September 18, 2013 9:46:05 AM
MCCOMB -- An employee for the city of Magnolia who allegedly was caught sleeping on the job last month while assigned to keep an eye on inmates during a work detail has been suspended and put on probation.
Magnolia aldermen voted last week to fire Willie Bowens but worried Mayor Melvin Harris would veto the decision. The board then rescinded the termination and instead voted 3-2 to suspend Bowens for 10 days, followed by a 90-day probationary period.
"He already wrote it up to veto," Alderman Lonnie Cox said of Harris. "They were stacking the deck against us, so it was our only option."
Cox, Mercedes Ricks and Joe Cornacchione voted to suspend Bowens, while Becky Magee and Sharon Burton voted against it.
The Enterprise-Journal reports the issue with Bowens stems from an Aug. 22 article that described in detail an incident in which Bowens was found sleeping in a city van while inmate trusties roamed the area unsupervised.
A photo shows Bowens lying in the van, his leg propped up on an ajar driver's side door.
Bowens denies he was asleep.
"That Enterprise-Journal article is a lie," he said. "I never had my eyes closed. I was reading a newspaper."
The motion to suspend Bowens created some heated debate between him and the aldermen.
"No one has told me what's going on," Bowens said, addressing the board. "I'm beginning to wonder, is it my job or is it personal?"
The employee held the floor for much of the meeting until Cox stood up and delivered a stern response.
"If an employee falls asleep on any job for any company, he is immediately terminated," Cox said.
Local NAACP official Anthony Witherspoon came to Bowens' defense, arguing that aldermen have been holding illegal meetings.
"Anytime three or more aldermen get together and discuss city business, a quorum is met," he said, alleging Cox, Ricks and Cornacchione had been doing just that.
Witherspoon said that because aldermen discussed the decision to suspend Bowens outside of a public forum, they were in violation of the state public meetings law.
City Attorney Wayne Dowdy, however, quickly shot back, saying that such discussion among aldermen outside of a public forum is permitted.