Leader Blues

Friday, January 12, 2007

TOP STORY >>Two gone as mayor starts his cleansing

IN SHORT: Mayor turns out two long-time Lonoke employees from important positions.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Rumors were flying in Lonoke Thursday in the wake of the sudden firings of Administrative Assistant Gwen Pauschert and Water and Street Supervisor Tony Scroggins by Mayor Wayne McGee, who took office Jan. 1.

Also fired was Scroggins daughter, Crystal Scroggins, the city’s water and sewer clerk.
Dispelling rumors, McGee said no special meeting was set for Thursday night, he wasn’t trying to replace City Clerk Billy Uzzell and he didn’t expect to make any further changes among department heads. McGee laughed and said Uzzell was an elected city official and that only the voters could fire her.

Although Pauschert arrived at work Thursday to find her personal possessions packed in boxes, she said she remains deputy city clerk unless Uzzell fires her or she resigns.

“She’s still my deputy,” said Uzzell. “I don’t want her to go. The state (of health) my husband’s in, I can’t stay eight hours a day. I swore her in and until I take oath the away from her, she’s still the deputy clerk.”
Pauschert, who served as assistant and deputy city clerk to five mayors since 1983 is the institutional memory of the city.
“She takes care of all the bookwork,” said Uzzell.

Scroggins said his firing came out of the blue, because he thought he had received assurances from McGee that his job was secure.

Scroggins, who said he had met with the mayor on city business only 30 minutes earlier, said the mayor came to the city shop with Police Chief Michael Wilson, handed him a letter saying he was fired, took the keys and waited while he cleaned out his desk.

“I’ve worked for four mayors over 14 years,” said Scroggins. “I don’t see any reason.”
His replacement or replacements will have to have at least a Class 4 water treatment and distribution license, a Class 3 wastewater license, an HVAC license, plumbing inspection license, a building code enforcement license, a back-flow certification and road construction knowledge.

Scroggins said he would talk to a lawyer, apply for unemployment compensation and start looking for work, but he will have to move.

McGee said he would advertise for a replacement for Scroggins.
Meanwhile, employees who stood in for Scroggins when he was out for medical purposes have the certification and knowledge to take care of the water, sewer and streets, McGee said.“We’re just going a new way.”

Scroggins’ letter from McGee read in part, “I feel it is necessary to ensure that I am surrounded with employees with whom I have total and complete confidence. This is especially true in the case of department heads with whom I will be required to work closely. While your service to the city for the last several years is greatly appreciated, I feel that to ensure the proper functioning of my administration and, thus, the city, it is now time to make a change.”

McGee said those were the only department head changes he would be making. “There will be a lot of changes in the way we do things — faster, more thorough in our job.”

Scroggins counted among his accomplishments ensuring that the city would have emergency water from the Grand Prairie Regional Water Association, running water and sewer lines across the interstate to serve customers in the industrial park and installation of a new water clarifier.

“We won two EPA Region 6 excellence awards, competing in a six-state region.

“We’ve upgraded our facilities, improved streets and drainage, got the Dale Bumpers Rural Water Center out here—all with the same number of employees,” Scroggins said.

“He has every right to terminate my employment,” said Pauschert of the new mayor. “When he asked if I would vote for him if he ran, I said my loyalty is to the man sitting in the chair. That is my job. When you become mayor, my loyalty will be to you.”
She has been deputy city clerk since 1985. She has stayed through the administrations of mayors Jack Smith, Jack Wheat, Jim Key, Jim McLoud, Lenville Evans and Thomas Privett.

“My job was to protect the mayor and the council and that’s what I’ve always done until this morning,” she said. “They had packed my stuff.” Pauschert said she would look for a new job and already had one offer.