Just expectations: Council correct in requiring responsible behavior from city workers attending conferences

December 11, 2009 12:04:00 PM



The Columbus City Council''s decision in a special meeting Monday, to terminate the employment of a city firefighter who the city says violated its substance abuse policy, has raised questions of fairness in how the council metes out punishment of city workers. 


Our short story posted on cdispatch.com on the action against 18-month firefighter Mitchell Banks has generated comments from readers both agreeing with and criticizing the council''s action.  


The firefighter in the incident was attending a conference in Jackson. He allegedly failed to attend the meeting, and reportedly was still intoxicated from the night before when awakened in his hotel room by the conference organizer, two hours into the session. 


Some of our readers have compared the incident to that of four Columbus police officers, who generated much publicity over their childish behavior in May at the Vicksburg National Military Park while in that city for a training session. 


Those officers were suspended for 15 working days without pay, which amounts to about a month off duty. (The officers are appealing the decision; the case is scheduled to be heard in February.) 


Some of our Web site readers allege the police officers, and maybe a few unnamed others, were "given a break" while this particular worker paid with his job. 


So, was it fair for the council to suspend the four officers, and fire the firefighter? 


While some see similarities (out-of-town meeting, unprofessional behavior) there are differences (substance abuse). And because these are personnel matters, all the details aren''t shared with the public. Bottom line: Each personnel incident must be viewed independently. 


We believe the council has the discretion to take what actions it sees fit, when dealing with city personnel who have clearly violated city policy. As taxpayers, we''re paying for the salaries of these city workers, and footing the bill for the training sessions. We expect a return on our investment. If the city sends workers, especially emergency personnel, to a training conference, we expect them to get trained and use that knowledge to better serve the citizens of this city -- not skip the meeting. 


We also expect them to behave as ambassadors of the city of Columbus, when representing us at an out-of-town conference. 


For these reasons, and if the incident is indeed as described, we believe the council took the proper action. 


We want the council to set the bar high for its city workers. The action it took Monday sends a clear message -- such behavior will not be tolerated.  


We only urge the council to be mindful of the prism some view them through. We expect the council members to hold themselves to rigorous standards as well, and strive to set the bar of accountability at equal height for all its workers.