During a special meeting last Tuesday, Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey expressed a desire to terminate new City Clerk Sharon McGhee after just two weeks on the job.
“The learning curve was bigger than I anticipated,” said Cathey, who voted against hiring McGhee during the council’s official meeting in June. “I recommend not to continue her employment.”
Former city clerk Debbie McLeod, who resigned in April, had been in the position for seven years before resigning abruptly. She was hired part-time to handle specific duties throughout the transition. Once she found full-time employment the race was on to find a new clerk.
The mayor said that he had taken another look at McGhee’s resume and contacted a former employer in Wewahitchka who hadn’t said positive things about clerk.
“I have 40 years of experience dealing with people. I won’t discard my instincts,” said Cathey. “I don’t think we made the right choice.”
After Cathey had shared his thoughts, Councilwoman Tanya Castro offered her own.
“We interviewed and explained the responsibilities. Right off the bat, she was getting conflicting information,” she said,
McGhee’s first day with the city was July 1, though she hadn’t yet signed an employment agreement or been given an official job description.
McGhee said that her knowledge of the role was based on the job ad she originally read and bits and pieces she picked up from city employees.
Castro said the confusion didn’t lend itself to someone excelling in a role without knowing the expectation of the position.
“I don’t think in a week and a half you can make that decision, especially when we haven’t given her a clear job description,” Castro told Cathey. “I’d be ready to walk out the door. We should be supportive. It starts with clear direction.”
Castro had also contacted some of McGhee’s former employers and reported that they’d spoken of personality conflicts at past jobs, but had spoken highly of her work ethic.
“She received many written recommendations,” said Castro, putting the blame on poor organization. “We should have documented our procedures. We don’t have that.”
Councilman Lanny Howell agreed that 10 days was not enough time to evaluate if someone could do the job or not, but admitted to having concerns.
The council spoke about a recent payroll issue that resulted in city staff only being paid for one week instead of the normal two. The issue McGhee said came from not having appropriate permissions within the accounting program used by the city and limited instruction on the software.
Councilman Jack Mullen said that he wasn’t in agreement to terminate anybody, but the events of the last week concerned him as well while Councilman Bobby Pollock who had cast the vote that originally brought McGhee on board expressed frustration with the situation.
“I voted to hire Sharon. At the time, I showed concerns but hoped to be proven wrong,” he said. “I haven’t been.”
Once each member of the council shared their thoughts, McGhee was invited to speak in her own defense. She cited technical permissions issues and a weak understanding of the role’s many responsibilities as the cause of the council’s concern. She reported that she only had two training sessions with McLeod for a total of four hours.
When McGhee didn’t have access to parts of the payroll software, she called the company directly to request the same access previously given to McLeod. The request was denied and they told her that the request needed to be made by the Systems Administrator. The council was informed of the request by a representative from the software company.
McGhee’s actions were frowned upon by the council, but the clerk insisted that she was trying to take initiative.
“A lot of my issues have been that I tried to communicate and get clarity. I had conflicting info coming in on day one,” said McGhee. “I hadn’t seen a job description prior to coming in to interview, only the job ad.”
Castro compared the job ad and an official description that had been created during a special meeting two weeks ago. She reported that the two matched. She then questioned why a new employee wouldn’t receive the same access as a previous employee.
City Administrator Chris Hubbard, who currently holds acts as System Administrator, reported that he planned to roll out permissions as McGhee learned the systems.
“She should learn the bones of the system before getting full access,” he said.
Mullen asked McGhee if the permissions in question were necessary to do all of her job-related tasks. McGhee said no.
McGhee said that she had concerns upon being hired when she noticed that her welcome letter stated not only the amount she would be paid annually, but also the amount she would be paid if her employment was terminated.
“My issue is that I need to be part of a team. I feel there’s been a lot of discord,” said McGhee. “There was no transition plan.”
Castro attempted to be encouraging toward McGhee and give a different perspective on the situation.
“We have a city. It has to run well,” she said. “We need to be supportive.”
Castro thanked McGhee for “hanging in there.”
Before the meeting adjourned, Cathey left the room with some final thoughts.
“Transition is something we all go through. We can believe that everyone else is the problem,” he said. “We have to find a way to make this transition smooth.”
No vote was taken on McGhee’s employment status.