Judge says clerk’s firing was ‘surprise’

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Following an executive session for personnel reasons Mondaymorning, Lincoln County supervisors voted 5-0 to terminate LincolnCounty Justice Court Clerk Jan Oster.

David Fields, county administrator, said the decision wasrelated to job performance and attitude. He said it was aculmination of events over the past few years, but he did notelaborate.

“I really can’t get into specifics,” Fields said.

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Oster was informed of the board decision early Monday afternoon.She has been with the county since 1986.

Oster did not have any comment later Monday.

Post 2 Justice Court Judge Judy Martin said it was a “surprisedecision” and “grossly unfair.” Martin defended Oster as the”backbone of the office.”

Martin said a complaint letter was mentioned when Oster wasterminated, but added that the clerk had not been notified of anysuch document.

“She has not had an opportunity to respond to any charges oranything,” Martin said.

Martin acknowledged some ongoing tensions between justice courtand other county officials. Supervisors and justice court officialshave met in personnel-related executive sessions several times.

While Martin and Post 1 Justice Court Judge B.J. Price work withcourt clerks on a day-to-day basis, clerks serve at the will andpleasure of the board of supervisors.

In additional personnel matters, other county employees wereappointed for another year. District 3 Supervisor Nolan EarlWilliamson and District 2 Supervisor Bobby J. Watts will serveanother year a president and vice-president, respectively, under atwo-year board leadership system set up a few years ago.

In other business during the first board meeting of 2003 Monday,supervisors expressed concerns about campaign signs on county roadrights of way.

Citing a sign prohibition law passed last year, board memberssaid county road hands and Ronnie Durr, county litter controlsupervisor, should remove any campaign signs they see along countyroads. One concern District 2 Supervisor Bobby J. Watts mentionedwas signs damaging county bush hog and other equipment tires.

“Most of the time, they ruin the tube,” Watts said.

The county’s ordinance was modeled after a state law thatprohibits political signs from state road and highway rights ofway.

Also Monday, supervisors voted to advertise for bids andfinancing for a new 3,000 gallon Class A pumper truck for theHeuck’s Retreat Volunteer Fire Department. The pumper is estimatedto cost $190,000.

Clifford Galey, president of the Lincoln County VolunteerFirefighters Association, said Heuck’s Retreat would be the fifthcounty volunteer department to receive a $50,000 state grant toassist rural fire departments with truck purchases. Remaining fundswill come from department savings and fund-raising efforts.

In a related matter, volunteer fire departments officials areexpected to meet with supervisors at their next meeting onWednesday, Jan. 22, to discuss a five-year plan to lower departmentratings from Class 10 to Class 9. The board meeting is normallyheld on the third Monday, but the next meeting was rescheduled dueto the Martin Luther King holiday.

Also in the area of emergency services, King’s Daughters MedicalCenter is applying for a $2,000 state grant to purchase anAutomated Electronic Defibrillator (AED) to aid heart attackvictims. Tony Lambert, KDMC assistant emergency medical servicesdirector, said the AED could be mobile through one application orit could be put at the courthouse under another grantapplication.

Supervisors debated where to locate the AED once it arrives.Williamson jokingly suggested putting it in the countyboardroom.

“Next budget time, it’s probably going to come in handy,”Williamson said.

The board ultimately agreed to place the AED at the sheriff’sdepartment and have someone trained in use of the machine.