Works for County Road Crew, Suspended Five Days Without Pay
Joe Smith, a Lowndes County road crew employee who works for County Road Manager Ronnie Burns, was suspended for five days without pay last week for showing up for work on a Monday morning and testing positive for alcohol during a random drug/alcohol screening by the county. Smith has served the suspension and is now back at work.
I asked Ronnie Burns several specific questions about how and why the suspension was handed down and why Smith was not terminated. Burns replied that Smith was the first county road employee who tested positive for alcohol in his system who had not actually been pulled over by local law enforcement and given a DUI. Previous employee’s were terminated by the county after law enforcement pulled their drivers license. Burns says that when an employee loses their license, he has no choice but to fire them. But Smith’s case differs because law enforcement wasn’t involved…he was caught by a random screening performed by the county. Burns checked with Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley and the two checked the county policy on the matter. The county has a ‘no tolerance’ policy when it comes to testing positive for drugs. But alcohol is a different matter. County policy leaves it up to the discretion of the road manager. He can suspend the violator for five days without pay, or terminate them…it’s his call.
Burns said that Smith was a very good worker. He further stated that Smith had never previously violated any other county policies during his near-four year employ on the road crew. “People have no idea how hard it is to find good workers who’ll show up on time and do their jobs as instructed,” said Burns. “Joe Smith has been a very good employee.” Burns said that Smith was warned that if it happened again, he would be immediately terminated.. “He’s on notice!” he said.
Burns said that, being early on a Monday morning when tested, the alcohol in Smith’s system was likely a carry-over from the weekend. he reportedly just barely tested over the alcohol limit.
“We have to be fair to everyone and treat them the same,” said Burns. “We also have a strict cell phone policy. If an operator is caught with a cell phone we will suspend them or they can be terminated. Just like driving a vehicle and talking or texting, operating county vehicles or equipment with a cell phone can be just as deadly. We don’t allow it.”
Burns also added that Smith being the brother of Columbus Mayor Robert Smith had nothing at all to do with the way he handled his situation. “Robert Smith has no pull as far as the county road crew is concerned” said Burns. Rumors about Joe Smith were circulating last week and some were confused thinking that Smith worked for the city where brother Robert would have influence over his case. He has none with the county, however.
What If Joe Smith Had Worked For The City?
If Joe Smith had worked for the city instead of the county, it would have been an interesting situation. Packet readers will recall that former Columbus Police Chief Joe St. John was fired by the Columbus City Council for random alcohol testing similar to that of Joe Smith’s. (Granted…Smith is not in law enforcement. Still, anyone can become a liability for any entity while performing their duties under the influence! RW).
It can be argued by Mayor Robert Smith that it was the council who did the firing of St. John, not him. But just about everyone in this town knows that Robert Smith wanted St. John gone. There was not a doubt about it. And what Robert Smith wants, Robert Smith nearly always gets. If a council member crosses him, Smith will work to get them replaced in the upcoming election. (Which might be the case with Ward 1 City Councilman Gene Taylor right now. Taylor recently voted to not suspend a couple of police officers that Smith wanted suspended and Taylor, who nearly always voted the way Smith wanted him too, voted to not suspend…reportedly angering the mayor. RW)
I guess Robert Smith is glad that his brother, Joe, works for the county and not the city. Because the county gave his brother a second chance! (Also…St John’s test was not random. They went to his home and tested him, specifically, reportedly ordered to do so by Smith himself after St. John called in sick to an officer’s disciplinary hearing. Even though St. John had been disciplined for improper behavior (drinking) in the past, he hadn’t previously failed an actual blood alcohol test and was technically never afforded the second chance that was given to Robert’s brother by Ronnie Burns. RW)0