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15 December 2014

Major Legislative Change Makes Firing Bad Employees Hard in the Proposed City of South Fulton

In his 1996 State of the State address, Governor Zell Miller (D - Georgia) stood before state lawmakers and declared, "The problem is governmental paralysis, because despite its name, our present Merit System is not about merit. It offers no reward to good workers. It only provides cover for bad workers.”

Governor Miller was addressing the state law that, at the time, made it hard for Georgia government agencies to fire bad employees.

Prior to 1 July 1996, state employees, even the grossly incompetent ones, could appeal their termination to various state boards and panels; thus remaining on the job, collecting paychecks while the process slogged slowly forward.

Senate Bill 635, passed in 1996, ushered in the much needed reform proposed by Governor Miller in his State of the State.

Supported by a bipartisan coalition of legislators --including former Governors Roy Barnes (D) and Sonny Perdue (R), former Lt. Governor Mark Taylor (D), and current Lt. Governor Casey Cagle (R)-- Senate Bill 635 made it the explicit policy of the State of Georgia to "establish . . . a system of personnel administration which will attract, select, and retain the best employees based on merit, free from coercive political influences, with incentives in the form of equal opportunities for all; which will provide technically competent and loyal personnel to render impartial service to the public at all times and to render such service according to the dictates of ethics and morality; and which will eliminate unnecessary and inefficient employees."

This state policy was adopted by local governments, new and old.

The new cities of Brookhaven, Chattahoochee Hills, Dunwoody, and Sandy Springs had the state's policy codified in their charters when those municipalities were created. Both the Fulton County Board of Education and Fulton County Government as a whole enacted laws making it easier to get rid of unnecessary or inefficient employees.

When the city of South Fulton was first proposed, it featured an employment policy that mirrored the state's.

Except as otherwise provided in this Act, all employees of the city shall be subject to removal or discharge, with or without cause, at any time.

That is the exact language contained in the very first city of South Fulton bill, passed by the Georgia General Assembly, and signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue in 2006.

This language was also included in the 2014 House Bill 704, which passed the state House but stalled out in the state Senate.

But now, the latest version of the city of South Fulton legislation --House Bill 27-- omits the language.

"Except as otherwise provided in this Act, all employees of the city shall be subject to removal or discharge, with or without cause, at any time," is no longer in the city of South Fulton bill.

The effect of the change means that the proposed municipality will go back to the days that Gov. Miller lamented; the days where good workers are offered no reward for a job well done, and bad workers are provided cover to stay on the job even though they are regularly proven to be inefficient or incompetent.