Personnel Matters and The Public

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – When an elected official, city or county employee gets suspended or put on probation, everyone asks the same question, why?

We’ve asked this week after the Starkville Police Chief was suspended and put on probation.

‘Why?’ Or ‘What did he do?’ Those were common comments under the story on the WCBI Facebook Page and we want to answer your questions.

A personnel matter.

It means exactly how it’s read, and it doesn’t matter if someone works for the city and taxpayers, or for a bank.

It’s a matter between the employee and management, not the public.

Letting the public know there is a personnel matter surrounding someone isn’t against the law.

“The Legislature was fairly clear in the Public Meeting Act, Open Meetings Act, and the Public Records Act, that personnel files are exempt from public disclosure and that a public board considering a personnel matter, involving job performance can do that in private session or executive session,” says Columbus Attorney, Jeff Turnage.

When a city or county employee is reprimanded or suspended, the public often wants to know why.

But whether your tax dollars are going toward someone’s salary or not, Turnage says it’s still a private matter.

“They’re going into executive session to discuss an item of personnel related to job performance of a particular person and a particular department and they won’t name the name or say what the conduct was, but at least the public will know generally what they’re talking about, a disciplinary matter of a particular person and a certain department.”

Turnage says details stay private to protect everyone involved.

“The employer would take risks by discussing matters of personnel because the employee has rights, and so there’s several causes of action the employee might bring against the employer for leaking out private matters.”

At the end of the day, regardless of the situation, law says the public doesn’t have a right to know.

“The ultimate goal is to protect personal restricted information, not so much so the misdeed or the action, but protecting the individual,” says Columbus Human Resources Director, Pat Mitchell.


Categories: Local News

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