Questions swirl after Pulaski Co. employee fired during executive session

During an executive session of the Pulaski County Commissioners Monday night, a longtime employee of the county was fired.

Kenny Becker has worked for the highway department for more than a decade, but has recently found himself at the center of controversy.

On Jan. 7, the commissioners re-appointed Becker to the position of highway superintendent.

But, weeks later, they launched an investigation into the department after receiving complaints from multiple sources.

When the investigation started Jan. 22, Becker and his book keeper, Lin Morrison, were suspended with pay.

"It was a necessary step to determine the truth of some of the allegations," the commissioners said in a statement.

After the investigation was complete, the commissioners voted to demote Becker to general manager with the same pay and benefits on Feb. 4.

"The report does not reveal any criminal activity beyond possible infractions," President Tracey Shorter said. "The report does reveal a number of county policy violations by the department and some employees."

During that same meeting, commissioner Larry Brady was appointed the interim highway superintendent.

More than 100 residents showed up in support of Becker and became so outraged at the commissioners' decision that the meeting had to be adjourned after just one agenda item.

Over the course of the next three weeks, Pulaski County Attorney Kevin Tankersley says Brady observed Becker violating several other county policies in his new role as general manager, including allowing employees to leave 15 minutes early and having one person clock them out at the appropriate quitting time .

Becker tells NewsCenter 16 employees who did so were still technically working; they take snow plows home in case of an emergency and Becker says it would be a liability to let them drive the plows home on personal time.

But, Tankersley says that was just one of many violations that led to Becker's termination.

"The last three weeks with Mr. Becker was an attempt to get him to be in compliance with those policies," Tankersley said over the phone Tuesday. "And, it was a decision by Mr. Brady that, after three weeks of working on it, it was apparent to him that it was not going to be a successful process with Mr. Becker. Larry Brady informed him that it was his decision to let Mr. Becker go."

According to Indiana Open Door Laws, the only official action that cannot take place in an executive session is final action.

But, Tankersley says the commissioners didn't violate any laws during Monday's executive session.

"Action as you're describing it in the Indiana Code certainly would not cover the termination of an employee," he said. "Under no circumstances that I can think of would you ever terminate an employee in a public meeting."

Becker's attorney, Steve Bush, says he'll look into the matter, but doesn't know enough specifics about Monday's executive session to determine if a violation might have occurred.

Bush says he's waiting on Becker's signature to file a tort claim notice against the county commissioners, attorney and auditor.

Once it's filed, they'll have 90 days to respond before Becker can file a lawsuit.

"I fully anticipate, at least based on the last conversation with my client, that we would not be going to the effort to file a tort claim notice if his intent was not to follow through, unless there is some reasonable resolution to his issues," Bush said Tuesday over the phone.

Bush says his client still hasn't received the documentation requested regarding his termination.

So far, the commissioners have released little information about the specific policy violations Becker is accused of making.

"I'm just astonished at the manner in which this has been handled," Bush said. "If we were in Iran or Afghanistan or something where you get your head cut off without even knowing what you've been accused of, you might understand it. But, we're in central Indiana. That's not the way it's supposed to work here."

According to Tankersley, Becker also turned in a resignation on behalf of Lin Morrison at Monday's executive session.

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