A second chance to say why he shouldn't be fired?
Two Pinellas school board members wanted to give a Clearwater High custodian another chance to explain why he should not be fired before the rest of the board voted last night to fire him.
At issue was the request for an administrative hearing that plant operator William J. Brown filed with the district just before he hit a 21-day deadline - and that the board attorney said was incomplete.
Among other reasons, Superintendent Julie Janssen recommended Brown be fired for tardiness and excessive absenteeism. According to the district, an investigation also revealed he submitted a false workers compensation claim.
Janssen told Brown of her recommendation in a Jan. 4 letter, which said he had until 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 24 to request an administrative hearing.
Board attorney Jim Robinson said Brown filed a request at 3:40 p.m. on Jan. 24, but didn't list reasons why he shouldn't be fired and needed a hearing, as required by board policy. Instead, he listed policies the district said he violated.
According to the district, Brown told an investigator he had been tardy and absent on occassion, but denied swearing at his supervisor or filing a false workers comp claim.
Robinson said he didn't see the petition until yesterday. Because Brown filed so late, Robinson said there wasn't time to contact him and get him to amend his petition. He recommended the board approve Janssen's recommendation.
Board member Linda Lerner said Brown may not have understood how he was supposed to fill out the petition form. "I just want to be fair to everyone," she said.
Board member Janet Clark agreed. "I would err on the side of giving this employee the benefit of the doubt," she said. "If you are not familiar with the legal lingo, if you don't understand what material fact is ... I think for the layman it's really difficult to understand some of the language that is used and we just expect that people do."
Robinson suggested the board could approve Janssen's recommendation, but amend it to delay its effectiveness for five days. That would give the general counsel's office enough time to reach out to Brown and ask him to amend the petition.
Janssen disagreed with that idea. So did board member Robin Wikle.
"We're going to assist an employee five more days to argue against us for his lack of competency?" she said. "It says right in there (in district records), failure to perform the duties of position, tardy. I think this is what has gotten us in trouble in the past."
Wikle also pointed to two other discipline cases on last night's board agenda, both involving bus drivers who got 1-day suspensions. In both, the administrative law judges sided with the district, but each still cost the district several thousand dollars in legal costs.
The board voted 4-2 to support Janssen's recommendation on Brown. Lerner and Clark voted no. Member Lew Williams was absent.
Brown can appeal.