Technicalities mar start of Sides' hearing
1/10/2013 6:00:00 AM
By Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
KINGMAN - Former county employee Jerry Sides' hearing before the Mohave County Employee Merit Commission got off on the wrong foot Wednesday morning when the commission questioned his right to videotape the hearing.
It also dismissed two motions from Sides' representative, Steven Robinson, to overturn the county's decision to fire Sides based on two technicalities of the county's merit rules.
Jerry Sides was fired from his job in the county public works department after two county employees accused him of campaigning while on the job. Sides ran for the District 1 Supervisor seat last year.
Kate Baker, an attorney hired to represent the county in the hearing, pointed out the video camera and asked the commission to order Sides not use the footage to intimidate any witnesses and not to show it to any witnesses or any third parties, including the press, without a court order.
"I have those same concerns as well," said Commissioner Charlotte Wells.
Another commissioner requested that the video not be used for future lawsuits against county employees.
"I don't plan to use it for those purposes," said Robinson.
He protested, noting that the meeting was open to the public and state open meeting laws allow the public to record such meetings.
Wells stated that she didn't think the state's open meeting laws applied to this hearing. She ordered Robinson not to release the tapes to any third parties, show them to any witnesses or use them in any future litigation without a court order.
According to the County's Merit Rules, employees who appear before the commission can request that their hearing be open to the public. However, the merit rules and state statutes do not say if merit commission hearings open to the public fall under the state's open meeting laws.
The commission also heard and dismissed Robinson's argument that the hearing should be terminated because the first hearing in the case was not held within the 120-day time limit imposed by the county's merit rules.
Wells dismissed the argument, saying the first official hearing in the case was held in November, well before the 120-day limit had run out.
She also dismissed Robinson's second motion that the hearing was in violation of the county's merit rules because a hearing officer had not been assigned to the case before it was given to the commission.
She pointed out that the formal witness testimony in the hearing was delayed because the commission had to sort through all of Robinson's evidence in the first hearing in order to weed out irrelevant information.
Wells stated that the county had never used a hearing officer before and there was no money set aside by the Board of Supervisors to hire one. Besides this was the most direct way for Sides to argue his case that he was unjustly fired.
After opening statements, Baker called private investigator Keith Sobraske to the stand and spent the rest of the day questioning him about his investigation of Sides. Testimony continues today.