Terminated city firefighter Mitchell Banks was granted his request for an investigation Tuesday by the Columbus Civil Service Commission, but just barely.
Banks was terminated Dec. 7 by the Columbus City Council for allegedly missing a hazardous material training session in Pearl because he was too drunk to attend. Beginning Dec. 8, he was given 10 days to appeal the decision and retained attorney Rod on Ray Dec. 16.
Ray immediately drew up a formal request for Banks” appeal, but instead of walking the papers the few blocks from his 301 Fifth St. S. office to city hall, he mailed them. As of Tuesday, it was unknown if city hall had received the request.
Thus, Tuesday”s request consisted primarily of Ray pleading with commission members not to punish Banks for his error in judgment.
“I”m not talking about the merits of why he was let go, but for a time he was on call for this city to go help people. All I”m asking you to do is let him have a hearing. If he should have been fired, we”ll deal with that. But please don”t punish him for the way the appeal was mailed,” said Ray.
After hearing arguments from Ray and City Attorney Jeff Turnage, the commission engaged in a 30-minute closed discussion. They decided to grant Banks an appeal, but lectured Ray for taking the long route in filing his request. The investigation, which is not technically an appeal, has been tentatively scheduled for either Jan. 18 or 21.
“We are making an exception as delineated by the rules and regulations of the Civil Service Commission. The young man deserves an opportunity,” said commission member Thomas L. Moore Jr. “In the future, and that was part of our discussion, it”s pretty easy to walk around the city of Columbus a couple of blocks to meet a very critical deadline.
“Recognizing the gravity and importance of this letter, face the reality that this is on you. Your organization and your law office didn”t get this letter delivered on time.”
Commission chairman Al Hatcher pointed out that all Columbus mail goes first to Grenada before being sent to its destination.
Turnage argued against the request for appeal, claiming city rules require the request be filed within 10 days, not postmarked. Turnage received his copy of Ray”s and Banks” request Dec. 18.
“The rule says an appeal, which they call a demand for an investigation, has to be filed within 10 days. And “filed,” according to the case law I”ve attached, means filed. It doesn”t mean placed in the mail for filing,” said Turnage. “Without the timely appeal, this body doesn”t have the power to decide the merits (of an appeal).”
Ray claims the Mississippi Rules of Procedure, which do not apply in this case, consider such a request as filed when mailed.
He says his request was timely as it was postmarked Dec. 16. He also claimed notice had been served Dec. 17 when he and Turnage, who are personal friends, spoke about the appeal.
“My client on the 16th made not only a financial investment, but an intentional act to get his appeal filed. I did what I thought was the best way to do that,” he said.
Ray is also representing a group of Columbus police officers who were suspended without pay after alleged misconduct
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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