March 19, 2014 9:50:53 AM
Columbus Federal Programs Director Travis Jones was suspended 15 days without pay and voluntarily demoted himself to a project coordinator position within the office Tuesday.
The Columbus City Council accepted Jones' demotion during executive session at its Tuesday meeting. It also suspended Federal Programs assistant George Irby three days without pay and approved a written reprimand for Loria Porter, the department's bookkeeper.
City Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong will oversee the office's operations until the council finds a new director. That issue was tabled until the April 1 meeting.
Jones had previously been a project coordinator in the Office of Federal Programs before he was promoted to director in 2010. The top position involves the management of all the city's grant applications.
Two grant applications had been disqualified in six months under Jones' watch. In November, he was suspended five days after a mathematical error in an application made the city ineligible for grant funding from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Most recently, the Mississippi Development Authority rejected the city's HOME investment grant application because the advertisement for a public hearing required by grant regulations was not published between 14 and 20 days before the hearing date.
The HOME investment program has nearly $4 million earmarked to assist low-income families who live in dilapidated homes so they can make needed repairs.
According to minutes from the March 4 meeting, Jones said he asked Irby to handle the advertising portion of the grant application and recommended a five-day suspension for Irby. Irby said he had taken it for granted that Porter would ask for the ad to be published within the correct time window because he discussed those details with her. Irby went on to say he did not believe the failure to publish the ad in the required time frame was his fault but that he would take responsibility for the mistake.
The minutes then state Armstrong made the recommendation for the 15-day suspension without pay for Jones because he reviewed the application before it was submitted and found the error in the paperwork. MDA officials told The Dispatch Jones was in Jackson to submit the application in person the day it was due on February 20. The city was notified a week later of the disqualified application.
No action was taken on Armstrong's recommendation or against Irby or Porter on March 4 because their three-day appeal window had not yet ended.
Whether the council will look to promote another city employee to replace Jones or look elsewhere has not been announced.
Fifteen days is the maximum amount a city employee can be suspended, according to the city's personnel handbook.
Irby was the city's federal programs director before his retirement and Jones' promotion in 2010.
■ The council accepted the resignation of a Columbus Fire & Rescue employee in lieu of disciplinary action.
■ During a general comment period for the mayor and council members, Councilman Marty Turner requested that the Columbus Police Department be "courteous to all the citizens of Columbus."
■ Mayor Robert Smith recognized Columbus Fire & Rescue for its recent accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.
■ The council appointed Ralph Null to the city's tree board in a unanimous vote.
■ The council appointed Fred Kinder to the zoning board of adjustments and appeals in a 5-1 vote with Turner opposed. After Councilman Bill Gavin nominated Kinder, Turner made a substitute nomination of Hattie Rush, which failed for lack of a second.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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