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Huff reported to be out on medical leave

Scott Huff, a city public works supervisor who was suspended for 10 days for driving a city vehicle after drinking, did not return to work Tuesday as scheduled.

City Administrator Don Powers said that Huff is on medical leave. He did not say how long the leave was expected to last.

Powers spoke in response to a question from a reporter after a called, closed-door city council meeting held to discuss personnel issues.

Huff's suspension and the incident that led to it have Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry under fire.

Last week a group of more than 100 people gathered outside city hall to demand the mayor's resignation, Usry would not say whether he plans to step down.

"I have no comment," Usry said when asked his response in a brief telephone interview June 30.

But the mayor did say he would cooperate with any investigation of his handling of an incident involving a city supervisor who admitted driving a city vehicle after drinking.

The group at city hall, led by the Rev. Fred Favors, also demanded that Huff, the director of water, sewer and gas in the city's public works department, be fired. And they called for an investigation by state authorities.

After a severe storm the night of June 18, Huff drove a city vehicle to an area where a tree had fallen. Police at the scene said they smelled alcohol on his breath, and they administered a field sobriety test.

As that test was being conducted, Usry arrived. After talking briefly with Huff and the officers, he took Huff home in the city vehicle. Police had not given Huff a blood-alcohol test at that point, so he could not be charged with DUI, they said, although they told the mayor they believed Huff was clearly drunk, according to a police report and an officer's lapel mike recording.

In a statement read by Favors, the group that assembled at city hall also asked that the city council look into whether Huff's suspension was consistent with disciplinary actions against other city employees.

Constance Starr doesn't believe it was.

Starr, who was at the June 29 gathering, was fired May 25 after she was charged with DUI. She was also driving on a suspended license because of a previous DUI conviction, she said.

She was not driving a city vehicle and was not on the job when she was cited. She said she was charged with DUI/less safe, although she said she was below the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit. Anyone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher is considered legally drunk.

"What he did was a whole lot worse than what I did," said Starr, who had worked for the city, primarily as a street sweeper operator, for almost 12 years before her dismissal.

"My punishment was too severe. His was not."

She is not the first public employee in McDuffie County to charge officials with inconsistency in the administration of disciplinary action.

Susan Smith, an employee in the county roads department, was given a three-day suspension in the spring for changing an employee's pay record under orders from her supervisor. The change was made to reconcile what the employee was being paid with what he had been told he would be paid, but McDuffie County Manager Don Norton has said the proper procedure was not followed.

In her appeal hearing before the commission in May, Smith said that she was disciplined for not going to Norton over the issue, which Norton says she knew was wrong. However, she said, she hesitated to go to Norton because another employee had been fired earlier this year for going over her department head.

That was apparently a reference to Valerie Demons, who was fired in February by Information Technology Director Raymond White.

Demons' issue also involved Huff, who had asked Demons to transfer his contacts and other information to his new city Blackberry. Huff complained to Norton that Demons had not made the transfers as quickly as he wanted.

Demons complained in turn to City Administrator Don Powers and was fired.

The county commission voted in March to overturn Demons' firing from IT, which is a city-county department.

Smith's appeal is still pending. The commission delayed ruling on it in May and again in June because a full board was not present for those meetings.

VIDEO

PREVIOUS STORIES

- Usry says he will cooperate in any investigation
- Crowd calls for mayor to resign
- Mayor to police: 'I'm going to deal with it'
- Mayor denies any impropriety in Huff incident



Web posted on Thursday, July 07, 2011













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