Packed Pulaski County commissioners' meeting gets heated

Monday night’s Pulaski County Commissioners’ meeting got so heated it was adjourned after just one agenda item.

During the meeting, the commissioners voted to lift the suspension of County Highway Superintendent Kenny Becker and reassign him to the position of general manager.

Becker and his secretary, Lin Morrison, were suspended with pay in January amidst an investigation into the department.

“The county commissioners received a high number of complaints about the highway department from both inside and outside sources,” Commission President Tracey Shorter read from a statement at Monday’s meeting. “ In an effort to determine the facts, the commissioners under their executive power undertook an investigation into the department.”

The commissioners hired outside consultant Paula Reimers of Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele Associates, Inc. to conduct the investigation.

She interviewed 20 people, including almost all of the highway department’s employees.

After the investigation was complete, Reimers presented the commissioners with her findings Feb. 1.

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

The commissioners made their decision to give Becker a different position based on those facts.

While the item wasn't up for public comment, the more 100 people who showed up in support of the pair at Monday night’s meeting were vocal in their opposition.

“I want to apologize to all these people for voting for you, all three of you,” one resident said.

Others yelled out questions at the commissioners, who tried to quiet the large crowd down.

When they didn't respond, a question was directed at Sheriff Michael Gayer, who was at the meeting in case it got out of hand.

“What kind of job does [Kenny Becker] do?” one resident yelled out.

“He’s done a great job,” Gayer responded.

The continual yelling and interruptions forced the commissioners to adjourn the meeting without acting on any other agenda items.

As Becker and Morrison left the room, they were greeted by applause from dozens of people.

But, they all left with just as many questions as they came with.

“We have no idea what prompted the investigation,” said Attorney Steven Bush, who represents both Becker and Morrison. “I wrote a letter Friday to the county attorney and asked him to provide me the allegations, the names of the accusers and the evidence to support their accusations. And, I received a letter back saying I'm not going to give you any of that.”

Bush maintains there is no basis for his clients’ suspensions.

But, the commissioners say they’re just trying to protect taxpayer dollars from being misused.

They haven’t released any of the specific allegations against Becker or Morrison.

“We are being vigilant in protecting all our employees from embarrassment or reprisal,” they said in a statement.

Commissioner Larry Brady will take over as highway superintendent until further notice.

The commissioners made no decision Monday night on the status of Morrison’s employment.

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