An information technology employee for Fayette County government who was sacked last week fought back through his attorney at Thursday night’s meeting of the county commission.
Attorney Scott Bennett, who formerly served as the county’s staff attorney, said his client and friend Russell Prince was informed the previous week that he was determined to be “a security risk” after Prince followed the instructions of his boss and passed along a request from Commission Chairman Steve Brown.
The request specifically sought emails from a particular email account in which Brown had mentioned two search terms he listed in the email to the county’s IT director, Bennett explained.
Bennett said Prince, a 17-year county employee, was demoted earlier this year and was summoned to a meeting with Brown, who had urged him to seek employment elsewhere, Bennett claimed.
Making matters worse, when Prince was terminated Monday, the county did not follow its procedures of providing him notice in writing of his chance to appeal the termination, nor had the county followed its progressive discipline policy.
The fact that the dismissal came right before the holidays was another aggravating factor, Bennett explained, urging the commission to work with County Administrator Steve Rapson to overturn the action before a potential lawsuit might be filed.
Rapson and other county officials declined to comment on the matter during the meeting.
Bennett said Prince would appeal the decision, even though it will ultimately remain Rapson’s decision and if necessary a second appeal would be filed with a tribunal panel of department heads.
Bennett said Prince’s boss berated him for failing to search Brown’s other email accounts, even though the request identified just one such account, commonly referred to as the “dump” account. But the email specifically requested that particular account to be searched, mentioning no other email accounts, Bennett said.
Bennett also said that Rapson told Prince that he “failed to fully comply with an open records request” which could cause embarrassment to the county and to the chairman. Prince replied that he didn’t get an open records request, but instead it was a request to look in a specific email account for the particular search terms.
“The explanation was that he made a mistake that could have gotten the county in a lawsuit, and that Rapson thought that was a terminable offense on the first offense,” Bennett said.
Bennett noted that Prince has said he followed the letter of the request and was careful in doing so because he feared that Brown wanted to have him fired.