November 15, 2012

Former Chatsworth police detective appeals for job

Rachel Brown
rachelbrown@daltoncitizen.com

— A long-time Chatsworth Police Department detective who was let go earlier this month is appealing to get his job back.

Chief Terry Martin initially said Jim Whitehead was no longer with the department because of “personnel problems” but later said his job was eliminated because of budget cuts. Whitehead’s appeal hearing before the city’s police committee is set for 3 p.m. on Nov. 26 at City Hall.

A phone number for Whitehead could not be found, and he didn’t respond to a message left through Facebook.

City Attorney Steve Williams said Whitehead’s appeal is unusual because he’s using a grievance policy for fired employees even though he technically wasn’t fired.

Whitehead’s personnel file is also paradoxical; it includes two separation notices. The first was issued Nov. 2, one day after Whitehead was written up for violating department policies for on- and off-duty conduct, and gives the “reason for separation” as the policies he violated. “Jimmy Whitehead had inappropriate contact with another officer’s wife. Texting and photos,” according to the employee notice signed by Martin and Whitehead’s supervisor. A handwritten notation on the separation notice, dated Nov. 5, states “clerical error due to communication error.”

The second separation notice is dated Nov. 5 and mentions nothing about policy violations, saying simply, “The position of detective has been eliminated due to budget cuts.”

The personnel file includes other employee notices dated Feb. 7, 1992, for violating department rules concerning a gas card, and on Sept. 30, 1992, for improper conduct when Whitehead was “involved in a pushing match with a Murray County Sheriff jailor and Mr. Whitehead struck the jailor with his fist in the mouth. And also was responsible for letting a prisoner escape.” For the latter incident, Whitehead was suspended for two days without pay.

Contacted on Nov. 2, Martin took credit for the decision to let Whitehead go, saying it was for “personnel problems” but declining to provide details. He called back later that day to say Whitehead wasn’t fired but was let go because his job was being eliminated because city leaders asked Martin to make budget cuts. On Wednesday, Martin referred questions about what happened to Alderman Fred Welch.

“I have no comments on that one,” Martin said. “That came from City Hall.”

Welch, who is a member of the police committee that will hear Whitehead’s appeal, said the decision “came up in budget talks about eliminating some positions.” He said, “Personnel issues we don’t comment on,” and referred questions to Williams.

Williams confirmed Whitehead’s appeal likely is related to the employee notice he received, but he said the official reason for Whitehead losing his job has nothing to do with text messages. Williams said he didn’t know why Whitehead was issued different separation notices or who was responsible for that, but he said city policy doesn’t provide an appeals process for employees who lose their jobs in budget cuts.

“There is really nothing to appeal. He’s not being disciplined,” Williams said. “Based on the fact that the position has been eliminated, there’s really nothing in the rules to deal with that, but because he’s appealed pursuant to the disciplinary rules, we’re going to go ahead and afford him the opportunity to come talk to the council and tell them whatever he wants to tell them.”

Whitehead had worked for the department since Sept. 20, 1990, and was paid close to $50,000 annually this year. Williams said Whitehead was approved for unemployment benefits, and according to his personnel file he will receive $2,253.46 in vacation pay.