Mohave County panel upholds firing of Sides
1/11/2013 6:01:00 AM
By Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
KINGMAN - After a day and a half of witness testimony, former county employee Jerry Sides didn't bother to call his own witnesses or wait for a verdict from the Mohave County Employee Merit Commission, which upheld the county's decision to fire Sides.
Sides said he hasn't decided if he will appeal the commission's ruling to the Mohave County Superior Court.
"Everything I tried to present was shot down," said Steven Robinson, Sides' representative before the commission. "It was if they were deliberately trying to shut me down."
Sides was fired from his job in the county public works department last year after two county employees accused him of campaigning while on the job. At the time he was a candidate for the District 1 Supervisor seat.
Robinson said the numerous objections made by the county's attorney, Kate Baker, and actions by Commissioner Charlotte Wells undermined Sides' case. It was no use calling any of his witnesses because the commission had already made its decision, he claimed.
Baker did make numerous objections during the hearings, such as when Robinson tried to bring in evidence that had been excluded from the hearings. She called some of Robinson's questions to witnesses leading and she complained about his lack of organization.
At one point, Robinson tried to interject the fact that the county's investigator, Keith Sobraske,was sued by three Maricopa County deputies who lost their jobs because of allegations of misconduct filed against them. Sobraske was the private investigator hired to help the Pinal County Sheriff's Office investigate the claims and the deputies claim Sobraske's report was one-sided.
Wells also voiced concerns about Robinson's lack of organization during the hearings. She tried to help Robinson by making suggestions and actually pausing testimony on the first day of the hearings in order to allow him to get his bearings and find a document he needed.
She also showed frustration at Robinson's attempts to use evidence that had been excluded from the hearings to impeach witnesses. She stopped Robinson more than once, after Baker had objected to his line of questioning, to ask her two fellow commissioners if the information Robinson was trying to get at was of any use to them. When the other commissioners said no, Wells asked Robinson to move on to other questions.
An "Oh, boy this is good," under-the-breath comment by Robinson after one of Baker's objections caused both Wells and Baker to lash out at him Thursday morning.
"His lack of skills is forcing me to object to his questions and then he's making these snarky comments," Baker said.
She claimed that Robinson wanted to use the transcript of the hearing to make Baker and the commission look bad for beating up on him with objections.
"I've tried to impress on you how important this hearing is," Wells said to Robinson. "You don't know what documents you want to use to question witnesses and when you don't get the answers you want, you argue with the witness. You're damaging your case."
The testimony from the witnesses who were called in the case also didn't help Sides.
Sobraske testified that he felt that Sides lied to him during the investigation. He pointed to transcripts of his interviews with Sides and the two employees, Bruno Biasi and Alvin Johnson, who made the accusation against Sides.
Sides told him that he had arranged for the Biasi and Johnson to drive him around the Arizona Strip in northern Mohave County on their day off.
Biasi and Johnson testified that their supervisor, Manuel Esquibel, had called them and told them to change their workdays so they could take a day off and drive Sides around.
Sobraske said that Sides also lied to him about who had made four phone calls and left a voicemail message on county public works employee Robert Long's phone the day Sobraske was supposed to interview Long.
Sobraske said Sides first denied knowledge of the calls, then said he knew who made the calls but refused to tell Sobraske who made them. Then Sides said his wife made the calls and when Sobraske stated the voice on the message was male, Sides claimed his brother in Tucson made the calls.
Biasi testified that he was taken aback by and felt very uncomfortable with Esquibel's request that he and Johnson show Sides around. He also said he felt he was being used for his position in the Arizona Strip community.
"If (Sides) really cared about the community, then why didn't he take the time and call someone in the community?" Biasi said.