repairs for less money.

 

The Robertsons said they would prefer someone else fix the damage, and the board agreed to get a second estimate.

 

In his grievance letter, Trey Robertson said he believes Coleman is now delaying approving his certification in retaliation for his parents’ issue.

 

“On May 4, I asked Benny about signing my certification,” Robertson wrote. “His response was, ‘Well, buddy, we’re going to wait and see what happens with your parents’ deal first.'”

 

He wrote that when he told Coleman his parents had nothing to do with his situation, Coleman replied: “We’re just going to wait and see what happens with their deal first and then we’ll discuss signing your certification.”

 

Robertson said he felt Coleman’s statements were “professionally and ethically wrong” and violated his constitutional rights as an employee.

 

“That is not only discrimination but is also blackmail,” Robertson wrote. “Not very professional acting of a superintendent of which you have appointed to run this water system in a business professional manner.”

 

Today, Coleman said Robertson’s claims as a personnel issue and would not confirm or deny the statements Robertson has attributed to him.

 

“When an employee, especially a disgruntled employee, when you’re talking with people, they take out of context what they want to hear,” Coleman said. “That’s part of your discussion with them, and that should be dealt with through the board.”

 

The board took no action on the matter when presented with the letter Tuesday night. Willis questioned why Gerhart gave the letter to them on June 5 when the letter is dated May 4 and is marked as received by Gerhart May 9.

 

“I did exactly what the man wanted me to do, which was not turn it in until the monthly meeting,” Gerhart said. “I’m waiting on Benny for a reply.”

 

He said Coleman should sign the certificate and the board should have discussed it at Tuesday night’s meeting.

 

“We insisted he go take this test, and he passed it, and I think we’re failing in our duty and Benny’s duty not to sign off on it,” Gerhart said. “The kid (earned) the extra money.”

 

Coleman said the town paid for Robertson to take the test three times, but neither he nor Gerhart could recall how much the test cost.

 

The certification test is administered through the Mississippi Water and Sewer Operators Association, which is under the umbrella of the Mississippi Department of Health.

via Caledonia employee files grievance – The Dispatch.