PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

April 2, 2011

Fitzgibbons files grievance against city of Port Arthur

— Port Arthur City Manager has filed a grievance against the City, but before allegations can be addressed the Council must first establish a procedure for them to be heard.

In a March 22 public meeting Fitzgibbons complained about an item placed at least six times on the agenda calling for his evaluation.

After The News requested a copy of the grievance letter under the Freedom of Information Act, City Attorney Val Tizeno said the city believes the Fitzgibbons’ letter is not public information, and is awaiting a ruling from the Attorney General’s  office.

On Friday, The News contacted Joel White, an Austin attorney working with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, who said it was his opinion without seeing the letter that the document should be made public.

The News has obtained a March 28 letter written to the Mayor and City Council by City Councilman John Beard Jr., District 5, which responds to Fitzgibbons’ grievance.

According to Beard, he has been singled out among the City Council in Fitzgibbons’ complaints.

“He wrote a grievance against me and the Council alleging harassment and retaliation,” Beard said.

City Council on Thursday grappled with how best to establish a grievance process for the city’s four appointees for nearly two hours, but ended up tabling the issue until Tuesday during the next Council meeting.

Council was split on whether to bring in a third-party arbitrator, or hear allegations themselves.

“I feel we are a governmental body, and this is not a governmental issue,” Jack Chatman Jr., District 1 City Councilman, said. “We should bring in an arbitrator so we as a council don’t muddy waters by bringing politics into it.”

Morris Albright III, District 3 City Councilman, said he was not in favor of the Council ruling on grievances filed by city appointees.

“In order to even trigger this in the first place, something has gotten way out of hand,” Albright said. “You are going to create an argument that will mushroom on you. For this policy to be enacted it’s already gone off a cliff.”

Other council members were not so inclined, believing they could address the grievance themselves in an impartial manner.

“I think we are neglecting our duty by having an arbitrator come in,” Tom Henderson, Position 8 City Councilman, said.

Currently, there are four city employees appointed by the Council who would be subject to the city appointee grievance process. They include the city manger, city attorney, municipal court judge and the city secretary.

There is an existing grievance procedure in place for city employees, but not those appointed.

Tizeno said grievances filed by city appointees are required by state law to be heard in open session. Once a process is in place, and a grievance procedure is scheduled, Fitzgibbons’ letter would become public information regardless of the AG’s prior ruling in connection with The News FOI request.

“Because Fitzgibbons has filed a grievance against the city, there is no statutory requirement that it be heard in closed session,” Tizeno said.

skoonce@panews.com

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