An otherwise-routine employment process with the Long County roads department has received the attention of the county commissioner responsible for that department.
Long County Commissioner Willie Thompson said he and other commissioners reviewed four applications for a $9/hour driver’s position with the roads department. The top candidate from the application review was a female, but when her background check came back, he said she had several traffic tickets against her license.
The next candidate in line had a clean record, so his name was submitted with their recommendations to the roads supervisor, Thompson said. He soon found out the roads supervisor rejected that candidate, saying he could not work with him under any circumstances. Since he supposedly is over the roads department, Thompson said he asked the supervisor why. No reason was given, so Thompson decided he’d ask the supervisor in person during Wednesday’s commissioners’ meeting with department heads.
“I want (Milford) Morris to tell the board why he rejected that application,” Thompson told the Courier. “(Morris) is white, and that young man is black. I am not going to be part of any discrimination against him.”
Of the eight department heads reporting to the commissioners, the roads department was slated as the seventh to report during Wednesday’s meeting. About 10 minutes were spent talking about grading dirt roads in the county, with Commissioner Gerald Blocker suggesting the roads department first spray water on the roads before scraping them in order to avoid kicking up so much dust.
“I can do that,” Morris responded. “I can do whatever y’all want me to do. I’m easy to get along with, except according to Mr. Thompson.”
There was a dull silence in the room until Commissioner Dwight Gordon mentioned another dirt road that needs grading. Commission Chairman Robert Long then asked if anyone had any other questions for Morris.
“Yes,” Thompson said. “My question has to do with hiring a new employee as a truck driver. You never answered why you rejected the man we recommended.”
Before Morris could answer, Thompson was cut off by Long, who said they couldn’t discuss employment issues during the board meeting. According to the Georgia Open Meetings Act, a government body may exclude discussions about employment or hiring. However, the act does not forbid the government body from discussing such issues.
Thompson was careful not to mention the prospective employee’s name and only demanded to know why the supervisor had rejected the applicant. He told the Courier he wanted to know if Morris had any previous interaction with the young man, and if Morris knew something about his character or work experience the commissioners don’t know.
When he couldn’t elicit a response, Thompson asked Morris why the roads department was closing at 2:30 p.m. Morris denied that it was closing that early, but Thompson said when he had been by there at that time, the gate was locked.
With no further questions allowed, Morris was allowed to leave. The Courier reporter left, also.
“They started talking about it after you left,” Thompson told the Courier. “They wouldn’t talk about it when the newspaper was there. I told them they’re going to mess around and get sued for discrimination.”
In a phone conversation with the Courier, Long said personnel matters like that usually are handled during an executive session, not in the open meeting. In this particular case, however, he doubted it’ll ever be brought up in an executive session. He said “these kind of things” are usually worked out beforehand with the commissioner.
In other business, Long told the commissioners and several department heads that some things were going on within departments that he wasn’t being told about.
One particular incident involved expensive equipment purchased by a department head. Any purchase over $500 has to go through the commissioners for approval, he said.
Recreation-department supervisor Henry Strickland talked about plans for a walking trail at the Long County Recreation Center. The half-mile long, concrete track is expected to cost about $140,000. It would have lighted trails around the drainage pond with handicap access to picnic areas. Gordon said the county would submit a grant application to help pay for the track.