JONESBORO — The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to reinstate Shada Starr to her position with the county.
Starr has been reinstated to a job she held in the county’s senior services department. She was fired by department officials in July for what was called “chronic absenteeism” after write-ups were placed in her file, according to a disciplinary timeline.
The settlement split the commission with it passing by a 3-2 vote. Vice Chairman Michael Edmondson and commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick voted in favor of the settlement. Chairman Jeff Turner and Commissioner Shana Rooks voted against it on grounds that it might set a bad precedent where the Civil Service Board could be rendered irrelevant.
“I’m disappointed with the process we went through with this particular employee,” Turner said. “We have a Civil Service Board that hears grievances and it would have been my preference for her to have gone through that process. It was my intention to make sure the board did not set a precedent that we weren’t going to follow (or other employees).”
Starr’s specific job title was not available, and a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement prohibited Turner from discussing the specific details of Starr’s case or the agreement to rehire her. That agreement lays out the terms for her reinstatement, including how much the county owes her in back pay.
However, all of that is shielded from the public’s eyes because the confidentiality clause bars the county from releasing the agreement or discussing settlement talks.
There are about 70 cases pending before the Civil Service Board involving employees being suspended, terminated or demoted, Turner said. The oldest case dates back to March 2010, and there is at least a two-year backlog on cases waiting to be heard.
Starr is not the only employee to ask for a quick settlement with commissioners to get her case resolved. She is just the first one the commission agreed to settle with.
“There’s been several employees since I took office Jan. 1 who wanted the board to review their case, and a number of those folks, I did tell them there was a process and they would have to wait to have their hearing,” Turner said. “There were a couple of cases that I took before the board for settlement and they turned it down.”
Turner asked his colleagues on the commission to explain why they wanted to move forward with taking a vote on a settlement with Starr, but no one responded.
A copy of Starr’s disciplinary file, obtained through an open records request, shows she has been disciplined several times since hired in November 2010. There are about two dozen incidents listed in a timeline of disciplinary actions taken against her.
There are cases where she was written up for not meeting assignment deadlines, eating at a senior center’s front desk, leaving the desk during a shift, showing unspecified “inappropriate behavior” toward coworkers and others where she was written up for using profanity toward them.
However, the record shows a pattern of showing up late for work and “chronic absenteeism,” which is what was listed as the reason why she was terminated on July 25.
The earliest incident of disciplinary action taken against Starr was on July 11, 2011, when she was written up for showing up late to work and not calling in to her supervisor. The timeline shows the original punishment administered to her was for a documentation of conference to go in her file. It also states repeat infractions could lead to general counseling and “possible termination.”
The timeline also states then-Senior Services Director Mary Byrd had the punishment reduced.
“Mary changed the disciplinary action to a verbal warning, stating that this was Ms. Starr’s first infraction for this particular offense,” the timeline states.
On July 11, 2012, Starr did not show up for work after calling in at 9:06 a.m. to report she had overslept that morning, according to the timeline. She was given a verbal warning by her director supervisor, Program Coordinator Tiffany Campbell.
She was written up again the next day for calling in late at 8:36 a.m. The recommended punishment was general counseling, but the timeline shows Byrd again reduced the punishment.
“Mary did not approve the general counseling,” the timeline states. “However, she did approve the documentation of conference.”
The timeline then shows Starr was written up for showing up late and missing work several times this year by her then-director supervisor, Mindy French.
On Jan. 28, French filed a critical log incident, reporting that Starr had been “absent at least once every pay period.”
On March 11, she received general counseling from French and was placed on a 90-day probation for “chronic absenteeism” after she showed up 11 minutes late to work. She was not allowed to have any additional tardiness or sick leave absences during that probation.
She reportedly showed up to work 16 minutes late the next day and received a verbal warning. She showed up for work 20 minutes late a week later and received another verbal warning.
She reportedly left work an hour and a half early May 3 “to go home sick.” On June 17, she reportedly told an administrative secretary she felt sick and needed to go home early when her supervisor was not there.
The timeline shows there were three incidents documented in her file in July that, in varying ways, related to Byrd being placed on administrative leave without pay because of withdrawal discrepancies involving bank accounts with the department.
Byrd resigned at the beginning of August.
In the first incident July 18, the timeline states, “Shada informed the manager that two seniors had come to the front desk displaying their happiness and pleasure with the recent situation regarding Mary Byrd. Shada said that she did not want to hear it and would not stay at the front desk to listen.” A critical log incident was filed and Starr was given a verbal warning.
On July 19, it was noted that Starr notified staff at 2 p.m. that Byrd was going to turn herself over to police. On July 22, it was noted in the timeline that “Shada told staff that she did not like what was going (on) and was going to do something about it. Shada left work at 9 a.m., saying she had stomach cramps.”
No disciplinary action was taken in either incident.
Turner said absenteeism, in general, is frowned upon and employees are expected to show up for work and provide quality service to county residents.
“The employees that we hire in Clayton County are expected to be at work when they are supposed to, and if employees don’t show up for work, then that means, No. 1, they are derelict in terms of doing their job and in which the citizens of Clayton County are paying them for. To me, that is a serious offense for any employee to be AWOL or not show up on time.”