REDFIELD – Longtime municipal street superintendent Harmon Carter was fired Thursday morning by Mayor Tony Lawhon.
Meanwhile, Carter said he has no plans to appeal the termination to the Redfield City Council “unless they (aldermen) want me to” and his son claims the mayor blamed the elder Carter for efforts leading to a recall vote of the mayor Tuesday. Lawhon survived the recall measure and retains his job.
Lawhon said he told Carter at 8 a.m. on the City Hall parking lot “his services were no longer required.”
“That’s exactly what he said,” Carter said.
The mayor said he offered Carter no specific reason for the firing, adding he had decided to “go a different direction with his department and he did not fit into the vision for his department.”
Harmon Christopher “Chris” Carter said his father was blamed by Lawhon for Tuesday’s recall referendum. Lawhon’s recall was rejected by a 353 to 198 vote margin.
The younger Carter said he started the recall effort earlier this year while his father, who had nothing to do with the campaign, was on vacation.
Lawhon denied that the recall effort led to the firing.
“My decision had nothing to do with the recall petition,” Lawhon responded, adding he anticipated some aldermen would make an effort to call a special council meeting in an attempt to override the firing.
Issues regarding Carter surfaced during discussion on the 2012 municipal budget in January. Lawhon said he met monthly with municipal department heads and they had been made aware of changes in the budget for this year, the Jan. 3 council minutes indicated.
Carter was suspended indefinitely without pay Jan. 4 by Lawhon for insubordination based on comments Carter made at the Jan. 3 meeting, according to city records.
“Carter told the council that he was not aware of some of the changes that were proposed by Lawhon when the issue of pay raises came up,” the minutes said. “Carter’s salary for this year was set at $35,038, while Police Chief Steve McFatridge and Water Department Superintendent Chris Liles will be paid $45,000.”
Lawhon asked, “Harmon, did I ask you about your budget?” Carter replied “Not one on one, no,” the minutes indicated.
Lawhon replied that he absolutely did. Carter asked “When did we do this?”
“Lawhon said that he had talked to Carter 11 times last year in department meetings and Carter said that wasn’t to discuss the budget and didn’t have anything to do with the budget,” the records said.
“Carter said as far as a one on one consultation with him, they did not have that and they should have had that personally,” the minutes stated. “Carter said ‘There is too big of an increase, on these salaries. Mine was not one of them, and I don’t think nobody works no harder than I do. Sorry’.”
In a letter dated Jan. 11 from Lawhon to Carter, the suspension was reduced and Carter was instructed to return to work on Monday. Carter acknowledged he did not return to work on that date and instead took a week of paid vacation leave.
Aldermen Danny Dial, Barbara Werner, Brenda Carmical and John Jones (the required two-thirds majority of the council) in January voted to reduce a suspension following a two-hour executive session behind closed doors. Aldermen Sandra Garrett and Darrell Hedden opposed the measure.
Jones and Werner did not seek re-election on Tuesday, while Dial and Carmical lost their re-election bids. Garrett and Hedden were re-elected.
Lawhon’s Jan. 11 letter to Carter stated “that this is the second time you have been suspended without pay within 3 years. This is the last disciplinary action. Any further breach of conduct or insubordination will result in permanent termination.”
Carter maintained the first suspension was voluntary.
Carter failed to follow written municipal policy on the use of his city-owned cell phone, Lawhon added, describing the level of personal use of the phone as “excessive.” Carter said that was not proven.
The mayor said Carter had also failed to follow his directives on completing a number of city projects during the past year. Carter countered the projects were not finished on the initial schedule because of heavy rains, but were completed when weather cleared.