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City manager: No signature forged in personnel investigation

by Jordan Green

 jordan@yesweekly.com

Adocument on which a Winston- Salem sanitation laborer has alleged his signature was forge is a standard supervisor’s report form and not an employee statement, City Manager Lee Garrity told YES! Weekly, adding that no forgery took place.

Top officials in the city manager’s office, city attorney’s office and sanitation department briefed Mayor Allen Joines and the city council in closed session on March 25.

“We take allegations of forgery very seriously,” City Manager Lee Garrity told YES!

Weekly in an e-mail. “Falsifying records is an offense that would subject an employee to discipline up to and including termination. We continue to review this case and will prepare a final statement for city council.”

Garrity said in an interview that he wants the city council vote to publicly release the document, which is ordinarily a protected, private personnel record, under a state law that allows for the release of personnel information to restore and maintain public confidence in government. Garrity also said city officials plan to meet with Victor Bethea, the sanitation laborer who has questioned whether his signature was forged, and show him the document.

“There is no intent to commit forgery,” Garrity said in a terse interview last week. “There is no effort to cover up forgery. There is no forgery.”

The matter was first raised during a June 19, 2012 appeal hearing that ultimately resulted in the termination of sanitation driver Angelia Byrd that was held by Deputy City Manager Derwick Paige, who reports directly to Garrity. Deputy Sanitation Director Randy Britton attended the hearing on behalf of Sanitation Director Johnnie Taylor, who was in the hospital at the time. Bethea attended the hearing as a witness for Byrd.

Bethea testified that he did not hear Byrd curse or threaten a resident who is a customer of the city’s garbage collection service or threaten her. Bethea’s testimony contradicted statements by the resident, Chandra Sherrill, and a second laborer, John Clowers. During a meeting the previous month, supervisor Darrell Moody had called Bethea into his office and attempted to pressure the laborer into changing his statement so that it would be consistent with those of Sherrill and Clowers, but Bethea refused to capitulate. Paige ultimately sustained the recommendation to fire Byrd, relying on the statements by Sherrill and Clowers to sustain the violations against Byrd.

During the hearing, Britton presented Bethea with a document and crossexamined him about his role in the initial administrative investigation by supervisor Darrell Moody.

“Do you recall meeting with Mr. Moody to render a statement?” Britton asked.

“Yes,” Bethea responded.

“And can I ask why you did not provide a written statement, but rather dictated your statement to Mr. Moody on the 29th of March?” Britton asked. “Because I have a signed copy of that statement here.”

“You have a signed [copy] where I signed it?” Bethea asked, expressing surprise.

“Is this your signature?” Britton asked, presenting the document.

“No, sir,” Bethea said. Bethea recalled last week that the hearing momentarily stopped as all those present absorbed what he had said.

Garrity and Taylor now say the document is not an employee statement.

“Britton was confused,” Garrity said. “It was his first disciplinary hearing. He was filling in for Mr. Taylor, who, as you know, was in the hospital at the time. Moody wrote exactly what Bethea said. He did not hear Byrd curse or make threats. You heard the tape of the hearing. Isn’t that what he said? There wouldn’t be any reason for anyone to forge anything, would there?” Britton declined to comment, citing restrictions on releasing personnel information.

Bethea said last week that Britton allowed him to skim the document, but was not offered a copy for his records. Considering the brief time he was allowed to read the document and the passage of time, he said he is not certain what the document said.

“Randy Britton asked me: ‘Did you say, ‘It takes two to argue’?” Bethea recalled. “I did say that, but there was some stuff in there that I didn’t say. I looked at three or four sentences, and I remember thinking, ‘I didn’t say that.’ It was making it sound like I was kind of saying what Mr. Clowers was saying, but I was like, ‘That’s not right.”

At the time, Bethea said the document reflected what he had told Moody “for the most part.”

Garrity and Taylor said the document does not have a line for an employee signature. Taylor said the document has “some scribble on it” that appears along the side of the page, “but no signature.”

