Friday, November 13, 2015

TOP STORY >> Director can keep $21,000

Leader staff writer

The overpayment of $21,000 to Beebe Parks and Recreation director Lynn Hatcher for vehicle reimbursements was due to miscommunication and will not have to be repaid, according to Mayor Mike Robertson.

On Tuesday morning, he vetoed the city council’s Monday decision to fire Hatcher — made after an alderman discovered the parks director had received a monthly car allowance of $1,000 instead of the $500 he was supposed to get for using his own personal truck over the past 42 months.

A special council meeting was held Tuesday night. The mayor’s veto allowed Hatcher to represent himself at the disciplinary hearing.

The meeting went into a closed-door executive session to discuss the personnel matter, which did not happen on Monday. Hatcher was not present at that first meeting. The mayor said Hatcher was having heart surgery, but Robertson did not know it had been rescheduled to Thursday.

On Tuesday, before the second meeting, the mayor and city clerk/treasurer Carol Westergren looked at the May 2012 council meeting minutes from when Hatcher was hired. The mayor said there was nothing in the minutes about the salary or the vehicle allowance. Hatcher’s salary is $40,019 a year.

Robertson said he had a typed letter he had written, but Westergren was not sure she received it. The mayor explained, “I can’t swear one way or the other,” as Westergren added, “I had nothing in my office on this matter.”

Robertson continued, “Whatever was communicated back in 2012, there is no way for (Westergren) to remember, or I to remember, if it got communicated in a letter or in verbal form, or how it was communicated.

“I don’t think what happened was a deliberate action on anybody’s part. It is a terrible thing that happened. It is apparent there are multiple interpretations of things that transpired,” he noted.

The council voted for Hatcher to stop receiving a vehicle allowance starting with the next pay period. The city will instead purchase a newFord truck for the parks department under state bid immediately for $22,146.

“I know we acted hastily with the decision and that didn’t afford (Hatcher) the right to a hearing or due process. The line of questioning (Monday) night was directed at me, and I answered them honestly. But answering the questions did not shed a good light on the city at the time,” Robertson said.

“Mr. Hatcher I apologize for any misinterpretation that I had,” Robertson said.

“Thank you for hearing me out…To get the news like I did, emotions and thoughts run wild with something like this,” Hatcher said.

Alderman David Pruitt told The Leader on Thursday, “I believe in my heart that we made the right decision Monday night to fire Lynn Hatcher. I don’t understand how five of the other council members could allow Hatcher to keep his job,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said on Tuesday the mayor sent council members an email notifying that he vetoed their action.

“I thought the mayor felt the same way,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said on Tuesday’s meeting the council made no motion to override the mayor’s veto. State law requires the council needs two-third majority to override a mayoral veto. Pruitt said he believed no one else was going to make a motion, and if he did, it would not get support, so he declined.

Pruitt said nobody questioned if Hatcher should pay the money back.

Pruitt said he would have made a motion requiring Hatcher to do so, if Pruitt knew he needed to do so.

Pruitt said he is still new to the council and still learning since coming on in January. Pruitt said he noticed Hatcher’s vehicle reimbursements when it was itemized for the 2016 parks budget.

According to Pruitt, Hatcher said in Tuesday’s meeting that the money was an entitlement for what he’s done for the city.