Sides' case ripped apart at appeals reading
County fired Sides while he was running for supervisor
11/30/2012 6:01:00 AM
By Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
KINGMAN - Former county supervisor candidate Jerry Sides may have a tough time appealing the county's decision to fire him after the Mohave County Merit Commission gutted his case Thursday.
The county fired Sides from his position as a senior facilities and grounds worker in the public works department after two employees claimed he was campaigning for office while on the job.
Sides ran against Travin Pennington and incumbent Gary Watson for the Republican nomination for the Board of Supervisors District 1 seat this year. Watson later won the nomination and the election.
A county investigator also found that Sides violated the county's policy not to have contact with the two employees, that he received several personal calls on his county cell phone and that there were inconsistencies between his work orders and the GPS data for his county vehicle.
Sides denies all of the allegations and is appealing his firing.
Commissioner Charlotte Wells had to remind Sides' representative, Steven Robinson, that the Thursday hearing was to determine what evidence and witnesses would be admitted to the formal hearing in January.
Kate Baker, an attorney hired to represent the county, was able to get the commission to exclude a number of Robinson's witnesses and evidence based on the fact that the material wasn't relevant to the case.
Specifically, she argued that Robinson's request to include an incident involving County Public Information Officer Darryle Purcell and former County Supervisor Tom Sockwell allegedly giving a reporter and the Bullhead City Chamber of Commerce a copy of a background check on Robinson was not relevant.
"I can't grasp the meaning of these documents. The PIO is not a witness and Ms. Angius is not a witness. It's not relevant," Baker said. "I also think this incident has something to do with Mr. Robinson."
Robinson said the incident was an attempt to use him to smear Sockwell's opponent, Hildy Angius, in the race for Board of Supervisors. He argued that the incident showed that the county was inconsistent in enforcing its policy against political activity by county employees during work hours.
The incident was investigated but the county found that Purcell had done nothing wrong, Robinson said. Sides, on the other hand, was fired for talking to other employees at a county Christmas party.
"It is an insult to this process and to this tribunal to bring your own political interests into this," Wells told Robinson.
The commission also excluded a copy of a county news release that took Bullhead City Mayor Jack Hakim to task.
Robinson argued that it showed that County Manager Ron Walker had a pattern of retaliating against people and that the County Manager's Office headed up the investigation of Sides, not the Public Works Department.
Baker pointed out that Ron Walker was also not on the witness list and the situation had nothing to do with Sides getting fired.
Baker also questioned Robinson's request for County Finance Director John Timko's meeting schedule.
Timko wasn't on the witness list and had nothing to do with the firing of Sides, Baker said.
Robinson said that information was necessary to argue his case that certain county officials had a history of punishing people who crossed them. Timko was tied to the incident where Purcell and Sockwell distributed copies of Robinson's background check, he said.
"It's clear to me that (Ron) Walker is the focus of Mr. Robinson's case, which I find very improper," Baker said.
"This is supposed to be about whether the county was being capricious when it fired Mr. Sides," Jackie Walker reminded Robinson.
The commission voted unanimously to exclude the information. It also excluded several witnesses whose testimony Robinson wanted to use to show a pattern of retribution by the county against employees who spoke out against it.
The commission also excluded Robinson's request to use information from a 2009 employee complaint allegedly filed against Deputy County Manager of Public Works Mike Hendrix. The complaint was dismissed because the employee didn't file it within a certain time frame.
Robinson said he wanted to use the information to show that the county employees had filed a grievance against Sides too late.
Baker lost her attempt to prevent Robinson from getting access to the digital recordings of the employee interviews used in the investigation that led to Sides getting fired.
"I believe they (Robinson and Sides) have a history of releasing information to the press. There's no way to police who they would release these tapes to," Baker said.
She raised concerns that several employees who were interviewed for the report would be retaliated against if information from the tapes were released to the public.
"I don't see why they need the tapes when they have the transcripts," Baker said.
"Is there any way the county could provide Mr. Robinson or Mr. Sides space to listen to these tapes?" Wells asked.
She said she understood Robinson's and Sides' concerns that the transcripts may not be accurate, but was reluctant to release the tapes to them outright.
A room where he and Sides could listen to the tapes would be fine, Robinson said. He had no plans to release the information on the tapes to the public and would not make copies of the recordings.
Before the commission adjourned it decided to hold the formal appeals hearing sometime during the first or second week of January. The exact date will depend on when County Human Resource Director Ray Osuna is able to get all of the county employees asked to testify in the case together.