HARRODSBURG — Jerri Carter spent more than an hour trying to bring her career as cemetery sexton back to life Monday night but, in the end, Harrodsburg City Commissioners decided her termination was a dead issue.
Carter requested a public hearing after she was fired June 11 by the commission for the stated reasons of unsatisfactory work performance and lack of supervision of employees.
On Monday, Carter, with the help of attorney Brad Guthrie, refuted the allegations about her job performance and suggested Commissioner Bubby Isham intentionally tried to undermine her in order to have her replaced by a person of his choosing.
Commissioners asked only a few questions of Carter during her time at the microphone and then retired to executive session for 30 minutes. After returning to open session, Isham made a motion to uphold Carter’s dismissal and fellow commissioners Scott Mosely and Charlie Mattingly voted in favor. Commissioner Kerry Anness was absent.
Guthrie began the hearing by noting Carter had “met or exceeded expectations” in performance reviews for each of her seven years on the job, including her last review given in July by Isham, who oversees the city’s cemetery department.
“After seven years with a good employment record, now all of a sudden she can’t to anything right?” Guthrie said. “Something isn’t right with this picture.”
Isham is a year and a half into his first two-year term on the commission and is seeking re-election in the fall. At Isham’s urging, Carter was suspended by the commission in late 2011 and again earlier this year for insubordination and other job performance issues. Carter said Monday those suspensions came without her even knowing there were problems or notice that her work performance would be discussed by the commission. Guthrie called the suspensions improper and challenged them at the time, to no avail, he said.
In May, when the city was embroiled in a controversy over illegal dumping at Spring Hill Cemetery, Isham publicly accused Sexton of being responsible for the dumping and requested she be fired. When no commissioners backed his motion, Isham resigned his post and called the commission “incompetent.” He later rescinded his resignation and rejoined the commission, keeping his position as overseer of the cemetery department.
Carter denied any role in the dumping scandal. Investigations by the state Environmental Protection Agency and Harrodsburg police were unable to identify who was responsible for the dumping.
“She was falsely accused, publicly, of something she didn’t have anything to do with,” Guthrie said. “She was publicly defamed.”
To the charge that she failed to supervise employees, Carter said Isham got heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the cemetery department and often gave workers instructions that conflicted with what she had told them to do. Isham was highly critical of her performance and other employees “lost respect for me” and went to Isham directly for assignments.
“Mostly I didn’t know what was going on,” she said.
On Guthrie’s advice, Carter said she began keeping a daily diary of the goings-on within the department, making entries on her work computer. Isham gained access to the files and distributed portions of them to at least three city employees in an effort to create “dissent,” Carter said.
Failure to properly maintain equipment was one of the reasons given for Carter’s first suspension and also listed as one of the reasons she was fired. Carter said after equipment maintenance was brought to her attention in October, she developed a checklist and made up posters for employees to follow.
“I took care of that myself,” she said.
Another allegation was Carter failed to participate in developing a budget for the department this year. Carter said Isham and another cemetery employee, Rosalyn Drury, put the budget together while Carter was serving a month-long suspension in April and May. In previous years, Carter said, she never was asked to be involved in the budget process.
Carter admitted she neglected to bill funeral homes for a $10 inspection fee for each burial until recently. She also said didn’t know who was responsible for a foundation for a gravemarker recently being put in the wrong place.
When asked by Commissioner Mosely, “What caused everything?” Carter responded, “Lack of communication. There was a lot going on (behind) my back to finagle things.”
After the unanimous vote to uphold her dismissal, Carter said she planned to meet with Guthrie soon to discuss filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.