Saturday, April 19, 2014

TOP STORY >> Ex-clerk airs grievance

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke County employee whose grievance hearing was canceled four times before she was transferred to another office says she did Assessor Jack McNally’s job before he fired her.

According to the former chief deputy assessor, Therese O’Donnell, McNally was in his Lonoke office or the Cabot office less than 10 hours a week when it wasn’t campaign season.

She claims he didn’t even work then, instead delegating tasks and “bullying” his staff.

The assessor wasn’t in his office on Friday when The Leader called.

O’Donnell also said McNally worried her family when he told The Leader last week that she had been prescribed four kinds of heart medication.

O’Donnell said in an interview at The Leader on Thursday that a cardiologist gave her a clean bill of health in July, and she has never been prescribed heart medication.

Even if his comments had been true, McNally violated the HIPPA law that prohibits employers from releasing medical information about their employees, O’Donnell said.

The former deputy — who has lived in Lonoke County for more than 40 years — started working for Collector Patricia McCallie on March 31.

Her career in Lonoke County government began in 1999. She worked for Hugh Keller, a former county collector, and then for former assessor Jerry Adams.

“I loved my job, loved working with the people,” O’Donnell said.

She and her husband, Paddy O’Donnell, said they were trying to keep things civil and out of the press, but McNally’s claims about her health was the last straw.

O’Donnell said the assessor has, for three years, refused to learn how to do the job he was elected to do.

Instead, he delegates tasks to the staff, she told The Leader. An employee is doing the budget for him, O’Donnell said.

She added that Jerry Adams, not McNally, brought Geographic Information Systems to the county. The county piloted GIS in the early 2000s, while McNally was elected in 2011.

O’Donnell said she started signing time sheets because he wasn’t in the office, and she didn’t want to drive to the Cabot office or his house to make him sign them.

Then she was asked to pay the office’s bills and write a grant the day before it was due, O’Donnell said.

On Thursday, she was still receiving calls from other county employees about how to complete their duties that involved the assessor’s office.

O’Donnell said, “I was hoping that he would take responsibility for the job he was elected to do because I was tired of doing the job that the taxpayers pay him to do…I cannot sit by any longer and see him waste the taxpayers’ money for his own gain. He has said many times this is the best job I ever had for not doing anything.”

The former deputy said McNally has made several questionable or unnecessary purchases, including T-shirts promoting the Homestead Credit program and signs and stands for The Wounded Warrior Project.

Some of the purchases have been hotly debated during Lonoke County Quorum Court meetings.

Paddy O’Donnell added that McNally’s favorite saying is: “We can get around this. We’ll work around this.”

He said the assessor has been saying that since he was a code enforcement officer for Cabot under then-Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh.

Theresa O’Donnell then shared several text messages she would have read to county officials if her grievance hearing had been held.

But, she said, she appreciates several quorum court members who apologized about her having to go through this ordeal.

The texts from McNally are compliments, such as, “You are the best,” “You are a blessing in my life” and “…please forgive me for relying on you so much.”

One text sent on Nov. 18 reads, “Things run well because of you. Things run well in spite of me.”

O’Donnell said McNally’s wife sent one of the longest text message. It reads, “Between you and me, please try and get Jack to stay at the office and work today. If he’s told ‘it’s under control, we can handle it,’ he uses that as an excuse to stay home. He’s on his meds and has had a good diet all weekend and says he feels better. When he’s home, all he does is sit in the chair and watch TV or lay in bed. He needs to be up and active and he will NOT do that here. That can’t be good for his health either. If he’s going to keep this job, he needs to be there and be seen WORKING!!…”

The assessor never explained to her why she had been fired, O’Donnell said.

She said McNally met her at the back door of the courthouse on Feb. 3, asked for her key, told her she was a good employee and that she was fired.

O’Donnell said McNally often became upset at work, yelling at her and the other women on his staff. She became emotional over what he might say to them after this article is published.

“I want to apologize to the ladies that I worked with in the Lonoke office. I hope this will not make it any harder on them. Jack is known to carry a grudge,” O’Donnell said.

She added, “It breaks my heart because they don’t deserve it.”

On Jan. 23, O’Donnell said McNally yelled at her after County Judge Doug Erwin came in to remove and replace the carpet in the assessor’s office.

O’Donnell said McNally wanted the office to close, but she suggested the staff work with their office doors closed while the main room was worked on.

The assessor called her into his office, she said.

“At that point, Jack McNally showed a side of himself that should have never been seen at any point in time. He put a fear in me that I have never experienced before. I felt that he was uncontrollable. He was mad because the judge did not inform him in advance that he was doing the carpet. I was told later that the judge did try to contact him a few times, but he would not answer his phone.”

O’Donnell said McNally cursed at her, but that he would probably dispute her accusation because some words may be curses to one person but not to a another person.

Eight days later, on a Friday, O’Donnell’s husband confronted the assessor. He told McNally that his wife should not be treated that way.

O’Donnell said her husband didn’t raise his voice, but McNally did, saying, “I don’t need this (expletive).” Then, she said, the assessor sarcastically apologized to her as she was speaking to another county employee.

O’Donnell was terminated the Monday after her husband spoke with McNally.

The assessor has argued that she resigned.

O’Donnell said she never turned in a letter of resignation. But the former deputy did say she told McNally she would quit in May if he didn’t start helping her run the office.

O’Donnell added that she canceled only one of the four grievance hearings that were scheduled.