After a 13-minute debate, Morehead City Council tentatively decided to change the city’s personnel ordinance regarding dismissals. The mayor currently has the right to let an employee go if he or she so desires.

The ordinance had included the terms “at will” and “for cause.” Council discussed which term to use.

There must be two readings of the ordinance before it is official.

“When we have a benevolent mayor such as yourself, use of the term ‘at will’ may not be as ominous but at other times you could be very ominous,” Council member Tom Carew said. “So is there an in between that we could use, in terms of language?”

Mayor David Perkins pointed out that the term “at will” is used in many city and state ordinances. Local governments have the right to change the term to “for cause,” which means their mayor would have to have a good reason to fire an employee.

City Attorney Joyce Stevens said if council decided to give the mayor “for cause” power, the mayor could find a way to terminate an employee.

“My point is, I agree with what Tom says,” Council member Glen Teager said. “It scares me that a new administration could come in and clean house without any questions. I understand that it’s difficult to list every cause for cause but I would think that if an employee would have some kind of legal ability if he or she was dismissed for what they didn’t deem to be at cause to at least be able to get their case heard.”

Council Member Bill Patrick asked if city council could help the mayor decide on an employee’s termination if the city’s dismissal ordinance was based on “for cause.”

Stevens said that would take power away from the mayor.

“The only one the mayor can’t touch is the police,” she said.

Patrick said it is not fair that someone who has been employed by the city for a long time could lose their job in an instant.

Council Member Al Baldwin said by the same token, the city would not want to be stuck with an employee who is not productive.

“That’s when you have to make sure you have documentation,” Stevens said.

“You go ahead and have ‘just cause’ but if you’re in a situation where you really have to clean house, you’re going to tie up this city in knots over all the damn hearings and all the silly lawyers are going to be running in here,” Baldwin said. “You’ll regret it, you’ll regret it, you’ll regret it.”

Council decided on “for cause,” 4-2. Baldwin and council member Jan Bishop voted no.

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