The Long County Board of Commissioners has rescinded disciplinary actions that were issued against Ludowici/Long County Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief of Operations Shawn Smith and Lt. Mary Butler on Sept. 17.
During last month’s meeting, Smith was terminated from the department and Butler was suspended for one week.
The vote to overturn the discipline against Smith was approved by a 3-1 vote, with commissioners Cliff DeLoach, Gerald Blocker and Robert Long voting in favor, and Commissioners Chairman Dwight Gordon voting against.
Though Gordon did not comment on why Smith was disciplined last month, citing at the time that it was a personnel decision, Gordon made a statement at Tuesday's commissioners meeting.
Gordon said Smith had been insubordinate to both him and the previous chief, Mark Deverger, and had been played a key role in causing a scare as to whether the county had adequate fire protection. Gordon added that he did not agree with rescinding the discipline and felt that the other commissioners were wrong.
“I don’t think that they looked at all of the evidence,” Gordon said. “If they would have, I believe things would have been different. Also, I’ve heard several complaints from citizens in the community, and from what I’ve personally seen him do, he doesn’t need to be over there. He needs to be completely out of the department.”
Though Gordon voted against overturning Smith’s discipline, he did join the other three in overturning Butler’s one-week suspension. Butler had allegedly been insubordinate to Deverger during his short time as the fire chief.
DeLoach said he and the other two commissioners listened to everything at the hearing, and it was clear that an injustice had been done to both Smith and Butler. During the hearing, both Smith and Butler presented recordings of conversations they had with Deverger. In those conversations, Deverger said that neither Smith nor Butler had been insubordinate toward him, nor had either ever disobeyed an order. These audio recordings were a contradiction to a letter that Deverger gave to the commissioners when he resigned Sept. 11, less than a month after he had been hired.
DeLoach, who voted against the punishment last month, said, “I was against this discipline from the start. There was no insubordination, just this letter, and these recordings prove something completely different. Shawn did everything he was asked to do by the former chief. There never was enough evidence to fire or suspend anybody.”
DeLoach said that in addition to being reinstated to the department, both Smith and Butler would keep their ranks and be paid retroactively to the date of the discipline. DeLoach added that it was time to put all of the personal issues aside.
“It’s time to move forward,” DeLoach said. “We have a new chief (Chris Moss), and all of this distraction with the fire department hasn’t done anything but hurt Long County. We all need to put this in the past and start working together.”