Coffey loses position, seeks legal counsel

Caldwell County Fire Marshal Dale Coffey has been fired and says he is seeking legal counsel.

“I have served the county for 22 and a half years as fire marshal and emergency management director,” Coffey said. “I was terminated on Aug. 4 by Tommy Courtner (Caldwell County Emergency Services Director). I have sought legal counsel. I have enjoyed working for the citizens of Caldwell County and the different county managers and county commissioners through the years.”

Coffey said that after he returned from vacation this week, he turned down a reassignment offered earlier this month by the county.

Caldwell County Human Resources Director David Hill announced the second week in August that effective Sept. 1, Coffey would work as a county code officer rather than in the Emergency Services Department.

In accordance with Article 10, Section 2 of the N.C. General Statutes on personnel records, Hill said the only public information he can disclose is the date of Coffey’s termination, which occurred on Aug. 4.

The statute says that the following information about county employees is public information and can be disclosed by the human resources director or a representative of the Human Resources Department:

€ Name and age.

€ Date of or original employment or appointment to county service.

€ Current position title.

€ Current salary.

€ Date and amount of most recent change in salary.

€ Date of most recent promotion, demotion, transfer, separation or other change in position classification.

€ Office to which employee is currently assigned.

Caldwell County Commissioners recently formed a Grievance Committee to hear employee grievances. According to the county’s grievance procedure each employee has the right to present a grievance, “with or without a representative, free from interference, coercion, restrain, discrimination, penalty or reprisal.”

Coffey has 30 days from the date he was fired, Aug. 4, to file a grievance. Under the county policy the employee’s immediate supervisor meets with the employee within five days of receipt of the grievance and tries to resolve the grievance informally. If informal resolution fails, the supervisor must issue a written decision on the grievance no later than five days following the meeting.

If the employee is dissatisfied with the response, the employee may file the grievance in writing with the department head within five days of receipt of the immediate supervisor’s written decision. The department head must meet with the employee within five days and review the decision and issue a written decision within 10 days.

If the employee is dissatisfied, the employee may forward the written grievance to either the human resources director or the county manager within five days. The human resources director and/or the county manager will render a written decision within 15 days.

If the employee is still dissatisfied, the employee may appeal to the Grievance Committee. The appeal must be made in writing. The appeal must be submitted to the human resources director’s office within 10 work days from the decision rendered by the human resources director and/or county manager.

Within 10 working days of receiving the appeal, a meeting will be held to review the steps taken and to investigate. The Grievance Committee may hold as many sessions as necessary and may hold an executive session in compliance with the open meetings statute for the purpose of making a decision.

The three members appointed by commissioners to the Grievance Committee are Betsy McRee, Frankie Roff and Stacey Siler.

Coffey has held several different titles and job responsibilities in his years of working with the county. Most notable among those jobs was his role as the county’s fire marshal.

As the county’s fire marshal, Coffey’s duties included investigating and assisting with fires in the county. He also was responsible for enforcing the N.C. General Statutes for fire inspection, conducting inspections on structures like schools, businesses, churches and day care centers around the county but not in Lenoir. The city has its own fire inspector.

The county is not required to have a fire marshal, Hill said earlier this month. The N.C. General Statutes provide three means for investigating fires. One of those is through a fire marshal, but the county’s sheriff or the fire chief of a fire district can request investigations.

Hill indicated that the decision of filling the fire marshal’s position will be handled by Courtner, who said earlier this month that the county plans to hire a fire marshal.

The county also is without an assistant fire marshal after Rebecca Byers resigned from the position last month, Courtner said earlier this month.

Courtner said a group of county building inspectors will take care of any fire inspections, and any investigations will be handled by Emergency Services.

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