CATEGORY: Pontotoc County

AUTHOR: BROWN

HED:Aldermen reach decision on controversial position

By LaRaye Brown

Daily Journal

PONTOTOC - The Pontotoc Board of Aldermen has voted to fill a position that generated extensive controversy when it was created last year.

In October, the board chose a white applicant for a material control position. The mayor vetoed the decision the next day, saying the black applicant was more qualified and that the hiring violated the city's equal employment opportunity policy.

The position remained vacant until the board of aldermen voted 3-2 during executive session of its Aug. 5 board meeting to transfer Johnny Ray, a white city employee, from the gas department to the material control department, Mayor Bill Rutledge said.

Rutledge provided information of the vote, however, he was out of town at National Guard camp when the meeting was held and said he did not know how each alderman voted. The board of five aldermen has one black and four whites.

City attorney Bill Sneed has a record of each member's vote but has not returned phonecalls to the Journal since Aug. 6.

Ward 2 Alderman Kenny Sullivan also would not comment, saying he did not know the outcomes of executive sessions were public record. Other aldermen did not return calls or could not be reached for comment.

The job was created to save the city money by allowing it to order items in bulk.

Due to checks and balances, the same employee cannot order and receive property. With only one employee at the material control warehouse, the city was forced to make small orders and have each department accept them individually.

After interviewing 21 applicants last year, Jim Long, material control department head, asked the board to choose between the top two candidates. One was black and the other was white.

Austin's veto prompted the black applicant, Willie Jones, to file a complaint against the city with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The white applicant, Timothy Hudson, said in a November interview, "If it's going to come down to a legal decision, I don't want the job."

"Job equal opportunity is the most important thing," Rutledge said. "Color should not be a factor there and sex should not be a factor. All qualified people should have the opportunity to do a job."

Jones filed another charge of discrimination this month with the EEOC, alleging that the city did not re-advertise for the position before it was filled by Ray.

Rutledge said he advertised for the position in-house to give other city employees a chance to apply for the job first.

Offering the job to the public first "would have been a violation of the city's employees to not consider them for a position they could hopefully advance into," Rutledge said.

"The board made the decision to in-line transfer in-house," he said of the job which pays $2,064.07 a month and has room for salary increases.

The mayor said all city employees would be given first opportunity for the vacated gas department position before it was advertised publicly.

He said he invited Jones to apply for any position that would be made available to the public.

Jones said he was unsure if he would be willing to take any other city job. "That's a tough one," he said.

"I'd take the (material control) job if they offered it to me," said Jones, who now is working two retail jobs in Pontotoc.

Jones said he is willing to pursue a lawsuit himself seeking financial compensation or the material control job.

"I don't know what the EEOC is going to do," he said.

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