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Former fire inspector’s termination upheld

A court has upheld the July 2011 termination of former Brookhaven fire inspector Andre’ Spiller, now a candidate for alderman at large in the city’s upcoming municipal elections.

In a ruling filed Monday, Circuit Court Judge Michael Taylor rejected Spiller’s appeal on procedural grounds, noting the appeal was filed outside a 10-day window allowed by law.

In his ruling, however, Taylor further wrote that even apart from the question of the filing deadline, “the appeal is without legal merit.”

Documents entered as part of the court record show Spiller was initially terminated by a vote of city aldermen following allegations he took personal time off from his job with the city citing “family problems” but was instead training for a job at the Adams County Correctional Center.

Beyond the approved time he took off, Spiller also allegedly missed two full days of work without giving notice or offering an excuse.

Following the July 2011 termination, aldermen voted 4-3 to reinstate Spiller after an appeal hearing in January 2012, but Mayor Les Bumgarner vetoed that action.

In filings to the Circuit Court, Spiller’s attorney, Earnestine Alexander, argued the mayor’s veto was arbitrary and capricious and also argued the mayor had no power to veto such a decision.

Taylor rejected both arguments.

“We’re satisfied that the court reviewed the record and the board acted properly,” said city attorney Joe Fernald, speaking of the initial termination vote. “Based on the evidence, there was sufficient evidence to support the board’s decision and the mayor’s veto.”

Spiller declined multiple requests to discuss the matter. His attorney, Alexander, likewise would not comment.

Spiller specifically would not answer whether he is or was employed by the privately run Adams County prison.

In financial disclosure forms on record with the state Ethics Commission, Spiller lists his occupation as “correction officer.”

Documents in the court record also show Spiller had previously been reprimanded in 2010 while working as city fire inspector for allegedly submitting falsified reports of fire inspections he’d never performed.

Though originally held in executive session, a transcript of the appeal hearing is included in court filings.

In his testimony during the January 2012 appeal, Fire Chief Tony Weeks said Spiller acknowledged falsifying inspection reports.

Spiller did not testify during the appeal hearing.

Additional testimony during the hearing indicates Weeks briefed aldermen at the July 5 meeting regarding his allegations against Spiller.

The fire chief testified Spiller initially asked on June 1, 2011, to take time off for family problems.

Beginning the following June 6, Spiller was allowed to utilize the vacation and personal time he had accrued.

On June 23, Weeks said Spiller had began to run out of allowed leave and started asking fellow firefighters to donate him leave.

Weeks said he learned on June 27 Spiller was training for a new job in Natchez. He allegedly confirmed this information by directly contacting the prison.

Since Spiller did not testify at the hearing, he could not be questioned by aldermen or the board’s attorney, Fernald, regarding these allegations.

In the July 2011 meeting, aldermen voted 4-2 (with one aldermen absent) to terminate Spiller or allow him to resign. Spiller declined to resign and was terminated. He subsequently obtained legal representation and moved for an appeal hearing before the full board.

The original motion in July to terminate Spiller citied “unexcused absences” and “unsatisfactory job performance.”

During the January 2012 appeal, however, Alexander argued the two unexcused absences following Spiller’s approved time off did not meet the threshold for termination as outlined in the city handbook.

She pointed out the procedure for dealing with unexcused absences, which dictates certain formal warnings be issued, was not followed.

Following the appeal hearing, aldermen moved to reinstate Spiller by a divided 4-3 vote, but Bumgarner vetoed the decision.

In his veto statement, Bumgarner wrote: “Because Andre’s lawyer chose not to let him testify, or answer questions, I don’t know what he wants. I do know what I want. I want to look Andre’ Spiller, our department heads, and our 160 employees in the eyes and tell them, you should Be at your job, Be honest, Be forthcoming and Never let another job take priority over your City job.”

Spiller subsequently appealed to Circuit Court, but Taylor notes the appeal should have been filed within 10 days of the meeting in which the reinstatement was vetoed. However, according to Taylor’s ruling, the appeal was filed 17 days after the meeting.

Taylor’s ruling could itself be appealed.