MOULTRIE -- Nearly two weeks after she was fired, Colquitt County Administrator J.D. Byrd allowed former E-911 Director Julie Martin to resign. According to Martin, the administrator encouraged it. It apparently was an attempt to keep The Moultrie Observer from obtaining public records.
The county had earlier given Martin a choice to resign or be fired, and up until Monday she was considered terminated until a phone conversation with Byrd changed her mind, she said. Martin said Byrd advised her that The Moultrie Observer had been attempting to obtain her records since she was fired and that she needed to resign to prevent that from happening.
Legally, the paper has a right to view public personnel records whether an employee is fired or has quit.
The Moultrie Observer had filed three requests to obtain copies of files pertaining to Byrd's investigation. The county administrator stalled delivering those documents after multiple freedom of information requests with which legally the county must comply. The county attempted to block public access to county records Monday when Byrd claimed that since Martin voluntarily resigned, the county could not hand over the records to The Observer.
On Wednesday, the county administrator produced documents, but The Observer has learned of other possible documents in Martin's file that are not disclosed.
The Observer learned that when County Commission went into executive session this week it discussed how The Observer was initially held off from getting to any of the records on this matter.
"This is not surprising to us," said Observer editor and publisher Dwain Walden. "If you recall, we had just run an editorial this week of how elected officials get all hot and bothered about the public's right to know when they are running for office, but once elected, they change their tunes. The E-911 Center is one in which this community relies for public safety. Literally, lives can hang in the balance. This department has had its troubles for some time now and the public has a right to know about their investments in these offices.
"It might also help some public officials to remember that in 1984 similar issues with County Commission resulted in grand jury indictments and criminal convictions for violations of the state's Sunshine Laws. We would suggest they review the seriousness of this matter and seek to comply with the law, not to seek a way around it," Walden said. "Keep in mind that government 'in the sunshine' is promoted for a very good reason. When that concept is not embraced by public officials, then the public they serve will naturally distrust them."
Martin said Byrd did not inform her at the time of her firing under what grounds she was being fired. On top of that she said she didn't receive written information on how to appeal as county policy dictates is her right.
"He said, 'We're not going to get into all that,' and he said, 'Anything I might say you would have an answer for,' " she said.
And although she feels that she was unjustly terminated, Martin didn't file an appeal, because she didn't want to work in that capacity any longer, she said, given her dismay at the way Byrd decided to fire her.
"I just feel like there would have been problems all over again. I just feel like they were grasping at straws trying to get rid of me anyway," she said Wednesday.
Marcy Denham and Jamie Massey, fired by current Interim Director Teresa Warburg from their jobs as dispatchers, are appealing their terminations. The hearings are set before the Board of Commissioners Oct. 17 at 8:30 a.m.
Byrd based his action on a letter he said he typed up from information gathered through interviews of E-911 employees who came forward to complain about Martin. He did not, however, interview all employees in the department, he said.
The letter outlined Martin's alleged negligence as a director. One on the list of complaints was that Martin allegedly falsified time records.
"I've never been shown any proof of anything like that. I have no knowledge of anything like that until I read that statement...," she responded.
Another complaint was that Martin sold cosmetics while on duty. Martin said she didn't sell cosmetics, but her sister did and she admitted receiving a package she ordered at the 911 center.
She admitted to another complaint that she showered and dressed for work while at the center, but she did so during a flood that knocked out her water at home. In response to complaints that she worked only 20 to 25 hours a week, Martin said, "That's not true."
There were nine signatures on the letter. One was Warburg, who Martin said she was seeking Byrd's approval to fire. Two signatures were from employees previously fired by Martin. At least one, Tina Ricks -- who Martin said she had fired for allegedly mishandling a 911 call -- has been rehired by Warburg. Ricks' letter is one of four statements of complaint, including the joint statement, against Martin produced officially to The Observer. Warburg wrote another alleging falsification of timecards.
"My thing is the citizens of this county need to know and start asking questions as to why people who are obviously incompetent at doing their job are rehired," Martin said.
Upon Martin's termination, Warburg advised Byrd of property allegedly stolen from the center, including Martin's personnel file, a Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) awareness statements file, an interactive CAD file, a Rolodex, a digital camera she used in her job and a file for the security door keypad. A sheriff's investigator retrieved some items several days after her termination.
"I never maliciously took any files trying to cause any harm," she said, adding the Rolodex was a gift from her husband, her personnel file contained originals of her certifications and she returned the digital camera Thursday when she went to pick up her paycheck.
No criminal charges had been filed against Martin as of press time.
Dispatcher Tonia Brumley wrote complaint letters to Byrd dated after the terminations alleging that upon their terminations Martin and Denham with the help of Massey had taken files, the door pass code book and other items from the center. Brumley also alleged in her letter that Martin released override codes to unauthorized personnel.
Martin said she believes the investigation stems from Warburg's alleged longtime rivalry with her. A few days prior to her termination, Martin went to Byrd seeking his approval to fire Warburg. Martin had written up Warburg, she said, for allegedly misusing her access to the GCIC to look up the license plates of Brumley, whom she had sold a vehicle to.
In a typed letter provided to The Observer by Massey dated Sept. 9 and bearing Brumley's signature, Brumley said Warburg violated her privacy by running her car tags.
Byrd said the allegations against Warburg were trumped up and as a trainer, she routinely looks up her own license plates as an example for trainees.
"When we investigated into it, we found that a lot of them did that for training purposes," Byrd said.
John Bankhead, spokesperson for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, confirmed Tuesday that an investigation is under way at the local E-911 center for alleged GCIC violations.
This Week's Circulars
MOULTRIE, GA.- Amarylis Blender Abercrombie Jordan, 76, of Moultrie, passed away Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at her home. Cobb Funeral Chapel has been entrusted with arrangements. Please sign the online guestbook at www.cobbfuneralchapel.com.
MOULTRIE [mdash] Union Morris, 66, of Moultrie, died Friday, April 9, 2021 at Colquitt Regional Medical Center. Arrangements have been entrusted to Baker Funeral Home.
NORMAN PARK [mdash] Antonia Razo Gonzalez, 88, of Norman Park, died Saturday, April 10,2021 at Colquitt Regional Medical Center. Arrangements have been entrusted to Baker Funeral Home.
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