By Taylor Sisk
CHAPEL HILL â€“ The Town of Chapel Hillâ€™s Personnel Appeals Committee has recommended against rehiring the Sanitation Two. Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark, dismissed from the townâ€™s Public Works Department in October for alleged insubordination and intimidating behavior toward supervisors and residents, had appealed their firings to the committee comprised of town residents. Bigelowâ€™s firing was upheld Feb. 23, by a 3-2 vote; Clarkâ€™s, last Friday, by a 5-1 vote.
The committeeâ€™s nonbinding recommendations were sent to Town Manger Roger Stancil, who will make the final decision on whether the men will be reinstated.
Both Bigelow and Clark appealed their firings in hearings that were open to the public at the menâ€™s request. Their attorney, Al McSurely, argued that they were fired in retaliation for grievances they filed with management that alleged unsafe working conditions and racial bias in job placements and promotions.
McSurely also alleged that the town took action against the men in response to their efforts to organize town employees with UE Local 150, which has supported town workers who have filed grievances.
The town, however, claimed Bigelow and Clark were fired for insubordinate behavior toward their supervisors and intimidation of residents along their waste-collection route and for failing to properly perform their duties.
The menâ€™s cause has been taken up by the local branch of the NAACP and other community members. They have been dubbed the Sanitation Two.
In going before the appeals committee, both men requested an apology from town officials, reinstatement to their former positions, back pay, reimbursement for their attorneyâ€™s fees, punishment for those responsible for the actions against them and that the town â€œdismantle the racist system.â€
In Bigelowâ€™s ruling, three members of the committee agreed that the town had provided sufficient evidence that he had â€œengaged in insubordination that constituted unsatisfactory job performance,â€ had demonstrated â€œthreatening and intimidating behavior toward members of the public which constituted detrimental personal conductâ€ and that his conduct â€œcreated a hostile working environment within the Solid Waste Services Division.â€
Two members found that the town had failed to provide sufficient evidence that Bigelowâ€™s conduct rose to the level of detrimental personal conduct.
In Clarkâ€™s ruling, five committee members agreed that the town had provided sufficient evidence that he had been involved in â€œconfrontational interactions with his supervisors that constituted insubordination and unsatisfactory job performance,â€ and four found that he had engaged in â€œdiscourteous and intimidating treatment of the public,â€ had been â€œthreatening and intimidatingâ€ with colleagues and had been unsatisfactory in his job performance.
One member dissented, asserting that Clarkâ€™s behavior should have been handled using procedures outlined in the townâ€™s personnel manual, but that his supervisors had failed to do so.
â€œWe are disappointed, but not surprised,â€ McSurely said. He has taken issue with the fact that the committee wasnâ€™t bound by the procedural rules of a courtroom â€“ that, for example, two witnesses were allowed to make statements against Bigelow and Clark anonymously, by telephone.
â€œWe are considering other venues, where anonymous voices cannot be used to convict two men whose only insubordination was trying to organize a union to challenge the racism and unsafe working conditions in the Town of Chapel Hill,â€ McSurely said.
A rally in support of the men will be held today (Thursday) at 7 p.m. at the First Baptist Church on Roberson Street.
â€œItâ€™s a slow process,â€ McSurely said, â€œbut we are beginning to make some headway.â€
By Taylor Sisk