Vernon fires second clerk in seven months

The Vernon City Council moved to fire City Clerk Karen White when they met in regular session Monday night.

The move came after allegations of assault and intimidation and inappropriate behavior had been brought to light over the last few meetings. 

City Attorney Michelle Jordan advised the council that she was uncomfortable working with White any further due to White’s claim that Jordan had yelled at her and placed her hands in her face during the Sept. 6 meeting of the council.

“I would like to address the allegations that were made against me last week and the working relationship concerns that I have moving forward,” said Jordan. “The clerk accused me of assault and after watching video of the last two meetings it is very obvious that I did neither of those things. I am not willing to put myself in a position moving forward that those types of allegations can be made against me where there are no witnesses or video to back me up. I am no longer willing to be alone in a room or on a phone call with the clerk without the mayor or a council member present. I will not be involved in any correspondence or even come into this building without the mayor or council member present any longer.”

Jordan went on to say that the situation is to the point it is affecting her ability to do her job effectively. 

“I have to look out for myself first which goes against the bar ethics set for me,” said Jordan. “But I have to look out for myself personally. Whatever you need to do moving forward is fine but I have to protect myself and my reputation, that isn’t negotiable for me.”

White was hired in April to replace prior clerk Tracy Walker who was fired in February. 

Deputy Clerk Rose Caperezza brought issues to Council President Becky Baxley recently concerning White’s behavior. Baxley informed the council of those issues which includes White stepping toward Caperezza with a raised hand in front of a customer causing her to feel threatened and White leaning over Caperezza while she worked in an intimidating manner while her breasts rubbed Caperezza’s back and shoulders. White was not present at the meeting to refute any of the claims.

Baxley said she believes the behavior displayed by White was not suitable to the office in which she held.

 “As a main hub city employee there is a higher standard expected in my opinion,” said Baxley. “I do not feel comfortable with this happening in city hall. My concern is for the employees, council members, city and community and there is no place for behavior like that in the City of Vernon. I do not see us coming back from this kind of behavior.”

Caperezza said she tried to keep the issues to herself but could no longer keep quiet. 

“I came up learning that problems were handled at the lowest level possible, so I have worked hoping things would resolve themselves,” said Caperezza. “Some days they would, but I never knew what I was walking into each day. It was never my intention to get Miss Karen in trouble or drag her through the mud but I have been put into the position that the only way to defend myself is to tell the truth of my side and make someone else look bad and I am sad about that.”

Baxley called for a motion to remove White from the position. Council member Chad Jackson made the motion with council member Gwen March seconding. In a 4-0 vote the motion was approved.

In other business, the tentative millage and budget were set after Jordan and accountant Lee Steverson worked to complete the budget which White did not complete. Steverson is contracted to handle payroll and other financial matters for the city. Steverson presented a zeroed out budget to the council with the caveat that budget amendments will need to be made after the beginning of the fiscal year. 

“The budget is balanced in that it is zeroed out,” said Steverson. “The amounts in the line items will change as the funds are placed where they need to be in order for that to happen. Mrs. Jordan and I worked to get the budget completed to meet the advertising deadline required by the state.”

The tentative millage was approved at 4.9442 mils bringing in $97,000 in ad valorem. The tentative budget is set at $4,539,421 of which $3,518,120 is from grants. 

The council will hold a budget workshop at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 26, which will be immediately followed by the final budget hearing and approval at 5:30 p.m.