The Forsyth County Civil Service Board ruled Thursday that no county agencies, departments or offices can have an attorney at an appeal hearing if the aggrieved employee doesn’t hire one.
The three-member panel made the decision as it sat on the opposite end of a table from two attorneys representing the Forsyth County’s Sheriff’s Office and a lone deputy appealing his termination.
The policy at issue, changed in 2011, states: “The county attorney will not represent any county actor at a hearing unless the appellant first indicates that he or she will use counsel.”
Board counsel Richard Neville said a question arose when the sheriff’s office sent a letter July 2 stating it wanted to have the agency’s counsel present for the appeal hearing scheduled for Thursday, even though the appealing ex-deputy wouldn’t have one.
“The argument by the sheriff is that his attorney is not the county attorney, and therefore, this provision doesn’t apply,” Neville said. “I think the board has to decide which route we’re going to take.
“Are we going to follow the intent of the civil service rules … or should we allow [the sheriff] to have an attorney and proceed with the hearing?”
The sheriff’s office hired Brian Hansford to represent the agency this year, replacing the previous counsel, Ken Jarrard, who represents the county commission and most other county departments and entities.
Board member Tim Perry said he felt the policy was “very clear” that the county doesn’t get an attorney if the employee doesn’t want one.
“In my opinion, if the county agency has an attorney,” Perry said, “that’s clearly a county attorney.”
Chairman Terry Smith added that when the commission reviewed the civil service policies, it put that provision in place to cut down on the growing legal costs of the hearings.
The panel voted 3-0 to “follow the guidelines” and not allow the sheriff’s office to use an attorney in the appeal.
In the wake of the board’s decision, the hearing for Walter Skowronski, scheduled for Thursday, was postponed to Aug. 8.
Skowronski was fired on April 26 after a sheriff's office internal affairs investigation found him in violation of conduct unbecoming of an officer, neglect of duty, requirement to read, understand and comply with off-duty employment orders, and violation of law for criminal attempt to commit theft and false statements in writing.
His termination stemmed from a March 15 incident at an off-duty security job for The Avenue Forsyth, now called The Collection at Forsyth.
Skowronski failed to check in to the job as required, arrived late without notifying the manager of the outdoor mall off Peachtree Parkway and didn't properly log the hours he worked, according to the sheriff's office.
His written appeal states that he accidentally handed in a pre-filled time sheet because he was in a hurry to write four reports and process a juvenile felony arrest, which he stated also caused him to be late to the off-duty job.
The appeal continues: "I understand that I was looking at a suspension for failing to call out on the radio, failing to check in with the security office, and mistakenly handing in an incomplete and incorrect form. I do not feel that a dismissal was warranted."