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City caught unaware at council meeting

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

The Mountain City Council got a dose of reality in connection with one of the city’s water department employees’ status during its June 2 meeting. While following the meeting agenda, it came to light that, unbeknownst to the city government, one of its employees had applied for and received unemployment benefits while on a self-imposed leave. The City was aware of the general situation, but council members were visibly surprised by the news.

The discussion revealed that the city employee was at home to protect an ill family member from COVID-19 exposure and had exhausted all of his sick leave, vacation time, and the extra 80 hours President Trump granted through the Families First Act. The self-quarantine was reportedly doctor’s orders, but the employee showed no documentation and has yet to produce any despite management’s request.

According to Supervisor Andy Garland, the employee’s last workday was in mid-March, but the department officials had not heard from him since. The council was unsure if there was contact previously and designated the lack of communication as a no-call no-show situation, a policy that most companies view very seriously. 

Research shows that most businesses either terminate after the first offense or allow three strikes, with each strike counting for one day.Many small businesses give their employees a bit of slack due to the pandemic, but according to City officials, the employee in discussion at the last council meeting has been absent for nearly 11 weeks without contact.

After a brief debate, members seemed to think that the employee did not plan to come back. The council heard about the employee’s unemployment benefits right before voting on whether to terminate his employment. According to City Recorder, Sheila Shaw, the Department of Labor says the employee’s benefits were approved because of his COVID-19 situation.

But after the council voted unanimously to terminate this employee, Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons commented, “How was he able to get unemployment benefits when technically, until this moment, he was employed by the Town of Mountain City?” Shaw is appealing the benefits on the city’s behalf.It is unclear how the city was unaware of the situation. It could be related to how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected meeting schedules, but of this, there is no conclusive evidence at this time.