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Vernon fires city clerk
VERNON – Members of the Vernon City Council terminated the employment of City Clerk Tracy Walker on Thursday night in a 3-1 vote.
City Councilman Chad Jackson made the motion during a meeting originally called to discuss issues relating to anticipated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and the City’s street and recreational departments.
“I’ve been debating on what to do, and I don’t like it,” said Jackson, “… but I make a motion that we remove Ms. Walker from [the position of] City Clerk and her job be terminated.”
Jackson declined to answer Walker’s inquiry about the grounds for his motion, stating, “I was asked not to say anything else.” Jackson did not clarify who gave him those instructions, however.
“That’s not good enough, period,” replied Walker. “You have to have a cause; otherwise, you have a lawsuit on your hands.”
Gwen March seconded the motion, followed by Joey Brock – the sole nay vote on the issue – expressing concerns about Walker’s lack of disciplinary action in her personnel file possibly presenting legal issues if she were to be fired in that moment.
“It’s just like any job,” said Brock. “You have rules and regulations you follow … to me, a person has to be written up or some kind of discipline, or … we’re putting the City in another lawsuit, big time. To be a part of that, I’ll tell y’all straight up, I’m not going to be a part of it.”
“This has been going on for the last six or eight months,” he continued, alluding to the contention that has played out in the last several months between Walker and the council. “It’s uncalled for, it’s unprofessional, and it’s childish … There’s ways to write her up, and we have not done that.”
City Attorney Michelle Jordan said she believed Jackson’s motion would be considered a “vote of no confidence,” stating it is not uncommon to remove individuals who work at the pleasure of a board “simply on a vote of no confidence.”
Some audience members expressed their desire to know more about why the council would not have confidence in Walker’s ability to fulfill her duties, however.
“As a member of the public, I would like to know the reason,” said Sandra Coppedge. “It just seems like if you’re going to fire somebody in this important position that there would be discussion on it …. She sure does come prepared for these meetings well and provides a lot of information. I hate to see who is going to do that now.”
“Florida is an at-will employment state, so you can be terminated for no reason,” Jordan advised Coppedge.
“In my opinion, if you have issues, they need to be verbalized,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Becky Baxley.
Baxley then went on to list several concerns, including that a local resident complained about receiving a letter signed by Walker on City letterhead requesting a copy of a building permit. Walker explained she had sent three such requests because she had received an email from the state specifically asking for the City to provide the permits for flood plain management purposes.
Other complaints included that Walker failed to reconcile the City’s finances for ten months – an issue Walker resolved in 2021 – and that she cancelled a meeting because she erroneously believed a councilmember to be out of town but did not verify with the councilmember. Baxley also stated Walker will not answer the phone if she is off during the week and handling personal business and that Walker’s “attitude had gotten progressively worse.”
“If Gwen or Chad or anybody says anything, there’s an attitude,” said Baxley. “I want so badly to do the very best job I can do, and sometimes, it seems that for the life of me, there’s more arguing going on and things not being told to council that should be by you, the clerk, in that office up there.”
“I don’t see a working relationship between you and this council,” she added.
No timeline has been given on replacing Walker; however, council members state Deputy Clerk Michelle Cross will temporarily perform City Clerk duties.