City of Aragon

City of Aragon

Several see "micro-managing" and bullying tactics as problem, feel they are being targeted

Several current Aragon employees - who have asked to remain anonymous - have joined the list of former Aragon workers complaining about the city's mayor and his management practices.

The grievances, for the most part, mirror those of city employees who have already left their jobs saying Mayor Garry Baldwin targeted them and forced them to resign in order to avoid a bad review placed in their file. 

This practice has caused a hostile work environment, they say, and causing workers to fear they'll be the mayor's next target if they disagree with him in any way.

Several described his actions as “micro managing,” bullying and even goes so far as to watch them on security cameras on a daily basis.

Another said that “every employee is scared of him.” And a third added they watched Baldwin push at least four employees out of their jobs, telling them to resign or face “bad marks in their (employee) file” and would try to prevent them from getting a better job than the one they had.

One even told of how employees that Baldwin targets are forced out of their jobs, or face termination and use their personnel files to keep them from obtaining good jobs in the future.

A request was made for the personnel policy of City Clerk Christie Langston, who made it available for review.

The process is supposed to work that if an employee gets in trouble, a written reprimand of what happened goes into their personnel file if it doesn’t require any further disciplinary actions. Oral reprimands aren’t required to be recorded at all.

The personnel policy also gives the mayor great latitude to reduce salaries and demote employees for just cause with a written statement setting forth the reason why, plus suspension and dismissal.

One of those former employees who was threatened with a bad review but chose to resign instead said that he was given the option to resign, or be fired and have the bad review on his file. Oral reprimands aren’t recorded at all.

Josh Ozment, former Code Enforcement Officer and Building Inspector, said when he first came on with the city he felt he was doing a good job and he was starting to make progress in clean-up efforts with the Aragon city limits. He at the beginning of his short tenure with the city reported directly to Baldwin and was mainly left t complete a tough job that “no one else wanted to do”: clean up Aragon properties.

“I did my job, and I even took on other tasks,” Ozment said. “I helped trap the beavers in the area, and worked to help out Animal Control.”

Ozment’s position with the city began to turn sour when he tried to force a local resident to remove a car from their property within 10 days, or be forced to lose the car since it had no registration on it.

After the car’s owner complained, Baldwin then decided to shift responsibilities for Ozment under the purview of Public Work Superintendent Daniel Johnson. Before his departure from the city in late May, Ozment said he was threatened with a bad performance review after Baldwin decided to extend his probationary period from six to eight months.

Ozment said that Baldwin gave him a choice: be fired and keep the bad review on his record, which he was told would be used to prevent him from getting a better job with a different employer, or resign and have the review tossed out. Ozment said he chose to take the resignation.

“I chose to do it on my own, turning over my passwords and information and doing it the right way,” Ozment said. “I hold no grudge with the city about it. I’m actually doing a lot better now.”

In his position as Mayor and acting under Georgia’s employer immunity law, so long as another employer thought Baldwin was acting in good faith, he could have used that bad performance review against Ozment and tell future employers about his inability to do the job, based on the reading of Georgia Code Section 34-1-4, which governs what employers can reveal.

However Baldwin’s threat of employees could be interpreted as violating the immunity law if he were ever to reveal information like that to an employer, since he would have already threatened an employee with termination and bad references for not giving up their position.

In the city’s own ordinance, performance reviews are confidential, and only be seen by the employee evaluated, the department head, the city clerk and the Mayor and Council members. Appeals are allowed and forwarded to the city council as of the current language in the personnel ordinance.

A hearing can be setup for employees who have been “demoted, suspended without pay, dismissed or who allege discrimination in the promotional procedures or lay-offs in violation of established policy.”

They only have five days to appeal the decision to hear the appeal. It also establishes rules for notifications of the hearing, the hearing itself, and the results, all to happen within the month of the appeal being filed.

Ozment never had the option to appeal his firing and bad performance review since he resigned on his own.

Since he resigned in the spring, Ozment said he got a better job in Cartersville making twice the money.

He had two thoughts about his departure to add. The first was that he wished his departure hadn’t happened the way it did.

“If they don’t need me anymore, or can’t afford me anymore, they should have said that,” he said. “That’s the only bitter part I hold against Aragon, is the way they used me and then discarded me.”

He also wants Aragon residents to know their Mayor isn’t doing his job.

“Everything is left up to Daniel (Johnson) to run that town, and to me he’s not the person that needs to be overseeing the city of Aragon. The Mayor should be responsible,” he said. “Everything is left up to Daniel to run that town, and to me he’s not the person that needs to be overseeing the city of Aragon. The Mayor should be responsible.”

The departure of employees after Baldwin took office began not long after in 2016, when former Financial Officer Hal Kuhn departed from his job.

He sent out a letter to both the Polk County Standard Journal and city officials and said his resignation was forced at the time since he didn’t wish to serve under former city and court clerk Lori Dunn.

In that letter, he stated “After discussions with the Mayor concerning changes to the Finance Department, I was told to either comply with the changes or resign.  I had no choice but to resign.”

Kuhn’s major reason for tendering his resignation was to avoid involvement with Dunn, citing serious concerns her past experience with the city’s finances.

“To place an individual in a trusted position, whose past performance was a key factor in the City’s financial crisis and major compliance issues, is too much of a financial risk,” Kuhn’s letter stated.

The bleeding has continued over the past year and a half.

Former City Clerk Sandy Norman, who was hired by former Mayor Ken Suffridge, served as City Clerk during two more administrations before Baldwin was elected after tumult within the city in 2016.

That’s when things went down hill for her, and eventually she was forced to leave her job rather than accept a bad employee review last summer. She was in the middle of clerk training courses, and chose to complete them on her own.

That review, as reported at the time, was prompted by an e-mail Norman sent relaying her concerns about evidence in her possession relating to the investigation into former city and court clerk Lori Dunn.

Dunn resigned after she was placed on leave following the state of an investigation into her actions in March 2017 while she was in charge of the city’s finances prior to her removal from the position in 2014.

She as well felt under constant pressure from Baldwin.

“He was a micro-manager,” was Norman’s one response to the way she felt treated by her former boss.

Norman now works as an educator at Rockmart High School. She completed her coursework with her own money and time to be certified as a city clerk earlier in the year.

Neither Norman or Kuhn elected to formally appeal their unfair treatment either prior to their resignations.

The complaints from former employees join the litany of current employees who are fed up with the way things are going with their boss, but are afraid of losing their jobs and being retaliated against if they stand up for themselves.

They are asking for local residents to help them by seeking to institute a recall vote against Baldwin, and elect a mayor who will treat them fairly.