The Ludowici City Council voted at its March 8 meeting to dismiss city employee Elbert Hand, who reportedly wrecked a city vehicle at the Long County Recreation Department earlier this month. After addressing the matter in executive session, the council took its decision to dismiss Hand to maintenance supervisor James Fuller, who had recommended the action to the council.
Hand said the wreck was an accident. “The sun flashed in my eyes and I didn’t see the pole and it messed up the door. But it was an accident. They didn’t do a drug test like they should have and, the truth is, what happened could have happened to anybody. It wasn’t right, them firing me,” he said.
According to Hand, he had been with the city for approximately one year and felt that he had been a good employee. He said his dismissal wasn’t justified and claimed Fuller had other reasons for recommending that he be dismissed.
“The reason he got rid of me had nothing to do with the wreck. He had been telling me that I needed to move into town and I wouldn’t move … my wife’s been sick and I had to take care of her. But the wreck had nothing to do with it. That’s the real reason I was fired,” Hand said.
Regarding the dismissed worker’s allegations, Fuller said, “I never told him that he had to move into the city. Where he lived had nothing to do with what I recommended to the council,” Fuller said.
Fuller said the recommendation was not based solely on the wreck at the recreation department but also on Hand’s continued problems as a city employee.
“This wasn’t his first wreck. This was his second in 10 days,” Fuller said. “He also tore up a golf cart. Not only that, but if I wanted to get rid of him, why would we have extended his probation out?”
Regarding the golf cart incident, Hand said, “The only thing that I did was I knocked the caution light off the cart. That wasn’t a big deal and they know it.”
According to Fuller, Hand encountered struggles on the job, which were noted during his initial six-month probationary period. Because of those struggles, Fuller said, Hand’s probationary period was extended another six months to give him more time to learn the job.
City Councilman Frank McClelland Jr. said, “We have to consider what is best for the city and an employee who has continued issues with their driving can cause the insurance rates to go up for the city … I hate having to do what we did, but we’ve worked with him already and the reality is, he still is on probation. Taking everything into consideration, we had to go with what the department head recommended.”
In other business, the council:
• Heard a petition by Tony Fowler, owner of Fowler’s Automotive, requesting the city use one of the three mechanics in Ludowici for work on city vehicles. Fowler said that the majority of repair work on vehicles is done in Hinesville and Jesup. After a brief discussion, Fowler was told that every effort to use a local mechanic would be made if their prices are competitive and they are able to provide the service. Fowler also said that a recent allegation from a Ludowici citizen that he was the “city’s mechanic” was inaccurate and he wanted the community to know it wasn’t true.
• Approved moving a street light from Celladon Street to the corner of Celladon and South Main streets.
• Approved adopting the Department of Transportation’s roadway speed ordinance.
• Made part-time employee Machella Hewitt the full-time assistant court clerk.
• Approved changing the method in which shift workers at the LPD acquire leave so it is comparable to the amount of leave time regular employees acquire.
• Hired Stacey Rhoden as a full-time dispatcher at the Ludowici Police Department and laterally transferred Brenda Truman from the police department to city hall. This vote was approved with Jim Fuller Jr., Gwen Davis, A.A. Billings and Frank McClelland Jr. Councilman Johnny Manning abstained from that vote.