By Lee Weyhrich
The city of Clay recently fired City Inspector Lynn Burch and Senior Center Director Linda Love due to financial reasons. Love believes there may have been another issue. She said she was not aware that there were budgetary concerns until two weeks ago.
“It has just been kind of an unbelievable the last couple of weeks,” she said. “The mayor and Ronnie Dixon called me into their office a couple of weeks ago saying that the budget was tight, and we’d have to watch our funding.”
Mayor Charles Webster has stated publicly that his goal as mayor is to make the city accountable for its finances.
Love knew the tornado damage had cost the city more than expected, but otherwise she had no idea the city was in such a financial crisis. According to Love, the Senior Center was the only city department that even had a budget. The center received $10,000 in funds each year from Jefferson County and the rest from the city. Love said the center always worked within its means.
“I felt like we were punished when we had nothing to do with the problem, whatsoever,” she said.
Webster said every department head had a credit card under the previous administration, and was allowed to spend as much as $200 a day without approval. All spending was approved by the council after the fact. At the beginning of his tenure, Webster confiscated all the cards and told each department it would now have to receive council approval before spending money. No department was singled out for budgetary spending, Webster said.
“There wasn’t any person we singled out as far as overspending,” Webster said. “It was just citywide. I’m not saying everybody was overspending. It was just uncontrolled spending. The point of a city council is to approve spending beforehand. The goal is to get a handle on the spending, so we know how much we’re spending. Each department has a budget and we know what’s going in or out now.”
Love and Webster had talked several times about future plans for the center and Love’s involvement in those plans, she said. Webster and Dixon seemed to be in total support of Love’s aspirations for the center, she said. According to Love, that all changed two weeks ago when she was called into Dixon’s office, she said.
“He made reference to a piece of paper he said he had shown me,” she said. “I just made the comment, ‘No sir, you haven’t shown me that piece of paper.’ He said, ‘Mrs. Love, you are being insubordinate to me.’”
Webster was in attendance at that meeting and said every department head was made aware of the financial situation at the beginning of his tenure. At that time they were all introduced to the new acquisition forms and taught how to fill them out.
“We had a meeting with each department head,” Webster said. “Each one of them had a credit card. We told them we were taking up the credit cards and they would have to sign off on a requisition form in order to purchase anything. Linda had a problem giving up her card. We talked to her about it. She had already started one. She had called in, and one of the girls in the office had filled it out for her. When we talked to her about it, she said she had never seen the requisition form.”
Love repeated her claim that she had not seen the form, Webster said. She was reminded of the earlier conversation.
“She had been shown the form and explained how to fill it out,” Webster said. “Ronnie said, ‘It would be better if you said I don’t remember you showing me the form.’ She said, very sarcastically, that she would say it however he wanted her to.”
Love didn’t believe what she said deserved the response she received. Matters only got worse when Love was later called back into Dixon’s office. Once there, she was given a write-up to sign admitting she had been insubordinate.
“I signed the paper because I had no other choice,” Love said. “I certainly didn’t want to be fired. I wrote a letter stating I was forced to sign this paper under duress, and I wanted it added to my personnel record with the (write-up).”
Love was again called in Jan. 2 before Webster and Dixon. This time she was told she was being fired. Love was told the official reason was budgetary. She was told hers was just one of several jobs cut from the city budget.
“I’m afraid they were just trying to find a way to let me go,” Love sad. “I got there and the mayor, Ronnie, the city lawyer and a sheriff (deputy) were in the office. The sheriff (deputy) escorted me to my office and told me I had 30 minutes to pack my stuff, and I was not to return. I felt like a criminal. It’s unbelievable.”
Webster said the use of a deputy as an escort was not meant to be disrespectful, nor was it an accusation. Webster typically uses a public works employee or other witness when letting an employee go, he said. This time, a deputy happened to be convenient in the office.
“Any time I’ve ever let someone go I’ve always had a witness,” Webster said. “If something happens, you want a witness or someone there. It is standard procedure.”
Love was to turn in her keys and her cell phone to the deputy, and pick up her personal items under the deputy’s supervision.
Love, 62, does not know if she will be allowed to visit the center as a senior, she said. She has made many friends in her time as director that she would not otherwise see. She still has several large items at the center, such as her piano, but she is not allowed to get those items in-person, either, she said
. Any Jefferson County resident age 60 or over qualifies for admittance to the center.
“I live in Clay, I feel I would have the same right as any other senior adult to visit the center,” she said.
At no time was Love told she could not return to the center as a senior, Webster said. She was also given five days to collect her items.
“She was there this past Sunday herself,” Webster said. “She had someone with her, and she retrieved those items. She was not told she couldn’t get them. We are in the process of trying to find a replacement piano. If anyone has a piano to donate to the center, we’d love to have it. That was one thing the center got a lot of use out of. My goal is to do what’s right for everyone.”
Love worked at the center 10 years. She helped develop the center to what it is today, she said. Now two women, each part-time employees with five years of experience, will have to take care of all the facility’s day-to-day operations. They will also be required to handle the business and financial responsibilities.
These responsibilities, Love said, are more work than the equivalent of one full-time employee can handle.
“I am 100 percent confident that the two co-directors can handle everything that happens at the senior center,” Webster said.
Love is afraid the seniors will suffer, and she will be unable to do anything about it.
“I’m just very disappointed in the city, in the way they handled this matter,” Love said. “I love the city of Clay and the seniors at the center, and I am very disappointed at the way they dismissed me. I really will miss those seniors. I feel like (working there) was my God-given talent and I will truly miss them. I feel like myself and the senior center are being punished for the past administration’s mistakes.”
Webster said the center will not suffer, and that the city was doing everything it could to expand the use of the center. He’s confident that the center will continue to grow.
Love believes her termination, and that of Burch, may be because of age. Burch was unavailable for comment, but Webster said age was never a consideration.
“There’s no hard feelings there (with Burch),” he said. “He understands the situation the city is in and we talked to him about doing some contract work for us in the future.”
Webster said he has always wanted to use Burch as a special projects manager for the city, but with the city’s financial concerns, all projects have been pushed back. Webster said the door will remain open for Burch in the future.
All the recent firings, like the credit card recalls, were simply to stem the city’s financial problems, Webster said. None of them were personal or otherwise motivated, he said.