Bethea expressed surprised last week upon learning that the writing was being characterized as “scribble.”

“It was a signature,” he said. He added, “Somebody tried to write my name.”

Garrity suggested the concern arose from a misunderstanding.

“Britton asked Bethea if it was his signature,” Garrity said. “He said it was not. Mr.

Britton asked Mr. Moody if he wrote it. Mr. Moody said he is making a statement on the side.”

Gardenia Henley, a candidate for mayor whose inquiry into a broad range of complaints made by sanitation employees prompted the city to begin investigating the forgery allegation, questioned why the matter was not investigated immediately after it was raised by Bethea in Byrd’s appeal hearing the summer before.

“If Lee Garrity reviewed the entire file, why was forgery never a very serious concern for him?” Henley asked.

Garrity responded by saying that he spoke with Paige, but did not specify when they spoke or with what degree of specificity they discussed the allegation of forgery. The city manager also referenced a passage in his deputy’s summary report on the hearing. Paige did not directly address the forgery allegation in the summary, but instead wrote that the hearing brought to light that supervisors occasionally wrote statements on behalf of employees, but that the issue had no adverse effect on management’s recommendation to fire Byrd.

“In speaking with Mr. Britton regarding my concern related to this issue, he indicated that it is common practice in the department because many of the employees are not able to provide their own written statements,” Paige told Garrity in the summary. “Therefore, the supervisor takes the statement and transcribes it.”

Some statements by city officials about a meeting between Taylor and 16 employees under Moody’s supervision in the Wake of Henley’s inquiry have appeared to downplay the matter of alleged forgery and have, at the very least, created additional confusion. A Feb. 7 memo from Taylor to Garrity neglects to mention that an employee, Bethea, did, in fact, allege that his signature had been forged.

Instead, Taylor wrote, “All of the employees wrote that they were not aware of the supervisor forging their signatures on any document. They were also asked if they had heard of the supervisor doing this. Two employees said they had heard this, but had not seen him do anything of that nature.”

On Feb. 18, Bethea appeared before city council during the public speakers segment of the council meeting and identified himself as the victim of the alleged forgery.

“In reference to Ms. Byrd, I was the person that they forged his name on false accusations about her that I did not state or did not write a statement to,” Bethea said during the public meeting.

Assistant City Manager Greg Turner, to whom Taylor reports, indicated that the disclosure came as news to him.

“The Henley report didn’t identify the victim of the forgery,” Turner said during an interview with YES! Weekly in early March. “Then the fellow came to speak at the public comment period of the council and said he was the victim. So now we know who feels they were the victim.”

Asked to clarify whether city officials knew that Bethea was the alleged victim prior to his appearance before city council, Taylor responded, “Well, when we asked that question, nobody said they were aware of a supervisor forging anything.”

Bethea disputed that account in an interview last week.

“They called us in and asked us three questions,” he recalled. “They asked us: ‘Do you know anything about drugs being sold on the yard?’ ‘Do you have a problem getting gloves?’ And they asked us: ‘Do you know of Darrell Moody forging any of your signatures on documents?’ I said, yes, my name had been forged, but I couldn’t say it was Darrell because I didn’t see it. I wasn’t there.”

Curtis McLaurin, a sanitation driver who was present during the meeting, corroborated Bethea’s statement.

Reached last week, Taylor said that Bethea’s account of his response during the meeting is accurate.

Asked whether he could appreciate that his own account of the employees’ response to the question might come across as misleading, Taylor said his memo did not quote the employees word for word in the memo.

Asked whether he believes Taylor told him the truth in the memo, Garrity said, “Without a doubt. Mr. Taylor is one of the best department heads I have in city government. He is honest and professional almost to a fault.

Taylor said he has been honest and forthcoming, and that all he wants “is for the actual facts to be told.” He also said he has taken the allegation seriously.

“I considered it more than just a rumor,” Taylor said, “or I wouldn’t have investigated. “In no way was that [memo] meant as an attempt to minimize anything.”

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