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Appeals continue in county's
firing of Murphy

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Joe Murphy is making another attempt to get his job back as assistant director of Clayton County's Community Development Department, or an equivalent position.

More than a year has passed since the Clayton County Civil Service Board ruled that Murphy, who is also mayor of the City of Lovejoy, was inappropriately fired from his assistant director's post. Nearly two months have elapsed since the Clayton County Superior Court upheld that ruling.

On Monday, Murphy filed an appeal with the Civil Service Board, again protesting his November 2007 dismissal and demanding "re-instatement to employment, back pay and benefits as ordered by both the Civil Service Board and Superior Court."

The county has told Murphy that his former position no longer exists and has offered Murphy back pay and benefits, according to his attorney, Steve Frey.

Murphy filed his original appeal to the Civil Service Board in November 2007, after being fired by the county.

Frey believes Murphy's reinstatement is the only thing that will satisfy the Civil Service Board's July 2008 ruling.

"They [the county] dismissed him [Murphy] because they alleged that he had inspected his own work," Frey said. "We were able to prove that they did not follow their own Civil Service rules in investigating the matter and that the infractions in question were minor. They have offered to give him back pay ... but have not made the overture to make him whole."

According to court documents, the county argued that as early as Aug. 18, 2003, Murphy received a written warning for allegedly inspecting electrical work done by his private company, JLM Electrical Contractors, LLC. In other incidents, the county alleged in court documents that Murphy allowed code inspection officers under his supervision to perform inspections on electrical work done by JLM.

On July 9, 2008, the Civil Service Board ruled Murphy's firing to be "excessive and disproportionate to the conduct." The board ordered that Murphy's discharge be "reduced to a suspension without pay for a period of thirty (30) days" and that he "be made whole and compensated in full for the loss of all pay and benefits that he sustained as a result of the termination of his employment." It also recommended that Murphy "be placed in a position where he does not perform code inspections or supervise code inspectors."

On Aug. 7, 2008, the county appealed the decision to the Clayton County Superior Court, alleging the board had "exceeded its authority" by reversing Murphy's firing. On Aug. 14, of this year, Judge Geronda Carter dismissed the county's appeal, declaring that the Civil Service Board's actions "were not contrary to law."

On Sept. 22, Pamela Everett, an attorney representing the county, informed Frey via mail that Murphy's position - and several others - was eliminated on June 30 in a massive effort to "significantly decrease the overall budget" of the county. In a letter to Frey, she said the county "will pay Mr. Murphy's back pay and benefits up to and through the date of the elimination of the position of assistant director and is in the process of calculating those amounts."

Murphy's duties as the assistant director of the Community Development Department included oversight of building inspections within the county, as well as oversight over the county's Code Enforcement Department, according to court documents.

Alex Cohilas, the county's chief of staff as well as interim director of the Community Development Department, said the elimination of Murphy's position "was not unique or novel." He said following the county's reorganization over the summer, the department doesn't have enough personnel to justify having an assistant director.

"Code Enforcement was once under Community Development, but now it is under PD [the police department]," Cohilas said. "That [happened] two years ago. Just Code Enforcement moving to PD took 20 employees from the department. It reduced the department by a third. We were looking for efficiency in every department ... There was no need to have a deputy director in that department because it was sharply reduced from what it used to be.

"That position was eliminated as many other positions have been in this year's budget. It's up to the [Civil Service] Board whether they are going to hear it [Murphy's latest appeal] or if they have the jurisdiction to seek a specific remedy," Cohilas added.

Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell and Staff Attorney Michael Smith could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Frey said Murphy's reputation has been damaged and that Murphy has had to pay "out-of-pocket" medical expenses for his wife, as they are no longer covered by the county's health insurance. He said the only way the county can make amends is by giving Murphy his job back.

"Mr. Murphy has been the subject of a witch hunt that, up to this point, does not have merit," Frey said. "Just simply eliminating the position does not eliminate him. They must, per the Civil Service rules, give him a job with the similar pay structure."