published Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

LaFayette council unanimously upholds firing of firefighter

LaFAYETTE, Ga. — After two-hours of arguments made by a fired firefighter and a packed crowd, council members voted unanimously to uphold the employee’s termination.

Johnny Stephens Jr., a 14-year LaFayette employee, was fired two weeks ago after he was given an order by two different supervisors to install a radio in a public works truck.

At Stephens’ appeal hearing Tuesday night, he told the council it wasn’t part of his job to install radios, but in the last five years he had installed them for the police and fire departments upon request.

City Manager Frank Etheridge told the council that the old radios from the police department had been given to public works because workers in that department didn’t have the ability to communicate through radio.

In a written letter to Stephens, Etheridge said that Public Works Director Mark White had coordinated with Safety Directory Tommy Freeman to have the radios installed in the vehicles.

But Stephens pointed out that the city had hired a contractor to install several of the radios in other vehicles. “They were looking for cheap labor,” Stephens told the council.

He also told council members that he worked in a hostile environment under Freeman.

When Freeman’s name came up in the meeting, several people in the crowd of about 40 residents began to fire off questions to the council, asking why they never had addressed other complaints against Freeman.

But City Councilman Ben Bradford tried to bring the discussion back to Stephens.

Bradford asked Stephens why he didn’t file a complaint against Freeman instead of disobeying an order.

“I’m hearing some things tonight for the first time,” Bradford said. “I wish you would have handled your frustration in a different way.”

Stephens told the council he didn’t realize that he could file a complaint.

After the meeting, Freeman said Stephens and others in the crowd were trying to retaliate against him for his decisions. He denied ever yelling at Stephens.

Council members went into an executive session, and when they returned they voted 4-0 to uphold the termination. Councilman Chris Davis had recused himself from the meeting because he said he knew Stephens.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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