McAvaddy alleges discrimination

14 years ago

McAvaddy alleges discrimination

By Kathy McCarty

Staff Writer

Staff photo/Kathy McCarty

JERRY McAVADDY has worked for the city of Presque Isle for 16 years, serving the past 10 years as code enforcement officer.

PRESQUE ISLE — Discussion of shifting staff at the municipal level resulted in one councilor being advised by City Manager Jim Bennett that it wasn’t the “Council’s role to get into placement” of personnel.

Monday’s City Council meeting found councilors talking about the various changes to city departments Bennett had proposed, including doing away with the position of code enforcement officer as it now exists and creating a code enforcement/firefighter position at the Presque Isle Fire Department.

Councilor Don Gardner — who had acknowledged at an earlier meeting in November that Bennett calls him the “blue collar councilor” — took the opportunity to share his concerns over the proposed change for code enforcement.

“The only concern I have is for the two people in code. Even though a job offer has been made, I don’t feel because of health reasons that one of the individuals can really do the job,” said Gardner, noting his discomfort with positions being offered to Deputy Code Enforcement Officer George Howe (who has been asked to assume the code enforcement/firefighter duties) and Code Enforcement Officer Jerry McAvaddy (who Bennett approached about taking a dispatcher position at the police department).

“I’m uncomfortable putting these two in positions they may not physically be able to do,” said Gardner. “I’m getting the feeling these people are basically being tossed to the wolves.”

Bennett stepped in at that point, cautioning Council as a whole that it wasn’t up to them to determine placement.

“We won’t put employees in positions they can’t do. We’ve (city officials) asked you, if you go along with it, to carry positions for a year, hoping to find a solution. What might appear today could change based on positions available. A vacancy could occur tomorrow (that would better suit an individual),” said Bennett.

“So these are filler positions?” asked Gardner.

Bennett said it was a way to “minimize the impact on employees with minimal impact to services.”

“The first part is determining if people can physically do jobs. The second is union rights. I caution Council, because you could cause problems,” said Bennett, noting the changes he’s proposed to various departments means up to $45,000 in savings over a year’s time. “We have three places to cut the budget if you don’t want to raise taxes.”

Bennett said there were four areas to look when considering possible cuts: cutting capital investment, cutting services, finding another way to pay (for positions, supplies, etc.) or to continue cutting supplies to get the job done.

“There aren’t a lot of supplies left to play around with. So you’re back to raising taxes or cutting staff. It’s not what I wanted to do first thing — lay people off or increase taxes. I don’t know how to keep the same number of employees and not raise taxes,” said Bennett.

McAvaddy, who didn’t discuss the matter at Council but did agree to an interview, said he was first told of the proposed changes of moving code to the fire department, with Bennett discussing the possibility of early retirement with him on Oct. 4. Present for the meeting were Traci Place, of Teamsters Local 340 of which McAvaddy is a member, and Ken Arndt, director of planning and development.

“Jim told me that as a result of state revenue sharing, additional debt and so on, he had found it necessary to eliminate my position as COE and had created a new position of code enforcement/firefighter which would fall under the fire department. He said George would be taking the job,” he said.

McAvaddy was told he could stay until October 2011, could take early retirement or could work out some type of stipend which Bennett didn’t elaborate on.

“There was small talk about nothing could be done about it, it was best for the mill rate and that he’s just doing what the councilors want,” said McAvaddy. “I told him he better be doing this according to state statutes, which my position falls under.”

Later McAvaddy said he met with Place, who indicated the matter came as a total surprise to her.

“She said she’d look into it. I also called the city attorney (Hugo Olore). We discussed the legalities of me being offered a position I’m not physically capable of handling,” he said.

McAvaddy, who suffered a stroke Thanksgiving of 2008 and took time off to recover, has since returned to his duties as COE — a job he can manage with his physical limitations.

“I use my cane less now but the stroke affected my right side,” he said, indicating he can schedule inspections and office work according to how he feels. If he’s having a bad day, he can stay in his office to work.

McAvaddy said Bennett stopped by his office Nov. 8 to offer the dispatcher position — a job that comes with a high level of stress and requires quick reaction to handle multiple technologies in the event of an emergency.

McAvaddy’s doctor advised him not to take the dispatcher position as it would be hazardous to his health.

“My doctor told me, given the stress that goes with the job and my having had a stroke, if I took the job, the stress would kill me,” he said.

McAvaddy’s been with the city for 16 years and had hoped to remain COE until retirement.

“I joined the city in 1994 as emergency management director, then was named deputy code enforcement officer in 1997. I became COE in 2000,” said McAvaddy. “I wanted to finish my career in a job I’ve enjoyed for many years. That may change.”

McAvaddy has been discussing the matter with Bemis and Rossignol, a Presque Isle law firm that’s working to find an attorney that handles discrimination cases. Place, on behalf of McAvaddy and the Teamsters’ Union,  is also keeping a close eye on the matter.

McAvaddy is facing an uncertain future, following Council’s decision Monday to approve the proposed changes to code enforcement and the fire department.